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Northampton 3-1 Reading: This Isn’t Working

The Royals are in the League One relegation zone with no one else to blame

It would be humbling were supporting this club not already such a draining, demoralising and dour experience.

Another away game, another defeat. It feels as though any excuses or attempts at justifying the production of the club, manager and players at this point would be naive, if not recklessly clutching at straws.

There were perfectly reasonable individual performances from certain Reading players at Northampton on Tuesday night. Kelvin Ehibathioman and Caylan Vickers both forced sharp saves in the first half, Lewis Wing looked decent and Nelson Abbey did a broadly good job on a busy night of firefighting… and, err, well that’s about it.

Ruben Selles will no doubt feel his 4-2-2-2 has not yet fully germinated with this young squad, and so we’re left to hope that the usual routine of a promising tactic succeeding before being found out by the opposition take place in reverse. Once again here, it was basically a 4-2-4 even out of possession with diddly squat protection for the wide areas where two grossly underpowered full-backs were exposed while the central players were simply outnumbered.

Either the wingers will have to work a lot harder off the ball, the full-backs will have to do everything better or Selles will have to drop a striker into the midfield pack to stop it from dissolving. You suspect at least two of these are absolutely essential and no one could be blamed for demanding all three.

Nine minutes into the game, Tyler Bindon’s airkick left Harlee Dean in no man’s land and Sam Hoskins ghosted past him before firing a low shot at a David Button doing his best Casper the Friendly Ghost impression.

Louis George Appéré then should have made it 2-0 with a free header before Abbey escaped a penalty appeal in a dismal opening 20 minutes. Sure enough, Reading got a grip and improved with Vickers pinging a low snapshot that produced a really smart stop from Lee Burge in the Northampton goal.

Seconds later, it was 2-0. A long ball over the top saw Matty Carson slide to the ground for neither a tackle nor a clearance and a bewildered Reading defence allowed Appéré to score, courtesy of a second useless flap from Button.

Harvey Knibbs and Dom Ballard were quickly thrust off the bench and, after a period of what can fairly be described as 2-0 football, a gift from Burge put Reading back in the game. A long ball forward saw the goalkeeper wander to the edge of his box and comfortably beaten to it by Knibbs, who teed up Ballard for a rolled finish which Burge simply stepped over to make it 2-1.

It was here where the 4-2-2-2 worked a bit better. As Reading have found at home, it suits playing teams which sit back and allow the Royals to pour men forward. Second balls were regularly being won by the visitors and Selles’ last throw of the dice was to remove Ehibathioman for Ben Elliott.

A smart cut-back from the ex-Chelsea playmaker to Wing saw Azeez picked out in a perfect position on the 87th minute, but he scuffed his effort. Say what you like about Azeez, things happen around him and 90 seconds later he went down in the box after losing a foot race - sparking a furious, futile reaction from the Reading bench and unused substitute Andy Yiadom of all people was sent off for his protests.

Button then stopped a breakaway chance but Reading came back in the 93rd minute, a delicate cross into the six-yard box escaping a tap-in from Knibbs because of reasons. Fortunately, there was still time for another hash-up as a third goal slipped through Button’s fingers to confirm a 3-1 defeat and a latest fruitless journey.