Ah, the more things change the more things stay the same; another defeat at home. The result might have been easily foretold in the days and weeks leading up to the season opener but the manner of the defeat certainly wasn’t.
There’s a slew of mitigating factors for this very hard-fought loss, we all know that. A pre-season that is still in progress as the season begins, a squad that’s nowhere near its final form, player fitness that is still not quite there yet, ownership issues that must take a toll mentally albeit differently to how a fan would feel it.
All these things contributed to this home loss, but it wasn’t all bad news.
The opening 20 minutes or so was up there in terms of tenacity, spirit and… oh this sounds familiar! Reading blasted out of the blocks, maybe a bit too hard in hindsight, and really caused Posh a lot of bother. The high press that new manager Rubén Sellés wishes to adopt was really causing issues. Time and again, we won the ball deep into opposition territory, causing errors and wayward passes. Posh found it hard to cope but we couldn’t take our chances.
It seemed we had to take one or maybe two of these to allay any fears that the opposition could hurt us at some point. They surely would eventually. And so it came to pass. Reading tired, and tired quickly. Peterborough grew in confidence, perhaps in knowing that our high intensity couldn’t last, and duly scored in the most typical ‘Reading of old way of conceding a goal’. Bad marking, no engagement, allowing a speculative cross to land to another badly marked target and somehow the ball nestled into the corner of the net. Totally avoidable at various points of failure. It’s almost like Paul Ince was never away.
It’s these kinds of gifts that Sellés will want to iron out and quickly. If defenders need to engage, do it and do it quickly. Don’t allow crosses to trouble us. If we can learn just one thing from last season, then please shut down crosses into the box. Please.
The second half was a much more even contest: we still looked tired, more tired than the opposition, but Posh never really looked like increasing their lead. What was pleasing at this point was to witness the identity that is slowly bleeding into sight. Player movement within their positions was varied and much less static. Players talked to each other constantly, gesticulating where they’d want their compatriots to move to; the communication and togetherness were obvious and constant.
Substitutions by Selles were made early and sensibly, too. Yiadom was struggling to keep up with Ricky-Jade Jones (but most players would in truth), Selles spotted this immediately and brought on Amadou Mbengue, who not only dealt with Jones admirably but also caused issues himself going forward with his directness and youthful exuberance.
Caylan Vickers did himself no harm at all with a delightful wee cameo, replete with an exquisite bit of skill not seen since the days of Mass Sarr! Lewis Wing was quieter, but was shuffled around in the last 20 minutes so quite hard and very early to judge. But still, the point is that Selles wasn’t afraid to make changes, even youthful ones. That said, it’s all he’s got to work with also for the moment.
Last season started in a similar fashion where the bench contained the likes of John Clarke, Kian Leavy, Basil Tuma, etc. But at least Sellés, at this point, seems unafraid to use them whereas Ince was loath to even give kids the time of day, let alone to kick a ball with the big lads for more than five minutes.
Again, much like last season, we will make further moves into the transfer market probably up until the very end of August. This squad needs fleshing out and it will get that. We need another striker to cover and compliment the injured Sam Smith. Ideally, one with some pace and power as what we have currently is a little too similar in mould. Whilst Ehibhatiomhan showed some glimpses of what could be to come, he’s still very raw.
Harlee Dean will be a fine addition that will provide leadership and experience in defence. Goalkeeper Joel Pereira is heavily rumoured to be joining on Monday. That’s so out of leftfield that nobody knows what to expect there.
If the rumoured “six more players” comes to fruition, then we could have the making of a squad that could certainly have a bit of fun once they gel. SellesBall, even from what little we saw in this showing, has its potential to cause absolute mayhem in this league where the first touch is certainly nowhere near as assured as in the Championship!
What this squad desperately needs is a bit of confidence. Whilst the effort was there in spades, the belief still belies them. If, and when, we get into a position where we have a one- or even a two-goal lead in a game, we’ll see such a difference. However, we haven’t been in that position for such a long time either; the players have no reference to being ahead in a game yet. Until then, all of Sellés’ words and actions won’t truly click into place. It might still take a while for this to occur, we always live in hope!
With all of this in mind, this is an easier defeat to stomach. Nobody expected us to hit the ground running, nobody should or would have foretold a romping 3-0 classic for the opening game. We’ve got to find our feet before those feet start to dazzle, if they do dazzle at all. But the signs are there.
The squad, even now, clearly wants to play for each other. Sellés desperately wants to create a togetherness with the fans (that are clearly suffering enough as it is). The players, to a man, applauded the fans at the end of the game; he knows that they need us and we need them. We all want to be proud of the same thing at the end of the day.
During this applause, Charlie Savage, clearly frustrated and annoyed, threw his sock ties to the ground. Selles witnessed this and went to Savage. He put his hands to either side of Savage’s head and their foreheads met. Whatever was said we’ll never know but it’s these types of interactions that will be the hallmark of Sellés’ reign. His man management, albeit in its infancy, is already lightyears ahead of his predecessor.
Whilst a loss is a loss, there’s a way of losing that can still show that there’s much, much better ahead. Once the legs have caught up to the mind and there are more bodies to spread the load, we’ll be in a happier place. We’re not there just yet, not by a long chalk, but slowly this oil-tanker of a problem, on the field at least, is turning around. Slowly.