Bugger. Noel Hunt’s first test without the home comforts that he enjoyed with creditable draws against the high-flyers came crashing down in a rather limp and tepid loss.
It felt a lot like Paul Ince’s last game against Preston North End. Not much of the ball, not great in possession, struggled to get into the game, yet managed to score out of nothing and then conceded meekly. All the hallmarks of the entire season, truth be told.
Hunt tried something fresh with Mamadi Camara on the left-hand side, but he barely featured and was hooked at half-time. While the forward line had an exciting look on paper, their lack of experience and know-how showed. In big games you need big characters to step up, armed with games under their belt and the history to know what is required in games like this.
This is the sad realism that we have to deal with: we want these players to go out, have fun, enjoy the moment. But they all looked as if they did anything but enjoy it. The pressure of needing to get at least a point was too much. We needed collective responsibility and some sort of plan, but we ended up not being able to control, impress or trouble the hosts. We just looked lost out there.
Of course, it’s hard to inject confidence into a side that has very little of it to begin with. The belief, knowledge and experience are all so important in any season, but sadly this group have never really exhibited many of these traits for enough of the games this season, let alone at the business end.
Undoubtedly injuries have been key to our downfall this season. Consistency in fielding a settled XI has been a pipe-dream but the reset that Noel Hunt has had to attempt looks to be a task too far. Whether the players simply aren’t good enough or mentally they are too shot to shake off the ills of Ince’s tenure are all ideas that are up for grabs. The points of failure of Reading FC are multitudinous; none of this is new information.
How many times this season have we got back into games and then conceded soon after? Is this a collective lack of in-game intelligence or just bad luck? Certainly Coventry’s winner had a bit of Lady Luck to it, but it’s a tale that has rarely happened for us. You make your own luck, as they say, so from that we can deduce that we’re just not good enough.
Back to the game, though. Again, the opposition looked streets ahead in their organisation, shape and power. Victor Gyokeres looked a class above and should have had two or even three, minimum. He didn’t score, but his strike partner Matt Godden did. That’s (another) kind of thing we are missing as a club: if one doesn’t kill you, the other one will. But, as we know all too well, the previous mismanagement of the club as a whole has led us to where we are now. A squad that’s full of holes, lacking in depth and quality.
On the day, Coventry were miles ahead of where we wanted to be, absolutely miles ahead. It’s just hard to watch a team look to be outclassed in battles all over the pitch. We were chasing shadows from the first whistle. The effort that we had seen in the last two games didn’t turn up; maybe the adrenalin had run dry, maybe the pressure of the requirement was just too much.
Whatever it was, we didn’t have it. We haven’t had it for many, many away games this season. We just hoped that, for one game, we’d turn up and the home side would have a shocker. Unfortunately, most sides in the Championship are better at handling such situations as us.
With other results also going against us, the task that was monumental is now almost out of sight. Even if we win both our remaining games, this may not be enough. The sad realisation is that we’ve been relying on the results of other teams for weeks and that’s been fine when they’ve not been winning too. But Cardiff, QPR, Wigan and Blackpool have all managed to scrape a win here and there while we’ve managed to only draw a few.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be enough. Unless we see some minor and major miracles then the writing appears to be on the wall. The overall record of just a handful of wins since our rather majestic start has seen us slide down the table. We can all point the finger at Dai Yongge and it’s perfectly fine to do so. The sacking of Paul Ince came far too late for Hunt to turn this sh*tshow into something a little less sh*t.
We simply have to win the last two games, that is now undeniable, but even Wigan are in much better form than we are. A loss at home could see us relegated if other results don’t go to plan. Win and we’re still in with a shout, but we still have to go to Huddersfield and do something that we’ve not managed since November: win away from home. And with our old adversary, Neil Warnock, against us, he will make our lives very difficult indeed.
Whatever is required now, it will be nothing short of a miracle to achieve with a squad that is tired, broken, too old and too young, with very little in between to make a solid foundation from.
On this day we were given a stark reminder (not that it was needed) of how far we’ve slipped as a Championship side. Ultimately, you get what you deserve.