Still chasing the season they had in 2017-18 when they claimed some big scalps and finished in fourth, just six points off from second – the following year saw a considerable dip with nine losses on the way to a fifth place finish (20 points off of second) – one of Reading’s biggest problems this season has been consistency.
Having been accused of causing their own problems at times, to find themselves in positions that need unlikely comebacks (overturning a 2-0 deficit to beat West Ham, snatching an equaliser against Brighton with the last kick of the game), the Royals seem to be struggling for identity.
We caught up with Jo Potter to talk about what’s been going wrong and what’s been going right for Reading.
Arguably leading with their better foot in the cup, from thrashing Spurs to taking Chelsea to penalties, the Royals put in one of their best defensive performances in Borehamwood to hold Arsenal off until the 86 minute. With just one win to their names (as well as a lone draw) in the 13 meetings before last week, Reading were feeling good about the match, eyeing the chance to vanquish a familiar foe.
“We knew it was always going to be difficult, they’re a great team, there’s no hiding that fact, they’ve got world class players all over the pitch but we knew that our last performance against Arsenal – regardless of the result – in the end, we knew that we performed really well and we’ve been picking up better performances as the seasons gone on. We thought it was an opperunity to take something out of the game, and if you look at it we could have gone 1-0 ahead and then the last ten minutes are a different game but we have to positives from the game and go we can always mix it with the best. We got results against Chelsea recently, before coming into this tie so we know we can compete when we need to.”
With the starting XI a long way from nailed down and players coming in and out each match, as well as an overstuffed injury list, it’s clear that the constant shuffling – enforced and otherwise – have taken their toll on the consistency and fluency of the squad.
“We’ve had some really big injuries, a lot of our experienced players out for a number of months – myself and Tash’ Harding we’ve been out for three months and it takes its toll on the team when you’re having to swap and change so much. But before Christmas (I think the Christmas break came at a bit of a rubbish time for us), we had a really good week and then the Christmas break came and coming back and playing Chelsea right after that is always difficult but we’ve got to take heart from Arsenal, not many teams hold them to the last couple of minutes of scoring. If you look at their record, we did well to keep them at 0-0 at half-time let alone before ten minutes before the end of the game so it’s been an up and down season but as the season’s gone on, we’ve definitely gotten better and we’re improving.”
Not just digging in and finding points late in matches but earning more and more goals from corners and set pieces, there is a gentle confidence brewing in the team.
“We’ve got that attitude now when we’re going to have to keep going to the very end and we’re going to create them opportunities and we’ve got players that can create something out of nothing. There’s no hiding the fact that we’re good at set-pieces, give us the chances and we’re going to score.”
Off of the back of a commendable performance against Arsenal in the cup – even if it did put an end to their run in the competition – the Royals sagged against an Everton team in full flow. Their defensive work well below what they’re capable, the midweek clash clearly taking a little out of their legs before the journey to Southport but the issue for the team, the lack of how much they troubled the opposition goalkeeper.
“We’ve been working hard, we know we’ve got to limit teams but we also know we’ve got to put it in at the other end and we’re creating chances. We’ve got to realise that we’re going to suffer at times and concede chances but as long as we limit them and we’ve got ‘keepers making great saves and people putting their bodies on the line, we know we’re going to do that. We’ve just got to make sure we’re putting it away at the other end.”
Out of one cup, not in a position to challenge for the title, there is still a feeling of foundations, growth and going back to the start for Reading. Following a strong cup run that saw the Royals knocked out on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final last season – a regrettable air of the “what ifs?” still tangible – their return to the competition this weekend (away to London City Lionesses) could yet spark the Berkshire team into their best football.
“If you look at that FA Cup run, that kind of turned our season around last year, everybody looked at our season last season and said, ‘they had a good season’ but in fact it was just okay-ish compared to the season before. It was our FA Cup run that really built us a lot and going into this competition we thought, good cup run can do us good, has done us the world of good, confidence has to be up with performance.”
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