Tim Dellor's Royals Watching: Issues continue despite recent points haul
There is a menacing and uncomfortable vibe swirling round the SCL at the moment. Normally four points in a week triggers buoyant and upbeat moods, but there is an uneasiness. That is probably because the Reading dressing room resembles a battlefield hospital by the end of every game, with medics treating injured limbs, and crutches and bandaging cluttering things up.
Reading were 3-1 up with 13 minutes remaining against QPR last Saturday. They conceded late again, drawing 3-3. By all accounts goalkeeper Rafael was so incensed by the dropped two points he thumped a tactics whiteboard in the dressing room after the final whistle and broke a bone in his hand. When I say “by all accounts”, that’s not quite true. When quizzed about it, manager Veljko Paunovic was extremely tetchy, adopting the “no comment” line. It was not an enjoyable conversation for me or him.
Despite the win against Peterborough, the manager was not in a good mood after that game, either. His captain, Liam Moore, became the 10th first teamer to pick up an injury so far this season. He was wearing a moon boot and on crutches after damaging his left foot/ankle, and is now likely to be side-lined for some weeks.
Sometimes, when decisions are forced upon you, life works out better. Rafael was averaging nearly three goals a game conceded. His replacement for Tuesday night, Luke Southwood, was faultless. A couple of his first half saves were particularly memorable.
Similarly, Tom Holmes had a positive impact when he came on. He has been struggling with the long term effect of Covid on his lungs since contracting the dreaded lurgy during a pre-season trip to Scotland, but he looked fit and strong during the second half against Peterborough. He is a terrific passer and a good decision maker. He may be a lot less experienced than Moore, but Holmes in central defence is what Reading need right now.
This Saturday sees Reading fans travel to one of the most popular away destinations. Games at Fulham are always raucous, with a vocal travelling contingent making the trip to the bank of The Thames in West London. Fulham are already showing signs of being one of the Championship’s stronger outfits, so the game will be a stern test for Paunovic and his men.
Selection will be straightforward. All the injuries leave the manager with no decisions to make. Certainty, stability and consistency is what Reading strive towards right now. It is not a time to over-think or try and be too clever.
There is no midweek game after Fulham away, so for the first time this season the manager will have the luxury of his full squad available at the training ground in the lead up to Middlesbrough at home. It still seems likely to be a tense and bad-tempered few months following Reading, so when they do put four points on the board in a week they need to make sure spirits rise.