If ever there was a performance that could be typified after an unprecedented week of turmoil off the pitch, then this was it. While it’s usually the footballers themselves that make the headlines, they had to take a back seat this time around. Unfortunately for us, they put in performance that felt like they were still the passengers and not the driver.
From the first minute to the last it was a flat, stodgy, uninspiring show. But that’s not the dig that it might usually be; after the week they would have had it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise that that’s what we saw.
With Reading being front and centre in the media this week (and even me!), minds will no doubt have been distracted and, with the addition of the moves of Tom Holmes and Nelson Abbey, it certainly would have been an unusual week at Bearwood. All the dirty laundry seemed to come out in various forms; it’s hard not to feel an element of sympathy for having your club taking centre stage and not in a good way.
Accordingly, this result was one we didn’t need but we could have foreseen. With little or no momentum to feed from we never really got out of first gear. The usual protagonists of our play all had below-par showings - particularly Lewis Wing and Femi Azeez, neither of whom had games they’d fondly remember.
Wing’s passing was off and Azeez seemed to fall into the trap of trying to deliver the same kind of cross over and over again, and the result was always that the ball was cleared without much fuss.
And that’s one of the downsides of this squad - in that we have defined a way of attack and not much else to bring on to change things around. We did try that a bit when Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan came on for Paul Mukairu, but it’s a strange club to pull out of the bag.
The other option, and it’s one used with regularity, is to bring on Charlie Savage for Michael Craig. Savage was bright and keen, but couldn’t really penetrate a bus-like defence from Wigan Athletic late in the game.
After Thelo Aasgard scored a disappointingly fine goal, it was a case of none shall pass after that from the hosts. It’s not often that we see teams park the bus at home in League One, but I guess we’ve also been guilty of the same tactic in the past so it’s difficult to get sniffy about it.
Unfortunately, we had no real answer to break down a stubborn defiance that was well organised. That, and with a few of our players having distinct off days, was enough to ensure that we didn’t trouble Sam Tickle in the Wigan goal. We could have played well into the night and still not mustered a clear shot on goal. Less of a tickle, more of a fumble.
While it’s admirable that we have a level-headed bunch, they all play for each other and the camaraderie is definitely there, we don’t have that individual who will really do something brave and bold to bounce the rest into life.
We don’t have a Phil Parkinson or a Joey van den Berg, or even a Mamadou Loum (if we’re really pushing it) to be a bit nasty and to give the opposition something to fear even the tiniest amount.
You wonder whether, at some point in the season, when we really need to win three points by fair means or foul, this group has it in them to get nasty. There will come a point later in the season when we will most definitely need to get three points (some may say that’s even now, which is a very fair point), but does this group have that inner gumption? It’s a worry as we’re well into the last four months of the season and that fight has to appear eventually.
We now have two very important home games to redress the balance from this defeat. While we have two at home, Exeter City have two away against Bristol Rovers and Barnsley.
If we can get two crucial wins and City slip up twice, then we’ll overhaul them once again. Shrewsbury Town and our friends Port Vale are above and neither of them are in stellar form, so two wins are imperative to keep us close to the pack above.
We have to show a bit more imagination and fight to get those six points and Derby County will provide a stiff test in what will be an interesting atmosphere at the SCL. Gulp.