Season summed up in a single game as Reading fail again

Posted by Jon Keen

Anyone wanting to see everything that's gone wrong with Reading's season, all bundled up into a single 90-minute package, would just have to watch this one match. For the 2-0 home defeat to Southampton contained all the elements which have made Reading's season such dire watching for Loyal Royals.

- Rann: Saints dethrone Royals
- Delaney: Upwardly mobile Saints sink Adkins
- Royals boss Adkins remains realistic

These will all be familiar to watchers of Reading: the changes of personnel that make little difference to the outcome; the combination of an ineffectual, outnumbered strike-force and an over-run midfield; missed chances at crucial times; silly mistakes gifting possession to the opposition where it hurts most; desperate defending plus lots of effort and hard-work for very little result. There was even the obligatory dodgy refereeing decision, and, most cruelly of all, a short purple patch in the middle where that bitterest of emotions, hope, was raised.

For a short period of about ten minutes in the first-half, Reading looked effective and could have scored three times, but they didn't, and Southampton themselves took the lead shortly afterwards to snatch the hope away. This has echoes of Reading's brief flourish of wins to move out of the relegation zone in January, but that now seems a long-distant memory. All realistic hopes of staying up have evaporated after this seventh straight Premier League defeat.

New manager Nigel Adkins, who surely wanted to win this match against the team that sacked him more than any other, shuffled the pack around with four changes from the team defeated by Arsenal. But to be honest there are so few worthwhile cards in that pack that his options are severely limited. Saturday's formation was 4-5-1, with Adam Le Fondre alone up front and with Danny Guthrie clearly meant to be pulling the strings as the most advanced of the five midfielders.

But sadly he pulled strings far too infrequently and Reading only looked their best when wingers Hal Robson-Kanu and Jobi McAnuff got forward. They did this only rarely, though, as the superior Saints midfield threatened to swamp Reading's - and again this is a familiar tale of the season.

As I've written so many times, without support from midfield the lone striker was hopelessly outnumbered and unable to do much on his own and on Saturday it was Le Fondre's turn. And although he worked hard he got little joy up against Saints defenders who towered over him. He's great at converting chances but not so good at creating them for himself, and with neither the pace or the physicality a lone striker needs, it was maybe unfair of Adkins to ask him to try this role.

Despite that however, Le Fondre did manage to waste a glorious chance, blazing way over as the ball fell to him close in after 22 minutes, and earlier Sean Morrison had headed a chance from a corner over when well placed. Again, a tale of this season; Reading create far too few scoring chances, and have not taken advantage of those that have come along.

As for Reading's familiar sloppiness at the back, and their tendency to give the ball away cheaply, that was what gifted Southampton their first goal. In the 34th minute Kelly and Morrison were casually playing the ball to each other just outside the Royals' box and contrived to give it away messily. Again, just how many times have I written that this season?

The ball was quickly played through to Saints striker Jay Rodriguez, who beat Adam Federici to it as the goalkeeper hesitated on his line. Although Rodriguez didn't make a clean connection, it was enough for the ball to trickle over the line, almost in slow motion, to put Reading behind.

Paradoxically, they'd looked at their most threatening for a ten-minute period before this - with three very promising attacks in as many minutes, forcing a sharp save from Saints 'keeper Artur Boruc from a Hope Akpan header at the foot of his post, as well as a controversial moment. Robson-Kanu was scythed down after a great run and cut-inside, but referee Mike Jones wasn't interested in making any kind of decision.

After that the game was only going one way and we had other very familiar sights of the season. The first was Saints dominating possession, playing neat passes to each other in midfield for long periods without the Royals' midfield getting close to winning the ball. On the rare occasions Reading did win possession they frequently gave it away, as usual, with sloppy passing.

The second familiar sight was the Reading defence being easily cut open. A neat interplay after 71 minutes led to a diagonal ball for Adam Lallana to run onto in the Reading box, and if Federici's movement was slow for the first goal it was positively glacial for this one, allowing Lallana to easily slide home.

Although Reading huffed and puffed and threw men forward, they never looked like scoring even a consolation, whilst Saints controlled possession and always looked dangerous on the break. Again, very familiar phrases I seem to have been typing all season.

And whilst relegation seems more and more inevitable as every match passes, the fuss and drama over changing the manager looks more and more irrelevant. With the players available in this Reading squad the very best manager in the world would have trouble avoiding the drop!

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