It’s tricky to know where to start. The week we’ve just experienced as Reading fans has been, well, not ideal. All that needed to happen in the game against Birmingham City was that the players - after all the talk of “going to war”, getting some points back, everyone standing up and being counted etc - needed to get the win. It didn’t happen. And it’s hard to feel anything other than massive amounts of pessimism.
Let’s start with the team. All this chat about being more attack-minded, more positive… wasn’t evident. Yeah, he played Yakou Meite, Lucas Joao and Andy Carroll, but the team was grossly unbalanced (you can play a left-footed player sometimes - we had some on the bench). He clearly doesn’t rate Nesta Guinness-Walker or Femi Azeez, doesn’t seem to want width in the team to support Carroll and didn’t - with that selection anyway - seem to know how to attack.
“Alright Ben,” I can hear you say with your judging eyes. “What would you do?” Thanks for asking! This is what I’d have done
Yiadom, Holmes, Sarr, Guinness-Walker
Casadei, Hendrick, Fornah
Meite, Joao, Azeez
Obviously Carroll ended up scoring a peach (more on him and his contribution later), but at least give us hope that what you’ve been saying all week isn’t complete lies. With that line-up, it would have shown some intent, it would have been a departure from what we’ve been doing (which hasn’t been working) and would have, at the minimum, taken the game to the visitors.
What we got, I think, was a really sh*tty hybrid of 4-4-2. And look, it worked for the first 10 minutes while Birmingham were trying to figure out what the hell they were doing to stop us playing. A really nice goal for the fans inside kept them going for a bit, but then we reverted to type, gave away a tragic goal defensively and then failed to push on in a must-win game.
Let’s go back to my formation. Meite clearly wasn’t fit. However, he could have put more of a shift in for 45 minutes playing in that formation than any other. At half-time, you could then hook him for Carroll to come on and give you the same level of energy for the last 45.
What we got was both players being played to their absolute limit to the detriment of the whole team, the players tired tremendously quickly as they were then carrying players that shouldn’t have played as many minutes as they did and we ended up seeing out the game in what I like to call “testimonial mode”.
Again, let’s refer to the magnitude of the game. This was must-win. We didn’t. As the next six games unfold, we will look back on those last 10 minutes as crucial in our season. There was enough energy and enthusiasm on the bench to make a difference (both Kelvins FFS). That’s all it needed - something different. I don’t think I’d even mind if we went for it having made some changes and then lost the game - at least SHOW some willing.
There were players at the end literally walking. In a must-win game. The energy that had been so prevalent off the pitch (the fans were excellent) was replaced by nervousness, tension and, in my case, just absolute horror at what was happening on the pitch.
We all know the consequences of this result. We’ve dropped into the bottom three, have six games left against teams that have something to play for (Burnley probably being the “easiest” of that lot as they are champions in waiting) and aren’t looking like winning a game anytime soon.
All of that adds up to the fact that, right now, the overriding feeling is that we’ll be relegated to League One. I would dearly love to be wrong about that because the consequences of dropping down a division would be absolutely catastrophic for this club.
Until next time.