Staring Down the Barrel of a Gun

In 62 days, Reading have collected a mere six points. During that time, only one win has been registered. They have only scored over one goal a game twice in 11 games. The opposition has scored twice in 8 of those 11 fixtures.

No matter which set of statistics one would care to throw, none of them look particularly pretty.

We now have 84 days left of this disastrous season and for most Reading fans, it is now safe to say, they have had enough of what the current management appear to be able to muster from this squad.

A squad that has largely been assembled by the current men in charge, and lately, having spent an enormous amount of money in comparison to previous seasons. The points of failure are many and of those many can be attributed to the management – that much is an inconvenient truth.

The only mitigating factor that could be defendable are the injuries to key players, such as Swift and Obita for large parts of the season. Otherwise, a litany of errors has left the fans on the verge of begging for a change.

The persistence of a system that is now so easily read by the opposition that we form as much threat as a kitten. The unwillingness to change from that system to one that some sort of tempo can be found, or a formation that would at least help with minimising the defensive errors that have become the hallmark of the defence. The insistence on playing a 36 year old striker who’s better days have long since passed, sadly. The endless tinkering with a midfield that, at last count, has had 13 different combinations. Those are just the on the field issues.

Off the field, Jaap Stam has managed only to alienate almost every generation of fan, apportion blame to anyone but himself and reduce what, on paper, is without doubt, one of decent potential into an unproductive gibbering mess.

A psychologist would have a field day with what the players must be having to deal with once they go over the white line. The body language shown is tentative, withdrawn and negative. Any creativity is negligible and rarely is successful. The mere basics of professional football – passing, tackling, movement, ball control now seem to be the hardest of tasks to achieve. Lest we forget some criminal defending, arguments with team-mates and in-actions and actions towards the fans themselves.

In interests of fairness, I have tried to find something to balance out the failures; but there are none to find. Anything and everything that could be differed, bettered, matured or evolved simply has not happened.

There is little to justify keeping Stam in the job. Many managers have had better form than this and still lost their position. Any citing of a three year plan is moot as what club does not have a plan of sorts? Our plan currently is no better than one of a startup creche. The Chinese may have their eyes on the bigger picture, but if they do not start to control the nuts and bolts the wheels will soon fall off.

The mere thought of entering League One creates more financial issues that would be enough to cover an article much longer than this….and none of them would be ‘good’. Let’s not kid ourselves; a reset from League One would not be a walk in the park, nor would it be ‘for the best’.

We have 84 days left to arrest this trainwreck of a season. The change needs to come and come soon. There is only one course of action left to take.

 

 

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Reading 0-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers Player Ratings

Vito Mannone – 6

Oddly, wasn’t really tested that much considering how much power Wolves had going forward. Left on his backside for Wolves’ excellent first and ruefully exposed by the AWOL defence for the second. Otherwise, Vito being Vito.

Chris Gunter – 6

Did relatively well considering he’s ahead in the pecking order over two other players who could also play left-back. Playing off his wrong foot, he still puts in the same effort regardless of flank. Looked so much more comfortable when moved over to the right. That said, if he is to gain more confidence, he really does need to return to right back on a more regular basis.

Leandro Bacuna – 5

The one where Leandro ‘phoned it in’ for the first time in a Royals shirt. Looked quite disinterested at right back and even more so at left back. I can sympathise in way as his best position is in the middle – ironically where we really needed him today. This one is on Stam, I’m afraid.

Paul McShane – 5

A more energetic performance from the Irishman, but often left chasing pace as the attacks kept coming. When you’re outshone by a midfielder masquerading as a centre back, you can’t help but feel that time is catching up with Macca a tad. Still reliable, but doubts creep in.

Liam Moore – 7

In the week where Liam has courted attention North of the Border in an attempt to lure him into retire early as a professional footballer, Moore did his very best to quell the marauding forwards of the opposition. Did well moving further forward in the second half especially to inject some life into midfield.

Tiago Ilori – 5

Strangely, but somewhat boldly removed by Stam around the half hour mark. Didn’t appear to do an awful lot wrong yet was pulled from the fray. Maybe he was still suffering from his head injury yet this seemed to be not the case from Stam’s post match interview.

Joey van den Berg – 7

A few weeks ago, I disparaged Joey for a woeful performance but today I can gladly say that he stepped up where others failed to do so. One of the few to try and match Wolves’ power and physique with any kind of success. Actually performed better as a centre-half than in midfield. Bizarre!

John Swift – 7

John just about edges it for Man of The Match of The Hooped Variety. Inventive, bold, tireless and often at the core of our best moves. Unlucky in the very first minute to hit the post which could have changed the game completely. Often at the core of everything that was good about our performance. Viva Le Swift.

