We got so used to humiliating matches last season that you’d think the sting from today’s game wouldn’t be as bad, but no, this one hurts. Reading’s 4-0 thrashing at Rotherham was an embarassment and a serious setback to the confidence of everyone at the club at a time when maintaining morale is crucial.
With all due respect to the Millers, who were worthy winners on the day, Reading shouldn’t be losing heavily to a newly promoted side. Losing at all is bad enough, but playing so poorly and shipping four goals (and it really could have been more than four) twists the knife in an already gaping wound.
Most of the headlines will focus on Joe Lumley, who had a torrid afternoon and deservedly was awarded a 2/10 by Ross in our Player Ratings. However, while I echo the criticism (who wouldn’t?), I’ve deliberately not focused solely on him for this match report. Lumley was at direct fault for two/three of the goals, yes, but it’s not as if Reading were fine otherwise.
This was very much a collective collapse. Reading simply weren’t up to the challenge defensively, offensively or in the middle of the park. Although some players came out less badly than others, no one came out particularly well. That was particulalry true of a defence that was all too often exposed as a ragged and disorganised unit in the first half.
We’ve heard about the Royals’ efforts to build a “competitive” squad this summer in the transfer market, but today, Reading simply were not competitive. The Millers knew how to hurt Reading tactically (playing direct football), but they were also well aware they could bully us on an individual basis.
The goals themselves were worrying for how varied they showed Reading’s defensive incompetence to be.
- Not enough pressure on the cross, which was nodded home too easily past Lumley by Richard Wood.
- Connor Washington got in too easily with a ball over the top and scored from an angle that should have been too tight.
- A routine shot from Jamie Lindsay squirmed under Lumley.
- Chiedozie Ogbene got to a quickly taken free kick first, took the ball past Lumley and tapped it into an open net.
So the Royals came up short on… defending balls into the box, balls over the top, the basics of goalkeeping and concentration. Apart from all of that we weren’t too bad.
Then again, a better (well, competent) goalkeeping performance would have erased at least two of those goals. Lumley seemed to be rattled by being beaten so easily at his near post for the second goal, and you could see his mental state from the stands, even during breaks in play. In action though, he airkicked the ball to allow an open goal at 3-0 (thankfuly not capitalised on) and badly miscued a goal kick.
I fully understand anyone in the away end (right next to Lumley) who took out their frustrations on him during a drinks break at 3-0, although the sense of that behaviour towards a rattled ‘keeper is questionable. I’m heartened however by those who made a point of trying to encourage him - something he was badly in need of.
To be fair, Reading improved at the start of the second half, for a time at least. Paul Ince made no changes at the break but did rejig things tactically, moving from a 3-4-3 that been ineffective defensively and offensively to a 4-2-3-1 - the first time we’ve deployed a back four this season.
Starting XI: Lumley; Yiadom, Holmes, McIntyre; Hoilett, Fornah, Loum, Guinness-Walker; Ince, Long, Hendrick
Second-half XI: Lumley; Yiadom, Holmes, McIntyre, Guinness-Walker; Fornah, Loum; Ince, Hendrick, Hoilett; Long
It allowed Reading to play more on the front foot, causing problems out wide through Ince and Hoilett. The latter of those looked particulary transformed by his half-time move, although fellow left-sider Guinness-Walker came up with one of the Royals’ best moments, driving upfield to be taken down on the edge of the box. It looked like a penaty, but the referee gave it as a free kick.
The first 20 minutes or so of the second half had been when Reading looked like saving some face, but any built-up momentum stalled after this. Rotherham were able to regain control and then keep it for the most part, helped by being able to be proactive with substitutions - something not available to Ince given the youthful bench.
I don’t think any game this early in the season can be a must-win, but Wednesday’s match at home to Blackburn Rovers has become a “must react”. Being thrashed 4-0 by Rotherham with this performance is the kind of event that threatened to be a serious longer-term setback, so it has to be nipped in the bud. Doing that amid an injury crisis and with recruitment unfinished is easier said than done, but that’s the task facing Reading.