Reading lost at home to Arsenal on Monday night and, this Saturday, they face another tough assignment. As Luke Moore says, it doesn't get any easier. Can Brian McDermott make his team harder to beat?
Stoke, despite occupying their now usual mid-table position have really struggled for goals this season and can barely manage one a game. I fancy Spurs to win Saturday's match to nil, and [2.22] looks a decent price.
As Arsenal's Theo Walcott expertly slid the ball beyond the desperate reach of Adam Federici's outstretched right hand, the bud had been well and truly nipped. A rallying cry from Reading had seen them make some tentative, probing moves towards overturning a mountainous four goal deficit on the hour mark, and the introduction of Adam Le Fondre had seen the Royals obtain at least a little thrust for a little while. But, it was sadly (for the home fans at least) not to be. They were descending, head-first, towards their sixth league defeat in a row.
Reading currently sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, one point below Queens Park Rangers, and with just one league win - a sneaky 2-1 against Everton - to their name. There is a sense that Queens Park Rangers' heavily-publicised litany of disasters since August has overshadowed just how bad the Berkshire outfit are. Because make no mistake about it, Reading have been really bad. At times, criminally bad.
Brian McDermott has many, many problems. They've found it hard to shake the feeling that they're essentially a Championship team that found themselves on an unshakeable run of momentum last season and woke up, like Gulliver, in a sort of reverse Lilliput; instead of everything being in miniature, everything is much bigger, faster and skillful than they imagined. They have consistently failed to deal with the frantic pace of games, the dizziness of topsy-turvy defeats to Wigan and Manchester United have been joined by losses in games the manager would have earmarked as must-wins (against Aston Villa, Sunderland and Southampton).
McDermott hasn't helped with his summer signings. Promoted teams are in a strange position when it comes to signing strikers. They either gamble on a player from the lower leagues and hope they can make the step up or they delve into the foreign market and pray their new marksman can make the transition. On the face of it, Pavel Pogrebnyak was a sensible choice but he's struggled to find consistency. But, the Russian hitman aside, McDermott has hardly set the world on fire. Danny Guthrie is an adequate Premier League operator but he's had disciplinary problems, and Adrian Mariappa is the only other player with any sort of quality that the manager has brought in. A blind man could have seen that Reading, with those reinforcements, were never going to be good enough.
It's a further, hardly necessary, measure of just how big the gulf is between Championship and Premier League level and, to be brutally honest, if Reading want to extend their visit to English football's sunshine resort, they need to make quick changes. It's to be admired that they look to play a more open, attacking game than some of their peers but they need to start getting the simple things right. McDermott's priority should be to start making his side hard to beat.
Defending set pieces, maintaining shape and passing to the nearest teammate need to get back on the agenda, post-haste, because the fixtures comes thick and fast over the festive period and if Reading don't start to get these basic things right, they will find themselves effectively relegated by mid-January. Who awaits them in their next game? Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday.
It doesn't get any easier, does it?
This week's bet
Tottenham Hotspur entertain Stoke City this Saturday, looking to consolidate their top four status and build on last week's decent win against Swansea. Stoke, despite occupying their now usual mid-table position have really struggled for goals this season and can barely manage one a game. I fancy Spurs to win this to nil, and [2.22] looks a decent price.