Mo Barrow – 6

A decent showing from Mo without ever really doing anything stellar. Is he still not quite at full speed? I’m not certain. At times he looks like he cannot run another step, but then lurches forward on a lung busting run. Often outgunned against the huge behemoths at the back for Wolves – something Stam often fails to acknowledge exists.

Roy Beerens – 4

According to the manager being able to run for 90 plus minutes and able to put in a shift is good enough for a Championship footballer. We just have to forego any quality or threat of any kind. Bullied by Boly in the first half, Roy failed to inspire any faith in the decision to start him in every fixture, whilst others wonder why on earth they are dropped. We all know the answer (it rhymes with Flap). (I’m being polite).

Yann Kermorgant – 6

A whole lot of effort with little to work with. Excellent defensive work, as ever, but never had a clear chance at the business end. Obviously, still finding his fitness again but glimpses of the Yann we know and love were there to see.

 

Substitutes

Dave Edwards – 6

Inexplicably dropped in a game where he should have started against his former employers. Once again he must be shaking his head at how he is in the team one day, performs well, then dropped for the next game. Baffling.

Sone Aluko – 6

Brought on to replace Kermorgant, but did not play up front – that was the gift bestowed on the giant that is Beerens. Yeah, go figure. A few nice touches here and there, but found it difficult to be at the centre of many moves.

Jon Dadi Böðvarsson – N/A

Had little time to be involved, truth be told.

 

Manager  – 5

The stat that was doing the rounds before kick-off was that we have failed to submit the same side in 21 fixtures this season. A lot of the decisions appear to be so haphazard that it’s a wonder if they are called in via Ouija board. Why play one player out of position when three could do? Sure, let’s play a right back at left back, a right back out of position and a central midfield with more holes than a red light district.

It is no wonder we were totally out-powered by a rampant Wolves outfit that were well worth their position in the table. Yes, we had our chances, some should have been taken – but so many times Stam instructs players to possess the football with their back to the goal for pointless (backward) passes in and around midfield instead of playing with invention and drive to trouble the opposition – a preserve only John Swift could lay claim to.

It seemed that because Aluko couldn’t play 90 minutes, then Edwards couldn’t start, Richards was surplus to requirements (despite a very decent debut), Bacuna was bored to death and Gunter kept out two other natural left-backs. It’s wonder if some of the XI’s are just a toss of a coin whilst holding a rabbits foot and looking into a mug of tea for inspiration. We need more stability instead of relying on miracles to find consistency as chopping and changing so drastically for little effect is wearing thin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Finny.

 

Reading 1-2 Norwich City Player Ratings

Vito Mannone – 6

Another quiet game for Vito bar picking the ball out of his net twice. Whilst left stranded for Maddison’s pin-point free kick, no keeper would have likely saved that. Little chance for Jerome’s header where the defence went AWOL. Thus far, Vito’s been reliable and much less prone to disaster than the previous incumbent. (Furiously, trying to find a bright side here…)

Chris Gunter – 4

A dreadful game for the Welsh International. Error strewn, bad decision making (although he was hardly alone there) and save a rare shot that hit the crossbar, his contribution is more likely to be remembered for passing to two Norwich players in the space of ten seconds in and around the edge of the box.

Tyler Blackett – 4

I forgot to add Tyler to the scores last week and I wish I could have done the same today. Like Gunter, passing and finding man seemed like an alien sport. Time and time again he failed to find his target – even if he was ten yards away. In some defence, if there could be any, Norwich did target our wing-backs and why wouldn’t you?

Paul McShane – 5

At one point in the second half, Macca looked up at the East Stand and shook his head. As may well he should as he is increasingly looking like a player where the game is getting away from him. He’s still one of our best defenders, undoubtedly, but the composure isn’t there, nor the confidence.

Liam Moore – 7

Liam is now, in my eyes, the true captain of the side, leading by example, strong in the tackle, committed and passionate – the only slight problem being that many of the team fail to get onboard. A well taken header from a set-piece also. That’s two in a week, folks.

Joey van den Berg – 6

Against Hull City, I gave Joey a bit of a pasting in the ratings, but I’ll hold my hand up here and say I was impressed. There was a lot less of the impulsiveness and gung-ho attitude and more bravado and some eye watering challenges. How he didn’t get booked I’ll never know as he spent more time talking to the Ref than he probably did his wife in the last week!

