Boy has it been a difficult week supporting this club. Seven days ago Reading looked to be on the right track after beating Blackpool 3-1 in a crucial victory, but in midweek it emerged that the Royals were facing another points deduction, and now we’ve gone to Middlesbrough and been given a pasting. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.
I won’t beat around the bush - this was an absolutely horrid experience to sit through. Reading were hopeless throughout the contest and in all aspects of it: defence, attack, getting a basic level of a hold on the game or reacting to any of the litany of things that went wrong. The Royals were individually poor and no better collectively either.
Middlesbrough are a very good side in very good form, but they didn’t need either of those qualities to comfortably see off this hopeless display. It constantly felt as if Reading were two steps (at least) behind the hosts, frequently given the runaround and held at arm’s length, present but not involved.
The goals themselves were a smorgasbord of incompetence.
Boro opened the scoring after the ball struck Andy Yiadom’s outstretched arm, a clear penalty. Chuba Akpom added to his impressive goal tally by converting the spot kick.
For the second, Amadou Mbengue was dispossessed on the halfway line right before the break after Boro dealt with a Reading free kick. Aaron Ramsey had the simple job of charging forwards into acres of space and slotting home. The Royals managed to turn their last throw of the dice in the first half into a goal that killed the contest off.
For the second and third, Boro ran riot down Reading’s right flank, cut us open and presented glorious chances inside the area. Akpom made it 3-0 via a low cross before Ramsey made it 4-0 after being afforded an embarrassingly large amount of room in the Royals’ box.
Not content with 4-0, Reading presented Boro with a fifth. Tom McIntyre barged over Marcus Forss inside the area for a second spot kick; this time Forss stepped up to do the honours.
If you’re waiting for any mention of serious attacking threat from Reading, you’ll be waiting a long time (as long as we’ve been waiting for Reading goals on the road then, really). Shane Long should have had a penalty in the first half at 1-0, Andy Carroll and Yakou Meite fired wide at 4-0... and that’s about it.
It’s tempting to overlook the lack of attacking intent due to the defensive inadequacies (and all the other ones too for that matter). However, even at 0-0 and 1-0, there was little sign that Reading knew how they wanted to hurt the opposition in open play. In a theme that’s long since become tediously frustrating, the extent of the Royals’ tactical ambition seemed to be: “Let’s hope the opposition don’t score and then go from there.”
It’s not as if Reading lacked offensive options in the XI. Quite the opposite in fact. Paul Ince set his side up in an uncharacteristically attacking 4-1-4-1 that included three centre-forwards (Andy Carroll up top, Shane Long left wing, Yakou Meite right wing) and two playmakers (Tom Ince and Cesare Casadei playing ahead of Jeff Hendrick).
Bouzanis; Yiadom, Mbengue, Sarr, McIntyre; Hendrick; Meite, Ince, Casadei, Long; Carroll
When you put out an XI like that, you have to, well, attack. Going gung-ho against a side like Middlesbrough would have been foolhardy, but don’t pick a litany of attacking players if you can’t give them an idea of hurt to hurt the opposition, even just on the counter, even just in spells.
So far so horrid. The game was bad enough, but Paul Ince’s behaviour after the match made matters worse.
First, a refusal at full time to come over and acknowledge the fans. A couple of hundred had made a heck of a long trek up to watch their side be taken to the cleaners, and although plenty of Reading players showed their respect, the gaffer didn’t. That’s not just an issue of optics - demonstrating to the fans that you value their backing is so, so basic. When the respect isn’t there, it really grates and only serves to undermine your own position and any sense that we’re all in it together.
Second, a refusal to face up to how badly things had gone. Ince denied that Reading being taken apart and beaten 5-0 counted as a “pasting”, saying:
“Sometimes you look at a result and think it’s a pasting. It wasn’t, it was the referee’s two diabolical decisions that put us in a sh*t position where we have to chase the game in the second half.”
In his full quotes, he went on a rant against the officiating. Although he can claim he’s “never one to blame referees” (certainly not true), it feels as if Ince is far more comfortable deflecting blame onto the officials than analysing his own team’s shortcomings.
It won’t get any easier in the near future. Next up is a home match in midweek against another side chasing automatic promotion - Sheffield United - before play-off hopefuls Millwall come to town the following Saturday. Reading need a massive improvement for both games.