Meh. Being honest, it’s hard to love this group of players, it really is. Even harder after this latest result against Hull City. A game which had must win written all over it. If not a must win then certainly one of our better chances to obtain the much-needed three points.
Instead, what we witnessed was a laboured, error-strewn, lacklustre affair - much akin to the other 30-something games this season. All the usual hallmarks were present: a baffling starting XI, no width and Andy Carroll up front to pump the ball long to. That said, we did try to mix it up a bit more with balls down the channel - well, by channel, the right channel. A lot. And it worked sometimes, kinda.
Like two flabby bare-knuckle fighters, both slugging without much nuance, both sides flapped and floundered. Either team could have delivered a knockout blow at any point, but neither knew how to deliver. As it was for our goal, it came from a happy accident where their two centre-backs combined comically to allow Carroll score the scruffy equaliser.
We only seemed capable of capitalising on any errors that fell into our hands; there was no tangible plan on offer. Generally, there seemed to be little in the way of a plan at all. But that could be said of 99% of the matches to date. We did employ a lazy press of sorts that occasionally caused Hull a few problems, but we didn’t seem to be capable of spotting that if we did a bit more of that, then a bit more might come of it. Alas, no, we’re not that smart.
And that’s where many of the fans lose sympathy with the current regime. Just what is our style? What is the result of the training that they do, one would assume, day in day out? What is our game plan? There really doesn’t seem to be much of an identity. As a result, there’s little to love or believe in.
It’s still Reading, it’s still the club we love, but it’s so hard to love in the same breath. A case in point is Tom Ince, a player that’s very likely to pick up player of the season yet has managed to lose a lot of credit with the fans with his petulance. Tom Holmes seemed to be the one to kop it from Ince after a wayward ball was punted from whence it came by Ince.
Could make a thread from this game alone how moody tom ince actually is. Holmes clearly having a word with gaffer about his son #readingfc pic.twitter.com/6tCvv1XeS9— Alex (@Pickettlickett) March 18, 2023
As bad as we are, we don’t need this kind of demotivating antics from a senior professional. We’re in a dogfight and everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction - not tearing each other apart. It’s disappointing to see a player act worse than most fans would.
Fans have no other recourse but to shout or boo, perhaps, but to constantly be ranting at your fellow teammates doesn’t sit well. He may be the manager’s son, but that doesn’t therefore give him the right to mouth off and gesticulate in such a negative manner. It does show a kind of care, granted - it means something to him - but there are limits.
Maybe Ince Jr feels the uselessness that the fans feel week in week out? Who knows, but it’s just not a pretty sight to see.
Another sight we didn’t want to see was yet more injuries to befall this bedraggled unit. Both Liam Moore and Tom McIntyre obtained injuries that will likely be the end of the season for both and, for Moore, the end of his Reading career.
It’s a cruel way for both to go out, but hardly anyone wanted to see McIntyre at left-wing-back and his injury facilitates that situation now being played out.
As much as Moore has been a divisive figure for the club and fans alike, seeing him launch his boot into Joe Lumley’s goalmouth showed the depth of his frustration. Regardless of his image, he clearly has fought hard to get fit - whether that be for himself, the club or both. We would have needed his experience and know-how for the run in and now we appear to have lost him for that, too.
To lose yet more players to season-ending injuries is really something we don’t need, regardless of their positional skills. Bodies are bodies; the last thing we need is fewer of them available. But they keep returning to the injury table nonetheless. Baba Rahman gone, McIntyre out, Moore gone, Shane Long is also likely not to feature again. The agony, literally, continues.
Were there any bright sides? Not many, in truth, but Cesare Casadei’s influence is growing game on game. A lot of whatever good we managed to achieve included him. While we didn’t have any width, what we did manage centrally usually included the Italian. In the second half, he was notable for an improvised header in our own box! If there’s one player that’s showing the commitment required, it’s certainly the Chelsea loanee.
Otherwise, Lucas Joao looked to be happy and willing. He did contrive not to shoot when shooting was the far more obvious and logical option, but there you go, that’s Lucas for you. Nesta Guinness-Walker was brave and confident after this introduction, also.
And that’s about it. Not much to feel enthused or confident about in this game or for the near future. Again, Paul Ince’s substitutions came too late and offered next to nothing.
Most international breaks are largely uneventful but Reading could, possibly, change their manager and will likely receive the long-awaited points deduction from the EFL. If so, then this places Reading just above the relegation zone.
If Ince is replaced, Reading have two weeks to regroup, get inspired, be motivated, be something greater than what they are. In the current climate, it’s hard to see what fight can be mustered for the run-in. If none could be found to win this game against Hull, where will it be found for the games ahead?
There’s no avoiding it now: we’re bang in trouble. Last season we saw some fight, spirit and togetherness, but can the same be said of this group? It’s doubtful and that’s a worry. A huge worry.