Leandro Bacuna – 7

Another very decent performance from the former Villa enfant terrible. At this stage in his career as a Royal, you wonder what on earth he did wrong in the Midlands? He’s now a name that’s first on team sheet* and when we’re without him it’s certainly to the detriment of the XI. Bar a booking after five minutes, he controlled himself well considering some of the challenged flying around.

*unless you’re Jaap Stam.

Liam Kelly – 5

Energetic and showed some nice touches, but the game seemed to get away from Liam in the second half, especially. Often out-muscled by City’s excellent midfield, he struggled to find rhythm. But in defence, I feel that’s poor management by Stam as our midfield chops and changes so often that these crucial partnerships are not being formed.

Roy Beerens – 5

Yet another game, where Roy flitted in and out without ever being effective, bar the free kick for Moore’s goal. Again, in defence, playing up front as some twisted joke of a false nine is not his fault.

Sone Aluko – 5

Showed signs of improvement, but like Beerens, suffers at the lack of a manager who knows how to play him. Some nice touches, especially in the first half, but faded in the second.

Garath McCleary – 5

Ditto Beerens and Aluko – being forced to play in a role where you neither enjoy or excel is never going to deliver results, but Garath is forced to. Flitted between right side of the three and in the middle of the false nine bobbins, but why when Norwich had two huge totem poles in central defence? Boggling.

 

Subs

Jon Dadi Böðvarsson – 6

Again, brought on to change the game to bring some sense of normality to proceedings. He did well to bring others into the game, but did not unfortunately get any chances.

Omar Richards – 6

Did well for his first home league debut in the short amount of time he had. Showed some nice touches and did not seem overawed in any way.

Mo Barrow – 5

Not Mo’s fault, but why bring the guy on and then proceed not to give him the ball? He must have been on the pitch for ten minutes before even touching the ball. He cut a very despondent figure; waiting for the ball to arrive when in yards of space.

 

Manager

Jaap Stam – 5

It’s often said that a manager who sticks to principles but make stranger and stranger decisions is one who is in trouble. Stam is steadfast in playing a system where our strengths are not utilised and players in positions where they clearly do not enjoy being in. As a result, we’re just not a cohesive unit. The defence is set up fine, but between midfield and ‘attack’ (let’s be honest, there is no attack) – there’s such a huge disconnect. The chopping and changing of midfield creates uncertainty (let alone dropping Edwards after scoring a goal) and the insistence of playing Beerens, McCleary and Aluko up front when not one of them has shown any signs of creativity in open play, or scoring a goal. The blame likes firmly at Jaap’s door.

We lost due to not playing as a unit, one where each player understands their role and is good at it. Norwich played as a team, knew their strengths and, at times, played like the home side. Mentally, they did a job on us, and our lack of organisation and tactics again cost us dear. The worries continue…

Reading 1-1 Hull City Player Ratings

Vito Mannone – 6

In truth, Vito had little to do for most of the game. Back passes seemed to be less so than against Bristol City, but generally was tidy in possession. Did not have much of a chance to save the Hull goal, alas.

Chris Gunter – 5

Whilst being a typical Gunter performance, he seemed to be lacking drive and energy. As a Wing-Back, he did not seem keen to get forward especially in the second half. Surprisingly substituted, not for the performance, but for the fact he very rarely fails to finish the game.

Tyler Blackett – 6

A little like Gunter, his performance is very similar week in, week out – but sadly, that’s not great. Often frustrated at the lack of movement ahead of him, so blame cannot be totally attributed to him, however, he, like Gunter again, is not a Wing-Back and runs into blind alleys far too often.

Paul McShane – 5

Starting to look a little ragged and off the pace is the captain. No doubt he’s still as vocal as ever, but at times he looked unsure what to do in possession even when in space. Obviously, he’s not as adept a ball player as Moore or Ilori, but this seems to be more noticable this season.

Liam Moore – 6

Quiet and efficient as ever, but like others, lacking a little in drive and confidence. Did nothing particularly wrong, just swallowed up in the general malaise of the side.

Joey van den Berg – 3

I will be blunt, but Joey is not of the level required for the Championship. He has neither the skill or intelligence to do the right thing at the right time. A really poor performance which begs the question how he is favoured over the likes of Ilori? A couple of the worst attempts at goal since Paul Brayson (ask your Dad).

Liam Kelly – 7

Until he was (oddly) removed by Stam, Liam was very effective, ran with purpose, played some decent balls through midfield and generally was the only player to provide any sort of creative outlet. Though we scored our only goal without him. Football, eh!

Dave Edwards – 6

Obviously Dave is bedding in and needs times to find his position but at times he did not seem to feature much in the game. Did provide some good movement in general but did nothing of any note. However, he could one of those players that does a lot more, but you just don’t notice it.

