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Five Things From Reading’s Collapse At Blackpool

Saturday’s defeat was, in more ways than one, a call-back to frustrations from earlier in the season.

Blackpool v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Recidivist Reading

Just when Reading looked to have turned a corner, when the combination of Paunovic and Ince had seemingly instilled some fight and belief, the Royals turned in a lacklustre and frustratingly weak performance.

Despite taking the lead via the in-form Lucas João’s 17th minute tap-in, the basic defensive frailties were apparent once again. The lack of tenacity and leadership loomed large as time and again Reading were poor at set pieces, bullied far too often by Blackpool who knew all too well what the Achilles heel was and how to attack it. The same could not be said for Reading who were naïve in possession, lacking guile and verve.

Yet. More. Injuries.

Just when Reading looked to have more players returning from injury than to the injury table, they lost two more before kick-off. Tom Holmes, who had performed well of late, cementing his place into the back four, hit rock bottom with pain in his... bottom, or “glutes” to be technical. Worse still, to be filed among other famed goalkeeping calamities, Karl Hein has suffered a likely season-ending injury via damaged ligaments in his hand at home, which for a goalkeeper is pretty fundamental!

This, in turn, caused Reading to shift and switch three of the back four. A change which for most teams would cause a bit of fuss, but for us led to confusion and other knock-on effects further up the field.

When your right back has to move to left back, the left back moves to central defence, and central midfielder shifts to right back, cumulatively this would not generally denote as a ‘good thing’. And so, it proved to be the case, such is Reading’s positional paucities.

Blackpool v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Rino reduced

Of those changes, moving Andy Rinomhota to right back from central midfield arguably set the tone for what was to come. Without his (or Josh Laurent’s) drive from midfield, Reading lacked the link between the thirds. Drinkwater is not as mobile and Tom Dele-Bashiru, not for the first time, failed to get a foothold in the game. This was yet another pairing that had barely played together this season, if at all, so the writing was on the wall.

It would be safe to say that Rino returning to midfield is what has made our recent unbeaten run what it was. We looked solid, purposeful, energetic. His enforced move to right back took away all that made us tick of late. Without him in his rightful position we are and were significantly weakened. If any new contracts for the seasons ahead are deemed essential, Rinomhota would be right up there at the top of the list.

Bullied and beaten

As is a common trope this season, Reading were beaten by a side that could easily bully them. While at times lately we have looked striking in attack with cohesion and power, the midfield and defence remains fragile when the right players are not available. We have some very technical flair players that are elite at this level, but very few that get stuck in and able to mix it. Even fewer that are masters of the ‘dark arts’ and adept ‘shithousers’; we are pussycats to play against.

That lack of ability to tighten up a game or even noticeably change the tempo accordingly kills us time and time again. When going a goal up away from home it should be imperative that that lead is protected at all costs, but the urgency and logical tactical shift is rarely present. But that’s why we are where we are; all the injuries and tactical changes have led to disjointed performances and a huge lack of stability.

A week of recovery

Ahead of a crucial home fixture against the lions of Millwall, Reading have a week free of fixtures to recover - physically and mentally. Manager Ince has decreed that the players have a couple of days off from training, no doubt to prevent further injuries from an already wafer-thin side (however, in the case of Hein, that is not necessarily the case!)

This also provides further time for injured players such as Scott Dann, Josh Laurent and Tom Holmes time to recover. Added to recent returnees Ovie Ejaria, Alen Halilović and Yakou Méïté, these players provide the depth we will surely need for the race to avoid relegation.