Oh Reading. How do you manage to do this to us? After a pretty decent opening 45 minutes we did not look second best. Not even close. We didn’t boss the half, let’s be honest, but we didn’t look hopelessly out of our depth. We saved that for the last half an hour.
All it needed was a bit of composure, a bit of quality, a little bit of confidence, but this team has none of those things right now. We could have easily taken one of the chances we had and the game could have had a completely different complexion.
But, much like last season, we’re in the mode that when we go a goal behind then behind we shall stay. There’s no coming back from it when we’re on the road. The mental challenge is just too great.
Ruben Selles still persists with the 4-2-2-2 formation and by this point it’s hard to see him drastically deviating from this despite the horror shows we continue to witness on the road. To his credit, for the first half the system appeared to be functioning if not particularly fluid. Maybe it was the long-awaited return of Sam Smith, maybe it was the long international-break-induced layoff, but we looked brighter. Michael Craig did himself no harm either with his busy in-yer-face performance.
We looked compact and fairly tidy… and then Charlton Athletic scored via the same kind of basic “oh the full-back has been beaten again and someone heads the ball in” goal that we’ve seen a billion times before on the road. So mind-numbingly crushingly simple yet we are undone so often by this method time and again.
In an instant, all the decent work and promising first half was wasted. Soon after it was 2-0 and the game was over. We knew it, the manager knew it, Charlton knew it. The mental brambles that bind us so tight closed in even more, and all semblance of shape and composure (what little we had) evaporated completely. What minimal hope we could have had being in deficit by one goal disappeared without trace at being two down.
This team doesn’t have the experience or resilience to do anything other than mentally switch off and retreat into their shells. It’s such a sad thing to witness. Of course, for the umpteenth time we hark back to the bigger reasons why we’re such a shambles. It’s easy to see the score, see the away record and think that we’re just awful, and it in many ways, we are, but the mental strains that everyone at the club is under prevents us from breaking this spell. That can’t be forgotten.
The most obvious elevation of this scenario is when new ownership comes in and blows away the dark clouds that hover over the club. It’s difficult to see how these problems will be solved until then. What a depressing state to be in.
That said, while many will see Selles as the problem, he’s not shown yet that he’s got different ways of solving the on-the-field issues. He keeps on banging away, hoping that the system will click into place when it’s not shown any signs that it has got a shining tangible benefit over formations that the opposition use week in week out.
Offensively, the main issues appear to be that of the positions of Harvey Knibbs and Femi Azeez. They’re just not offering much, if anything. They both have a decent amount of energy and that’s probably why they start every game, but, for Azeez especially, the decision-making and incisiveness isn’t good enough.
Azeez has an uncanny knack of choosing the absolute worst option when the easier, more sensible option is staring him in the face. He would avoid passing to Tyler Bindon, who would have had a choice of a cross or stretching play, but no, he’d play daft ball into a congested area and the ball was lost.
In fact, the entire front line could do with being a bit smarter. A few times all four were static and hadn’t thought to move into space which in turn would help, for example, Nesta Guinness-Walker with his runs. Selles did change the midfield where Lewis Wing would be charged with the playmaking and Craig the dedicated ball-winner, but what hope did Wing have when nobody in front of him moved intelligently?
But there’s a silver lining ahead of sorts. A staggering amount of our fixtures are at home in various competitions. We can only hope that we can find some form of confidence to boost our league position, gain some traction up the table which we can turn into positivity on the road.
At the moment we need something, anything, to give us a shot in the arm. Maybe the return of Smith can spark the front line into being something that looks a bit more functional. Maybe Ben Elliott can find a way into the side, or Caylan Vickers? Something has to be done to improve our goal-scoring opportunities.
Oh, and Nelson Abbey is quite something, isn’t he?