Roy Beerens – 5

Never truly seemed comfortable with the position he was asked to play, nor attuned to the physicality of the game. Often Roy is simply out-muscled by the full-back when unable to beat him for pace.

Sone Aluko – 6

Whilst the remit was to link midfield to attack, Sone roamed around but without finding the space that we desperately required. A few decent runs and a difficult miss in the first half, but was otherwise pretty quiet – worryingly so.

Garath McCleary – 5

Another performance where G is asked to play in a position where he’s obviously not as effective as out wide. Anonymous, one could say, until moved out to the wing to cater for Böðvarsson, when, as if by magic, he came alive.

Subs

Jordan Obita – 6

Brought on after a mere 5 minutes of the second half, Jordan provided much needed impetus on the left hand side – as a Wing-Back should! Delivered some decent crosses that were crying out for a forward (with any semblance of height) to control. Looked to have received a bad injury at the very end of the game.

Thiago Ilori – 6

Showed plenty of composure and enough to wonder how on earth he does not get a start. Some classy touches without the drama of the likes of van den Berg.

Jon Dadi Böðvarsson – 7

Take a bow, son! Finally, a Plan B that actually delivered. With the miss(es) of the Bristol City game on his shoulders, being substituted at half-time against Brentford, the pressure was truly on for the Icelander. A game-changer in every sense of the word by winning headers, flick-ons and doing everything that had been missing from the game until his arrival. Finally, a focalpoint for our attack! A coolly taken finish from a tricky angle. (But please can he not be called Jon Dadi BöðvarDsson!!)

Jaap Stam – 3.

A baffling line-up, with three central defenders (one of whom patently isn’t), two central midfielders, two wing-backs that cannot provide assists, three wingers in play that lacked mobility and no centre-forward. The belligerence and stubbornness to play a certain way regardless of personnel and without any tangible end product is starting to wear thin, especially at home. There also seems to be a tendency to start blaming the opposition for “playing in a certain way” (i.e. defending) that he is now using as almost an excuse.

For a forward line that on paper is full of running and mobility, none of which were present until changes were made that actually made sense. Pigeonholing players to positions where they ‘might’ be effective appears to be sapping any confidence the players ever had.

Oh, and he upset the fans a bit too. Ouch.

Reading 0-1 Bristol City

Vito Mannone – 6

Mostly kept busy by constant annoyance from Messrs McShane and Moore. Little to do, in the main, but perhaps could have done better with the only goal of the game.

Chris Gunter – 6

Classic Gunter, really. Didn’t do anything bad, nor good. He is venturing forward more this season, I feel, but end product is never something to rely on, or expect. (Was sometimes visually aghast at our ponderous play around the back).

Paul McShane – 5

Probably the most frustrating performance I have seen from Macca. Countless times he brought Mannone into play when the ball should have gone forward sooner. As captain, he should be leading by example positively, but today was not that day.

Liam Moore – 6

Again, similar to McShane, he passed back to Mannone too often when had time to look up and see a better option. Did perform an excellent block in the first half to avoid a City break away.

Tyler Blackett – 7

Oh Tyler! Such a fine line between confidence and arrogance! At times, he was very decent, then he gets excited and it’s back to Tyler losing the ball in good areas. Generally, much improved at Wing Back, but (like Gunter), end product is always a problem.

Joey van den Berg – 5

Joey had one of those games where he epitomes everything we’ve become to know and expect from the Dutchman. Wayward first touches, a booking and much shaking of heads in the stands.

Leandro Bacuna – 6

Did nothing particularly great or badly, but did not seem to be able to control the midfield. He floated, rather than being box to box, but I felt that because the Central Defenders kept using the goalkeeper than bringing out in to midfield, I don’t feel he could be blamed. Obviously, time takes time – he will need time to adjust, as all the new signings will need.

Liam Kelly – 5

Not the best of games, despite being injured. Often seemed to be chasing shadows or tried to make up for the game passing him by taking on shots himself, which was neither the best option or led to the best results. Seemed laboured from the off, which is most unlike Liam.

Modou Barrow – 7

A shining light! Another 70 minute performance where he proved to be our most threatening player, by far. A constant pest to the City right back, often leaving him for dead. Put over a few good crosses which no player could reach or be in the right position for. Stam clearly feels he cannot last 90 minutes yet, but when he was removed so did any remaining threat.

Sone Aluko – 6

We expected a lot from our, alleged, record signing and we did see it in fleeting moments. Had some sweet moments of skill and trickery, ghosting past players in central positions. If Barrow still is not match fit, then Aluko also seemed to tire at a similar rate in the second half, which was odd as he has played from the start of the season for Fulham.

