As hitherto unseen at home this season, Reading turned in an absolute horror-show performance at the hands of promoted Sunderland. A team who reportedly had no full backs and only one fit striker (and no fit strikers by the end of the game, either) ripped Reading apart at will.
Whatever gameplan there was, was nowhere to be seen. A veritable bunch of strangers turned up looking for a kickabout. The sombre tone dictated by the mournful surroundings seemed to seep into our performance, inexplicably.
On the night, nothing worked whatsoever. Was it tiredness, complacency, tactics, mentality or all of the above? Whatever that was, it was completely missing.
The points of failure are multitudinous but midfield was a particularly disjointed affair. Mamadou Loum returned to the base of the midfield but looked miles off the pace. Aside from one towering header from a corner, he was largely anonymous. A rare hooking at half time beckoned and not many could argue against that.
Tyrese Fornah had one of those games when his inexperience showed. When we play well and with tempo, Tyrese glides through games, but when things get sticky, he gets a tad lost and his final ball also does not convey confidence and often goes awry.
Similar could be said of Jeff Hendrick when it comes to the final ball, or any ball it seemed. Time after time his passes were easily anticipated or just plain poor. It’s difficult to see what Jeff is there for at times. He’s neither a playmaker nor takes up a defensive role, he’s not one to put his foot on the ball and look for space (there wasn’t any, to be fair), he doesn’t press high or… well, what does he do exactly?
Equally, the defence can’t escape criticism. Both Toms - Holmes and McIntyre - had awful games. Holmes never seemed to be as aggressive or comfortable, whilst McIntyre looked all at sea when played, yet again, in a position only because he can use his left foot.
Against the mercurial double goal scorer, Patrick Roberts, McIntyre had not a clue how to defend against him. Not helped by the fact that no other player appeared to want to help him out did not help either, but Roberts, and many other Sunderland players, were untracked, not pressed enough or even pressed at all.
We do have to be mindful of the limitations in terms of numbers in the squad, but it won’t be a day too soon if McIntyre never plays at left back again. It simply does not work.
Not for the first time and definitely not the last, the side showed a mental frailty that we can well do without witnessing. Whilst we have been successful at home until this fateful game, we have the tendency to be passive and allow the opposition to control the game all too easily.
Even when we destroyed Blackburn Rovers, they still dominated possession, we just picked them apart excellently on the night. Here, we let Sunderland grow in confidence, find their dangerous players and by the time we woke up we had already lost the game without a goal being scored.
The distance between midfield and attack was cavernous, the flanks never got forward enough, midfield was akin to Krispy Kreme product but without the calorific joy. But we let this happen by not having any courage or desire to play on the front foot.
If we are going to lose, then lose with some fight and passion being displayed. What we witnessed was abject dross that was reminiscent of the 7-0 chastening from Fulham of last season. But that was the champions, not a team promoted from League One.
From this performance it will take a huge effort not only to recover physically but also mentally. We have responded well to the previous thumpings we’ve suffered this season but there’s only so much that can be expected in terms of turning that around.
Ince cited that he noticed a “sloppiness” in training this week and that will have to be booted into touch sharpish if we are to stablise after this defeat. That said, it does beg the question that if he’d noticed the sloppiness then why hadn’t he addressed it before witnessing the awful outcome of it?
There was little, if anything, that was good to come out of this game apart from yet more lessons to be learned. Whilst there’s no need for panic as the league table is still healthy, we cannot sustain more games where we simply fail to show up and give up. They will be more cumulatively damaging and than any single win could be.
It’s no time to panic, but the players need to show that they can arrest the tendency to be so Jekyll and Hyde so easily. Being so consistently inconsistent is not only frustrating to watch but equally as baffling to understand.