Editor’s note: This was written before the news broke on Tuesday morning that Paul Ince had been sacked as Reading manager.
Ugh. Like an infinite loop of despair, Reading conjured to snatch defeat from the jaws of something that wasn’t and in reality would have been the biggest steal since the Brinks Mat robbery. This would have been a different piece to write if we had managed to obtain a very unlikely point, but you might as well look up the previous missives and see that nothing has changed whatsoever. It was still dire, it was still naive, it was still yet another defeat on the road.
Paul Ince reverted to the eight-man defence that has served him ever so well under his stewardship and, once again, it reaped its own reward.
The annoying part was that Preston North End weren’t actually that good either; despite their recent form they didn’t look to be at their best. They fell down to our stupendously low level at times, not like a team pushing for the play-offs. One would like to think that a manager worth his salt could notice this and adjust our play accordingly, but no, not this manager.
The instruction appeared to be ‘defend, defend and defend some more’. The players seem petrified when in possession - which wasn’t often. The ball was the absolute enemy and could not be cherished at any cost. Preston lost the ball quite often too, but we could never do anything with it. Not a hope in hell.
We couldn’t even muster up enough possession to launch it to Andy Carroll, who had one of his quieter games. Who knows what the training comprises each day, week or month. What do the coaches work on with the players? There’s nothing tangible to say “that’s a training ground move”. Players are put into positions and they do what seems to be the most basic action for that position. There’s no nuance or partnership to be seen.
Any pass is to feet, regardless if the receiving player has a man on his back, doesn’t matter. Pass it to him anyway. If balls are launched anywhere, that ball could go, literally, anywhere. Not into space, not where it could exploit a gap, just an aimless punt upfield to relieve the pressure. Take a breath and start the hopeless cycle all over again. This can’t be the best that this group can achieve, surely? It’s mind-numbingly bad.
And this is where Paul Ince failed to take much greater responsibility. The recidivist that he is couldn’t help but throw his players under the bus. Once again, the defeat had nothing to do with him and it was the individuals’ responsibility to make the wrong decisions (again). The game itself relies on errors, we know this. Whether it’s a foul, a bad pass or an error by an official, most goals aren’t conjured out of pure skill. It’s the manager’s job to minimise the errors that he can mitigate against. Control the controllables.
This is where fans lose patience. We are supposed to be a Championship side with all the resources available to them. We have video of all the games where these mistakes could be analysed. Did Ince ever look at past matches at all and actually learn from the experience?
Ince acted like a father with a young toddler: he chucks them into the playground and disappears to chat with the other dads. Instead of keeping an eye on proceedings, the youngster gets bullied by the bigger kids. They return to dad, sobbing, covered in scratches. Ince says: “Well, that’s your own fault for trying to do what you clearly can’t do. Get in the car, no Happy Meal for you.” The kid is left perplexed and defeated.
That’s what it must be like to be managed by Ince. There you go, off you trot, try not to get beat. No alteration, no design big or small, just DIY. He can’t help you once you step over the line. “Not my problem”.
Finally, this appears to be Ince’s denouement. At time of writing, he is still the manager of Reading FC, but the writing has been daubed on the wall. Hopefully, beyond hope, he won’t be in the dugout for the small task of playing at home to Burnley on Saturday. If he does get sacked then the new interim manager will have a baptism of fire against the side that could still beat our 106 points record. What a feat it would be for him, whoever he is, and the team to spoil that particular party.
At this point, most Reading fans care far more about survival in the Championship than that record which has lasted so long. The overriding feeling would be relief that the energy-sapping Dementor-football of Paul Ince would be gone. We can’t expect too much and it might be too late to turn over a new leaf and too soon to expect miracles against Burnley. However, change will always lead to further change. It’s a fact of life. We can only dream that, somehow, we catch the already promoted side on a very, very, bad day at the office.
With Reading now in the bottom three, a point adrift of safety, we have two home games ahead. However, they are against sides that are second (Burnley) and third (Luton Town), in the form table (and we lost to the team that are now first: Preston.
If any managerial change is to be made, we can only pray that a different voice, a different message, a more positive outlook is bestowed on the squad. It really cannot be any worse than to hear Ince tell them that they’re not good enough game after game. Any kind of uptick in performance could hopefully lead to an unlikely win. We desperately need points to provide breathing space in the challenge to survive.
It’s a very tough ask but without the spectre of Ince on the touchline, anything could happen. It can’t be any worse. Can it?