After seven games against teams in the mid-table or relegation zones, where we managed to win only two, draw one and lose four, Reading faced now within a week three opponents that are direct promotion or playoff contenders. The first of them was Nottingham Forest away today.
Clearly a hard task for the Royals. The team from the East Midlands is defensively as solid as Millwall last week, having conceded only 34 goals so far. To compare: Reading 68 (exactly double!).
But, in contrast to the South East Londoners, Forest have scored already 46, the seventh-best strike force in the league. In addition to that, the Reds managed to secure their place in the last eight of the FA Cup earlier this week. So, with Reading's recent form again on the downhill slide, it was difficult to see the Royals returning to Berkshire with something…
Paul Ince made three changes to his starting line-up. Scott Dann, Josh Laurent and Yakou Meite came in for Tom Holmes, John Swift and Lucas Joao. Holmes and Swift couldn’t even travel up to the City Ground, while Joao at least made it to the bench. New signing Orjan Nyland was among the subs as well as the likes of Tom Dele-Bashiru and Ovie Ejaria. Tactically it was a 4-3-3-system with Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent in the half-positions and Danny Drinkwater in a deeper role in central midfield. Up front Yakou Meite led the line with Tom Ince and Junior Hoilett on the wings.
The game started… and 17 seconds later it was already 1-0 to Forest. Spence was left alone on the right and sent a cross into the five-yard-box where Davis controlled the ball calmly and fired it past Southwood. What can you say? You prepare the whole week for those 90 minutes of football and it doesn’t even take half a minute to concede the first goal. Unbelievable!
The Royals were under constant pressure. It took Paul Ince’s men until the seventh minute to get over the halfway line. At least from that moment on it looked like Reading had found their way into the match… without creating anything though. 26 minutes were played until the visitors had their first chance. A corner from Tom Ince wasn’t cleared far away by the Reds’ defence and gave captain Michael Morrison the opportunity from close range, only to find his shot being saved by keeper Horvath.
The only other highlight came seconds before the break when Tom Ince made a powerful run down the left and found Josh Laurent in the middle, whose header from 10 yards went just wide. And that was it. In general, a pretty equal and unspectacular first half. Overall, the Royals’ performance wasn’t too bad. Apart from that goal Forest were anonymous. Still, a sloppy start from the visitors was enough to give them the lead.
The second half started with no changes. Like before, the first quarter was all Forest. The Royals found themselves again under constant pressure and were lucky not to concede a second early on. With Danny Drinkwater not performing well and also in danger of receiving a second booking, it was a surprise to see Andy Rinomhota coming off after 57 minutes to make space for Ovie Ejaria. And even more surprisingly the number 14 started in midfield alongside Laurent and Drinkwater. Strange decision by manager Paul Ince…
In contrast to the first half, the Royals weren’t able to relieve the pressure. The home side kept pushing and increased the lead right after the hour mark. Once more it was Davis who raced forward and left Southwood no chance, 2-0!
In the 72nd minute Paul Ince brought on Lucas Joao for Danny Drinkwater as the Royals searched to get one goal back. The substitution meant Laurent and Ejaria were the central midfield pairing.
Again, strange tactics as the visitors were left pretty uncovered on every counter attack. The consequence? Within eight minutes it was 4-0! First, Yates wasn’t attacked aggressively enough outside the box and slammed the ball into the net. Then, sub Surridge made no mistake to convert a cross into Forest’s fourth. Thankfully it was also the final result.
Like many times already this season the Royals totally collapsed while being behind 2-0 - something that is absolutely unacceptable when you are in such deep relegation troubles. A Reading side that should have enough experienced leaders with Yiadom, Morrison, Dann, Laurent or Drinkwater can’t just fall apart like this.
A further worrying signal was how some of the players were having a go at each other. If we keep on doing that, if we keep on performing in such a fragile manner, we will be relegated in May.
To avoid that horror scenario this attitude, this shocking mentality has to change now. We need a real team where every single player fights for the other. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes one has made or what the current result is. We need a real fighting spirit.
Ten games to go. Ten finals that decide the club’s future. Everything is at stake. Hopefully, everyone understands that before it’s too late…