Welcome back to Planet Earth. After the seismic result in midweek, Reading returned to the league and hit familiar territory. Another forgetful performance away from home? Check. Hardly troubling the keeper? Check. No goals again? Check. This was Reading back to their most mind-numbingly frustrating worst.
But it could have been so much different had Andy Carroll buried his early penalty instead of the nonchalant shovel that Port Vale ‘keeper Connor Ripley had little problem in palming away. And that’s as good as it got for the remainder of the entire game. Nothing more, at all, whatsoever.
Initially we looked bright, lively, pinging the ball around nicely and finding space in midfield well. Vale could barely get on the ball and, when they did, it didn’t stay at their feet for long. Meanwhile, Carroll seemed hell bent on having 12 rounds with his marker. This, plus the penalty miss, caused the whole unit to lose focus which was never regained.
The big question now is whether the big fighting Geordie is now trading on name alone. Are we subdued in our play because he hasn’t got the legs to truly adopt the pressing role? We hardly seem to be serving him well with an endless amount of crosses, so what’s the point in him being there?
The only saving grace for him currently is that we don’t have any other option if Rubén Sellés insists on playing two up top. That said, playing Kelvin Ehibatiomhan on his own or with Caylan Vickers next to him doesn’t seem particularly wise either. We seem stuck between playing Carroll when Old Father Time is tapping his watch disapprovingly and the young guns being far too young to be left out alone to fend for themselves.
If Andy’s role now is to be a disturber-in-chief then that’s not reaping any rewards either. Referees are all too aware of what Andy is capable of and what scrapes he’s likely to create. The trouble there is that, even if he’s hauled down in the box, he is deemed just as guilty for causing a ruckus in the first place and the decision is nullified. Any other player might get a decision for them, but not Andy. What goes around comes around, it would seem.
By extension, after the penalty we were guilty of clipping the ball aimlessly forward for either Andy or Kelvin. Neither did well in receiving the ball and making it stick. As the game wore on, especially after Ehibhatiomhan was removed, we looked less and less threatening.
For all the early nice touches from Harvey Knibbs, dovetailing well with midfield, we faded spectacularly badly. Going forward was simply glacial in the second half. Credit must be given to the hosts as they closed down on the spaces that Charlie Savage and Knibbs created initially. Femi Azeez again frustrated in not having the intelligence to be able to make space for himself to move into. For the millionth game in a row we failed to find any width.
Despite playing narrow, we still could not find any domination in midfield. As soon as we got anywhere close to the final third the ideas dried up quicker than a summer puddle. Even after going a goal down (to another calamitous defensive horror show) there was a lack of urgency in rectifying matters. Maybe the inherent lack of confidence which hangs over the club like a swirling Dementor creates a vacuum for expression? Who knows, but it’s a problem that Sellés will have to find a way to fix and fix it very quickly.
When Tom McIntyre is your most composed player on the ball (relatively), then that says all you need to know about the level of performance. Reading lost to themselves just as much as the opposition, who weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination.
Some may point the finger at the entire back line that hasn’t been refreshed of late in the league, but we looked significantly worse for not having Nesta Guinness-Walker on the pitch. Often, and especially after the substitution of Savage, Tom Holmes played a quasi-quarterback’s role and who wants to see that?
Again, the depth deficiencies of the squad were laid bare. While many are still getting to know each other, they can be afforded some time to bed in, but the lack of risk-taking or taking some personal responsibility to stand out and make a difference would make such a difference. All our moves seemed too rigid and formulaic. Maybe that’s down to a distinct lack of true pace in the side but, if so, we have to find better ways of hurting a defence.
As footballers tend to say, at least we don’t have to wait long to “put this right”. On Tuesday we face fellow strugglers (after two games, yikes) Cheltenham Town. A loss for either would likely see them drop into the bottom four. We’re simply not ready for that kind of eventuality or reality. A win in front of the home fans is sorely needed, nay, required to get this season off the ground.
After a pair of Jekyll and Hyde performances, Sellés will have some difficult decisions to make. Hopefully decisions that will let the side show their teeth a bit more, as this performance was sadly more akin to pulling teeth.