An awful way to end the decade; a lacklustre display against Reading who grabbed all three points at Deepdale after two early goals.
After such a promising display against Leeds United on Boxing Day our performance on Sunday was hugely disappointing. Whereas Neil’s tactics were spot on in that game, it didn’t look as if we had much of a plan against Mark Bowen’s side.
The defeat sees us drop out of the playoff places and three points are a must against a resurgent Middlesbrough on New Years Day. Here are five things we learned from the Reading game:
Neil’s Forgotten How to Make Subs
This game was taking a similar shape to the one against Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season. We turned around a two-goal deficit that day to win 3-2 and a lot of it was down to an early change made by the gaffer.
This game was crying out for something similar. It was clear we needed to change the game plan and the personnel. Nothing arrived in the first half so you would expect at half time we would make at least one change. However, the same eleven players returned and unsurprisingly, very little changed.
Remarkably he waited until the 60th minute before making a double change. The subs did alter the game somewhat but you felt we needed them much earlier.
We Needed Fisher
With Darnell back from suspension he had to make do with a place on the bench on Sunday. Tom Clarke played well against Leeds so it was understandable, however the way the game turned out with us having to attack and find a way back into the game for 75 minutes we needed more attacking threat.
Clarkey isn’t the best going forward and with Billy Bodin tucked in so much he was practically playing centre midfield, it left Clarke doing a lot of work down the right.
Many of our attacks seemed to end up on that side and we lacked the pace of Darnell to get in and around the Reading backline. He’s also a good crosser of the ball and we desperately needed better balls into the area.
I would expect to see him return to the starting eleven on Wednesday against Boro.
Bodin isn’t Showing Enough
This may sound harsh but if we’re serious about promotion this season then we need someone better than Billy Bodin as a winger based off what he’s showing us at the moment.
He’s capable of the odd good thing; a very good effort at the start of the second half was heading for the top corner, for example. But he often goes missing in games and it felt like he might as well have not played in the first half.
As a winger he should be stretching the game, taking on players, putting in good crosses and so on. He doesn’t do that and in his two years at the club, albeit one of them was spent in the treatment room, he hasn’t shown much at all if we’re being honest.
We need to improve in this position in January, we haven’t been good enough on the wings all season and it’s amazing that Andre Green and Josh Ginnelly haven’t been given a chance. Bodin is clearly a skilful player and I won’t write him off just yet but he needs to start showing more.
Maguire Needs to be Rested
Sean Maguire is clearly one of Alex Neil’s favourites. He’s started 22 games this season and come off the bench once. Neil changes the attacking options around pretty much every game but Maguire remains the constant.
He never stops running but the lack of end product is getting frustrating now. He’s not strong enough and often just ends up on the floor. He’s had plenty of good chances in the last few games but failed to add to his four goals this season.
Of course, I’m not forgetting his efforts in the Leeds game and his tackle to start the move for our goal, but it’s his attacking prowess that’s starting to let us down. In our four-game losing spell last month we didn’t score a goal. Now we’ve managed just one in the last three. It’s a worry.
Barkhuizen is by far the best of our wide options and should always be in the first eleven providing he’s fit. His pace terrorises defences, he beats his man regularly and his finishing is great as well.
His late introduction on Sunday gave us some hope but ultimately couldn’t lead to a goal. Maybe it’s time Seani was on the bench for a few games for his own sake. Barky has been rested in the past few weeks, why not Seani?
The one substitute appearance he did make this season was against Leeds at home and he made a great impact. He would be a great option to have off the bench and I think he’s in need of a rest.
We’re Missing DJ Badly
Daniel Johnson was our best player for the first few months of the season, rediscovering the form he showed back in our promotion season from League One. It was great to see him back to his best and we’ve missed him since he’s been injured.
We’ve got a lot of options in that position but we’re missing his creativity. We could have done with a few of his through balls today for the attackers to run onto. Brad Potts doesn’t quite provide the same passes as DJ, he’s more of a direct runner.
DJ’s absence becomes more apparent when we go a goal or two down and teams sit back that we struggle to break them down. We had 73% possession against Reading but still couldn’t score.
In fairness, we did create a few chances with Andrew Hughes providing some good balls into the box. But we were lacking the quality to finish them off.