Once again, Reading had the defensive setup of Andy Yiadom, Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre. Sceptics and most of us fans, in truth, could state that this is three out of the back four that shipped a ton of goals last season. What is worse now is that they’re playing in a system that’s new to them and they don’t look comfortable within it.
McIntyre, the poster boy of Reading FC, had a shocker. While fingers will be pointed at Joe Lumley for the disastrous third goal, Tom could be pinned down for probably two of the other three. He lost his man, Wood, for the first and showing signs of a lack of concentration for the second and fourth.
Whether it’s the setup that’s not right for Tom (and Yiadom) or positioning, it will have been a day to forget for McIntyre. It’s often been said he’s too small to be a commanding centre back and would be better deployed as a deep-lying central midfielder. On this showing it’s hard to argue against it.
That said, this wasn’t just down to individuals, far from it. Rotherham played a simple game: get it forward quickly and expose our high line. That reaped rewards twice with very simple goals. Ince said after the game that “we we’re p*ss poor” – that can’t be denied, but one has to question the high line when we do not have central defenders with pace to cover.
Maybe the defensive setup would have had different results with the likes of Naby Sarr and Sam Hutchinson available where the back line would be physically stronger. Ince has the notion of playing with a back three, but does not have the correct personnel within it as Yiadom is truly wasted in a back three.
In tandem with all of the misshapen shenanigans above, the continuation of starting games like an asthmatic sloth is not lost on anyone. In every game this season we have conceded very early on in proceedings. Obviously, this can’t continue. You can’t give away a goal and have a mountain to climb every time. It worked once against Cardiff City, but all the other games have ended in failure.
Despite all the other changes that have been made to the “soft malaise” as Ince called it at the recent Fans Forum, the mental makeup of this team still needs a massage.
In many away games especially, Reading have been bullied too easily, the tempo is too slow and they don’t take the game to the opposition (although that can be said of home games too). These traits are hangovers from last season and before then. They can’t be eradicated quickly but boy, when they show up, they glow hard like the summer sun.
In fairness, the season is just a few weeks old and there are many mitigating factors to consider. We are still blighted by injuries. Hutchinson would likely have played, as would Ejaria (who was a big miss, bigger than anticipated), the lack of any power to help Shane Long, who cannot sustain playing Wednesday/Saturday/Wednesday for much longer. The only going saga of the lesser-spotted Naby Sarr who we know is a Reading player now but the EFL continue to stifle that deal being ratified until we can get someone out the door.
We haven’t found a settled shape in midfield either. However, the arrival of Mamadou Loum will in time reap its rewards. He does look the business. But everything else around him will have to settle down and we’re not putting square pegs in round holes elsewhere – that all sounds very familiar.
Results like this one will happen this season; it is to be expected to a point. The siege mentality that we have been told to expect, and that we did see against Cardiff, was AWOL in Yorkshire. This was a very early six-pointer in the season and we bottled it. Despite not being in the bottom three, this kind of result and performance will mentally sting.
Tom Ince looked particularly furious by the end of the game, and we will need that fury and for the team to come together and achieve some sort of cohesion that all teams need to succeed. That all that comes from playing a settled side. We have not had that in a very long time.
There is time, lots of it. Ince has not had the luxury of calling on a first-choice left back, nor the defence he wants. The midfield needs to find its feet and settle. Up front needs the power and goals to return also. He wants a bench with options and not just kids from the academy that is he is loathe to use.
What Ince can’t and shouldn’t do is hang out those players to dry by not making substitutions. They may have been the ones to get into this mess, but don’t flog a dead horse to make a short-term point. Longer term, this team will hopefully gel and produce, but for all the decisions that could not be made or were not made, this was another away day to forget.