It’s fair to say that the season’s restart has not gone to plan for Reading. One point from three games stands as one of the poorest returns in the Championship, and the Royals may well now be wishing that the campaign had been curtailed instead.
The draw with Stoke was agonising, the defeat to Derby was frustrating, but Tuesday’s 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Brentford was simply embarrassing.
There is no doubting that the Bees are one of the best sides in the division who could be playing in the Premier League next season, but the lack of fight from Reading was alarming. Going forward, they managed just one shot on target in the entire game, whilst at the back, the defending for the first two goals was worrying.
Only two weeks ago, the excitement supplied by football’s return had filled supporters with optimism that Mark Bowen’s men could mount a late play-off challenge, but that prospect is now firmly off the table.
Some fans are even suggesting that relegation remains a possibility. While I feel this is a little far-fetched – there are too many clubs who will need to go on good runs to see Reading fall into real danger – the team do need to start picking up points to avoid ending the season with a whimper.
Reading’s next four games come against sides currently in the bottom seven – Luton, Huddersfield, Charlton and Middlesbrough. These will certainly not be easy fixtures considering that they will all be desperate for wins to climb away from relegation trouble, but they provide good opportunities for the Royals to show what they are capable of and give fans something to shout about.
Bowen needs to use this final group of fixtures to give his side a head start going into the new campaign. So far in the restart, he has rigidly stuck to a similar system in all three games, only changing formation for the second half against Brentford. Now is a time for experimentation, and after such a poor defeat, the side needs freshening up. Any players who are not expected to be at the club next season should be politely pushed to the side.
For example at right-back, Chris Gunter looks set to move on to pastures new, so why not give an academy option such as Tennai Watson or Marcel Elva-Fountaine the chance? Perhaps even Felipe Araruna, who is yet to even be included in a matchday squad after lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Royals are crying out for a natural winger, but Ayub Masika and Lucas Boye have barely been given a sniff. Both may be loanees, but reports suggest that talks are ongoing about keeping the pair on beyond the summer.
There may be little on the line, but Bowen needs to provide the fanbase with some sort of excitement and hope to take into next season, otherwise supporters could begin to turn. The reaction to Tuesday’s loss suggests that some already have.
By Olly Allen