Ugh. The latest edition of dire performances led to defeat against play-off hopefuls Millwall. In truth, it was just a terrible game of football. If Millwall have managed to scrape into the play-off positions with that brand of football then it gives us hope for the future. They weren’t brilliant by any stretch but it was enough to put the game to beyond the dreadfully poor Royals.
This is simply because we didn’t have a single shot on target. Not a sniff. Fans have hoped and prayed that we could steal a win from somewhere to resist the tide of defeats, but Reading succumbed to their third loss on the spin and without scoring, or even looking like doing so.
Lest we talk about the performance of the officials. 29 fouls was the most awarded in the division and it was no surprise when the referee was visibly edging to give a free-kick at every opportunity. However, he wasn’t helped by the opposition feigning a head injury any time we had won the ball from a 50/50. However, this is splitting hairs: we wouldn’t have done anything with it, regardless.
This latest run of paucity now has delivered just three wins in 10, 10 wins in 30. It all stacks up. The struggle for points is very much a concern; a shock to the system is required.
But shocked we were when manager Paul Ince rolled out the same starting XI that couldn’t lay a glove on promotion chasers Sheffield United. Same players, same formation, same result.
This is the crux of the problem (well, one of the many problems). The tactical nous is negligible. Why play with two strikers when there’s no design in servicing them? Why can we not utilise one of the best headers of the ball in the last decade in more threatening areas other than a tool to flick the ball on to nobody? Why play wing-backs when they don’t cross the ball?
The general level of play is such a turn-off to watch. It’s not even a passing facsimile of the tiresome play under Jaap Stam which was just to keep the ball, regardless of intent. Passes now are made just because, not because they’ll lead to us stretching the play. The Neanderthal tactic of chucking it up to the big man is truly non-league level.
We looked so much livelier when we played with four at the back briefly when Yakou Meite was fit. But Ince hasn’t sought to replicate that even without him. He’d rather spoil his way to not lose a game rather than trying to find ways to win it. When we invariably go a goal behind, our record of turning that into a victory is low. So, why not try to attack (semi) intelligently from the start?
Ince has rarely covered himself in glory with his post-match interviews, but he sank to a new low when citing that our “bench ain’t good enough”. A bench that contains Femi Azeez, Cesare Casadei, Liam Moore and Lucas Joao isn’t good enough? Really?! This is where more credibility with the manager is lost.
Joao has been a leading goalscorer for us and is, by far, the most skilful player we have. We should be designing our play around him, not throwing him on to pick up scant scraps. Azeez laid on two assists not that long ago and Casadei - Ince signed the lad himself! And Liam Moore, regardless of club stature, is a very capable defender and knows how to organise a defence. He’s not fit for the scrapheap!
Get under that bus, lads, you’re good for glue. How these types of quotes can be any good for morale or togetherness is baffling. When we need words of wisdom and professionalism, we get snide swipes at established pros and young players who need encouragement. Is it any wonder that Ince can’t get a tune out of them when he slays them all so publicly?
The lack of accountability from Ince is truly astounding. Either the players can’t do it or they make basic errors. Then why not try to coach them to not make so many errors? Why not coach them to be better footballers. Are they not coach-able? Are they all the finished article who can’t adapt to new instructions? Of course not.
Ahead is another long trip north and we’re not very good at those. Losing against Blackburn Rovers is almost a certainty: they’re in decent form despite losing their last fixture against Stoke City. They won’t have to do an awful lot to stick a few past a Reading defence that will no doubt be changed again.
With injuries to Andy Yiadom and Scott Dann, returns for Amadou Mbengue and Liam Moore are highly likely. But who knows, this might actually turn out to be for the better. It can’t really get much worse, can it?
Beyond that, we have the final home game before the international break against Hull City. They’re not in great form, but have markedly improved under former Royal Liam Rosenior. But we’d all take a scruffy 1-0 if offered for either of the games. We fully expect it won’t be achieved, mind you.
The good news, if there were any to be found, was that all the sides in the bottom three lost, again. With the latest trance of EFL deductions looming, possibly arriving before the international break, this would place us in 21st position and six points above the trap door. Those teams - Wigan Athletic, Blackpool and Huddersfield Town - have only managed two wins between them in 18 games! Long may that continue.
For the Royals, we have to pick up points from somewhere, anywhere and soon.