Jon Dadi Böðvarsson – 5

Worked hard, undoubtedly, but guilty of two gilted edged chances. The second of which he should have definitely scored from. For a man of his size, he was bullied by Flint and Baker. He needed to impose himself against the opposition defence, but faded badly.

Substitutes

Garath McCleary – 6

Had a few nice moments and put over a few decent crosses. Looks to be gaining fitness, but will have to work for his place with the arrival of Aluko.

Dave Edwards – 6

Put himself about a bit but, probably through no fault of his own, seemed to chase the ball rather than be put in a specific position. As he has only met the squad after the international break this is understandable.

Roy Beerens – 5

Did absolutely nothing to change the game, whatsoever.

 

Neill Rees – @mostlybobbins

 

Let us know if you agree or disagree via the EPR twitter account or the comments below.

 

 

Mental Fragility 

2015/16 came with much promise and hope, yet was punctured by instability, in-fighting and inglorious failure. When you look back, it’s a wonder we managed to stay afloat at all, such was the turmoil – a raft of new (loan) players, a manager rolling the dice and finding himself out of work, the return of a false prophet – far too many metaphors to chuck at the whole shooting match!

Now we get down to business once more, but the more things change the more they stay the same. Jaap’s work on the team will not only be devoted to the ball and the feet. What is probably just as important, possibly more, is the belief that has been eroded from the club, not just last season but for a few seasons hence. All of which he knows nothing of and would only have been informed of briefly.

We saw and felt the unit thrive and fall under Clarke, under who we played undoubtedly our best football of many a year, but for it all to fall apart after the Fulham away fixture where a two goal lead was squandered. Subsequently we went off the rails in dramatic style. Players visibly lost all confidence, simple passes wandered off the pitch, crossing drifted into woeful areas, penalties and simple chances were unable to be finished. A doughnut of a midfield with a defence made of jelly. It was as awful as that awful food combo sounds.

The new coaching team will have one hell of a task not only to deploy a 4-3-3 system that has rarely been successful here, but to instil into the players that they can be winners, that they have the ability to succeed and banish the previous failures away. Equate it to ‘normal life’ where you don’t feel at your best, you’re downtrodden and low; someone telling you you’re great, the best, wonderful, isn’t enough. You’ve got to earn that feeling that can’t be handed to you. The management will have to ‘manage’ all the battered egos, the young who have much to learn, the new signings who need to be made comfortable and to feel at home.  All in all, it’s a very tough ask for a manager cutting his teeth in one of the most demanding leagues in Europe. A task we need to be very mindful of during the formative weeks and months – I can almost guarantee we won’t hit the ground running. Even if we do, it may only take a result like the one at Craven Cottage to bring us back down to earth with a resounding crash. Leaders within the team need to be found. Partnerships are required all over the pitch. Bonds, like we have seen in the past with Gunter and McCleary, are required to grow. A group willing to die for each other, figuratively speaking, of course.

If we look at the opposite end of the spectrum, a team like Leicester winning the whole shebang was not won purely on the field. Their mental strength week after week was proven. Claudio Ranieri batted every win away, saying it was not a foregone conclusion, but internally, he praised his players so highly that they couldn’t help but ride the wave all the way to the title. Take another example in Wales (excuse my nationalistic pride for a minute!) A couple of star players aside, their obvious togetherness and spirit drove them to a semi-final. In modern parlance, both those examples were “totally on it”. They had the will to win embroidered into the fabric of their teams. And that’s what we’re missing – a team, in the proper sense of the word. We had individuals masquerading as a unit last season. Togetherness was alluded to – “a great set of lads” that enjoyed each others company, yet we had the instance of Williams and McShane squaring up in a game we were not even losing at the time.

Hark back to the revered 106 team, their spirit shone through in a system that was simple yet impossible to stop. The opposition had lost before even venturing onto the field. Fast forward to our team ten years later – disjointed,imbalanced, staccato, rudderless. The fans felt the players’ own frustrations as time after time simple goals were conceded; fingers were duly pointed. As soon as we went a goal down, that was pretty much game over. We didn’t have the capacity as a group to turn it around.

Less than a week away before the season kicks off again, our level of excitement is peaking with new kits being released and rumours of stellar signings, but consider this a word of warning -Jaap, the staff and the new team is one that is still forming and one whose final XI is very much a work in progress, not just with the ball at their feet but the grey in between. The ghosts of previous failures need to be exorcised. We need time, patience and of course, our support.

 
Neill Rees 

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