Reading FC Match Report: 2017/2018 Season - Championship
READING 0 MILLWALL 2
Millwall: L Bacuna (og 70), L Gregory (73)
Any flicker of optimism generated by a convincing away win during the week at Burton, and the signing of two experienced Championship players before the transfer window closed, was quickly extinguished with a calamitous defeat at home to a well organised and determined Millwall side. There can be no doubt the visitors thoroughly deserved their win, but the nature of the defeat was painful for Royals supporters. Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong, on a damp, cold and miserable afternoon for the home fans.
Millwall were on the front foot from the start pressing, Reading and forcing passing errors from the home side. In recent games Jaap Stam has played Bodvarsson and Kermorgant together up front to provide the option of a long ball out of defence. MIllwall’s dominance in the air negated that tactic and consequently Reading failed to create a single shot on target before half time. Aware of Kermorgants’s ability in the air, Millwall often deployed someone in front of him and behind him to win balls pumped forward in his direction. Reading were ponderous on the ball and often lost possession just inside the Millwall half. In contrast Millwall streamed forward quickly, and with some crisp penetrative passing exposed Reading’s sluggish defending. Millwall must have felt hard done by when they were still level at the interval. They had the ball in the net in the eighteenth minute but the goal was correctly disallowed with two Millwall players too eager to get to a ball dropping in the goalmouth. Millwall created good openings which produced saves from Mannone and some desperate defending to block shots on target. Barrow looked Reading’s only likely source of opening up the Millwall defence with his pace and ball control but sadly on the two occasions he broke clear (in spite of attempts to halt his progress illegally) his crosses were either too deep or too fierce. Not that many Reading players had managed to get in to a position to convert the crosses in to a goals. To compound Reading’s problems Elphick’s promising home debut was ended prematurely with a self-inflicted injury after half an hour. In order to keep the same formation Blackett came on as the third centre back. (More of him later!)
After half time Reading enjoyed their best spell with a subtle change of formation releasing Bacuna to bring a little more creativity and urgency in midfield. With Barrow running the Millwall defence ragged Reading were posing a real threat to the Millwall goal. Blackett worryingly began making poor decisions on the ball putting pressure on his own defence by losing possession deep in his own half. The turning point in the game came when Romeo, (who had replaced McLaughlin to spare him further humiliation from being turned inside out by Barrow) got forward and hit a shot from the edge of the box which was going wide of the far post until Bacuna blocked his effort and sent it squirming just inside the near post to give Millwall a deserved if somewhat fortunate lead. Before Reading could clear their heads and respond, another dreadful mistake from Blackett resulted in a swift counter attack which ended with Gregory nipping in front of Mannone and finishing well from a tight angle. Nothing lucky about that one.
If Blackett had not been feeling demoralised by the way his mistakes had been so severely punished, he certainly would have been by the despicable behaviour of some the home fans who booed his next touch of the ball. The people for responsible for that response should reflect on the impact of their behaviour on what is the team they are supposedly to be ‘supporting’. Stam justified his decision to quickly replace Blackett with McCleary as a tactical switch, but I suspect he was also protecting him from further abuse from his own fans. By now there were not many people around to see Martin make his first, albeit brief, appearance in a Reading shirt. For what it is worth he showed some excellent touches. Following the substitution Bacuna’s head visibly dropped as he was re-assigned to play left back just when he was beginning to make some impact in midfield. Not long after he received a yellow card for a frustrated swipe at Morison. He was not alone in his frustration and despondency, everyone’s head had dropped by then as the game fizzled out to its inevitable conclusion. Millwall and their fans got what they deserved as did Reading and their fans.
Radio Berkshire’s commentary team were also on top form again today too. In discussion about the choice of tactics Tim Dellor produced a gem - “We don’t want our players making decisions” (on the pitch), and when a caller asked about the possibility of Stam deciding to resign Adie Williams declared ‘”he didn’t say he wouldn’t” (referring to his post-match interview). The consequences of the defeat could have been worse. Thankfully results went Reading’s way so they remain six points clear of the relegation zone, but unless something changes soon we really will be involved in some ‘must win’ games. I would not like to predict, or speculate on, Jaap Stam’s future but the players we have now are the ones we have to rely on to steer us clear of relegation. Yes they really do need to raise their game so I sincerely hope the fans get of their backs make more of an effort to support them - as opposed to booing them!
This Championship game took place 15 days ago in the 2017/2018 season.