Well, where on earth do we start with that?
Although I would’ve much rather have been in the away end at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon, a weekend off is probably what this squad needed. So coming into this game with our depleted squad getting a bit of a rest and a 100% home record, I bet there were a fair few Reading fans feeling quite chipper. Well, I was anyway.
But right now I feel anything but chipper. That was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a Reading team in a long time. It was a haunting throwback to the harrowing final games of Veljko Paunovic’s reign.
It started off okay. Yes, Sunderland had most of the ball and were getting into more dangerous positions, but I wasn’t worried as such. Pretty much every game we’ve played this season has followed that fashion - we’re not a team who can dominate possession.
So, when you don't have the football you have to work hard and be disciplined out of possession in order to make the most of any opportunities you do get. On the most part, we’ve done that this season. But tonight it was like watching 11 headless chickens on the pitch.
The midfield in particular was non-existent. Mamadou Loum has made an impression since joining but having a 50% pass accuracy at half-time tells you where his weaknesses lie, Jeff Hendrick was all over the place and Tyrese Fornah had a really poor game too.
As I said, we started okay - but as the game went on, we just got worse and worse and worse. Passes were going astray, there was no shape to our defensive structure and we just looked bereft of any ideas. Couple that with a really odd decision from Paul Ince to move to a back four midway through the second half, and it was a matter of time before the visitors gave us what we deserved.
All three goals, as much as a neutral would say were fantastic counter attacking goals, were a horrendous watch from a Reading point of view. For the opener, we bottled 50/50s in the middle of the park, which opened up far too much space for the visitors before Roberts strolled forward to place a finish into the corner.
For the second goal, we bottled a 50/50 in the middle of the park, which opened up far too much space for the visitors before Roberts strolled forward to place a finish into the corner (get the drift?).
The third was a very good team goal, but again, how many gaps do we want to leave on the pitch? Curtis Davies got it bang on in the Sky Sports studio after the game: we were either far too passive and gave Sunderland too much time and space or we were over aggressive and went running for the ball for the sake of it, leaving acres of space for Sunderland to play into.
I could honestly go through every player man for man and tell you at least three mistakes they all made. No player in blue and white hoops should over a 3/10. It was that bad. None of them can come out of that game with any credit.
This sounds like a rant I know, but that’s because it is. Essentially, it was the perfect storm of a performance. We looked like conceding every time Sunderland went forward, never looked like scoring when we went forward and everything in between was just a disaster.
But (and trust me, a big part of me is hating myself for saying that after *that* 90 minutes), there is a bigger, more positive picture to look at.
Nine games in, 15 points and sitting fourth in the league is miles beyond any of our wildest imaginations would’ve let us daydream about at the beginning of the season. Now, I know as seasons go on expectations change, but tonight has showed - as did the Rotherham and Sheffield United game - that our expectation should still be a relegation fight.
First and foremost, we need to stay in this division. Although the team have showed enough in the opening nine games to suggest they may well have enough to do that, performances like tonight need to be wiped out immediately. You can deal with losing, but you just cannot lose in that fashion. We were awful.
Fortunately we’ve made a habit of bouncing back from bad performances so far this season, and yet again we’re in need of doing that. Prevention is better than the cure, and showings like tonight need to stop happening (for my mental health more than anything). But now we’re here, a reaction on Saturday is a must.
Buckle in ladies and gents: if you thought last season was an emotional rollercoaster, I think this season might put a few of us into an early grave. As a certain Gennaro Gattuso famously once said, “sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe s***”. And tonight was well and truly the latter.