As a lifelong Reading fan myself, our start to the season has been one that has particularly worried myself. After a start to the season that wasn’t particularly worrying from a fans perspective, the side has slumped to a shoddy one win in nine games and perhaps are starting to look over their shoulders a little bit. The pressure is increasing on Nigel Adkins who realistically has to expect his team to perform better given the quality his team possesses even with the well documented injury issues. After tweeting for fans opinions on the current state of the club, it was rather clear the factors blamed for the positioning of the Royals.
A lack of leadership is something that has been commented upon particularly within the squad. Fellow Royals supporter @lmjnr1871 tweeted me with an array of issues that he saw with the team and one of them I think was absolutely spot on. The fact our skipper Jem Karacan has been out sidelined for over a year is automatically a concern, given the need to bring in temporary captains in the mean time. Most notably of which has been Chris Gunter who despite being a good player for the Royals since his arrival in 2012, has hardly filled fans with a sense of overwhelming confidence in his leadership capabilities. It was an interesting choice from the club to appoint Karacan as the skipper at the start of the campaign given he was far from ready to return to the first team squad, as can be seen with the fact Karacan is still out almost 3 months into the season.
@JackSimpson1996 added his concerns upon the fact that the lack of leadership has led to a failure to come from behind.
@MattJamesJoy no character or leaders in the squad every time we go behind the heads go down.
— Jack (@jacksimpson1996) November 2, 2014
The simple fact of the matter is when we go behind we don’t come back, not like we should. Heads drop, and it appears at the moment that no one is there to pick them up. Hopefully this will alter following the return of Karacan, but given the experience we do have in the squad and the failure to do so so far will be somewhat worrying for Nigel Adkins. A second common theme to the failures the Royals have had so far is the somewhat baffling tactical methods employed by Adkins so far this season. A lack of protection offered in the centre of midfield, a reliance on long balls out wide and then crosses which are rarely met with a blue and white shirt and rash forward runs from the full backs with no real cover being offered. The team sometimes look like they have never seen each other before, they don’t seem to communicate and this lack of order or a plan B is hugely frustrating and concerning for those of us in the terraces.
Team selection has been equally baffling, none more so than on the weekend when Adkins dropped Jamie Mackie despite a man of the match performance against Blackpool, and replacing him with Hal Robson Kanu, which was not received terribly well by the supporters. You look around the division and even the country and teams and even managers do tend to have distinctive tactics which are associated with them. Adkins has been praised for positive free flowing and attacking football, however the last nine games reveal an alarming statistic. With all due respect to Blackpool and their supporters, the Royals are expected to have beaten their depleted squad no matter the form. If that game is excluded, the last eight games have produced five goals with 18 conceded which brings me on to the next point.
The defence has been the main issue this year without a shadow of a doubt. Only two teams have a worse defensive record than the 26 goals conceded by the Royals defence by this year, which are Birmingham and Fulham with 28 each. Why has our defence been so woeful so far this year? Well, for one, the injury list cannot be to blame. Nigel Adkins knew the defence that he was left with following the sales of Morrison and even Carrico and the departures of Gorkss and Bridge. However, for some reason a failure to spot defensive weaknesses by Adkins has led to a defence, which was somewhat kindly described as ‘shaky’ by @joeydavey1996 on twitter.
Fellow fan @laphamboi commented on individual players:
@MattJamesJoy the obvious problem is the defence, we are capable in every other position. pearce is poor, hector unreliable, cooper is young
— LAPSY LIMBSSS (@laphamboi) November 2, 2014
However should our defence look as unreliable as it does? Gunter has over 50 caps for the Welsh national squad, Pearce has been played 177 times for us, Jordan Obita shone last year and was voted our player of the season (as Pearce was incidentally in 2012) and Hector has shone for Aberdeen previously. A lack of back up is to blame, Cooper has been decent since his promotion to the full squad but at this level stronger depth is needed. Will that return when Ferdinand comes back in? Well, that can only be speculated at this point.
I think truthfully our problem has been too many scapegoats. Financial difficulties and a heavy injury list are all negative factors, but they are part and parcel of the modern game I am afraid. Players need to stop thinking it is acceptable for their performances to be of this level because of the injury list. Yes, we are missing a number of players but you’ve got to give 100% with the hand you have dealt and the way it seems sometimes certain players don’t know a heart from a spade in that hand. Nigel Adkins needs to stop believing that ‘positivity in the camp’ will be enough and the players need to start playing for the shirt and not just think they can walk into the side because of the depleted nature of the squad. Onwards and upwards however!