Verdict: Reading defeat serves as a reminder – not a reality check

·5-min read
Jon Dahl Tomasson watches on during Rovers' defeat at Reading
Jon Dahl Tomasson watches on during Rovers' defeat at Reading

For Rovers’ defeat at Reading to be seen as some form of reality check, as suggested in some parts, there would have needed to be a move away from reality in the first place.

Yet from day one of Rovers’ new-look project there has been an acceptance of the job at hand.

Things may have started to take shape quicker than anticipated, but Rovers are not only embarking on the start of their 2022/23 season, but a completely new era under Jon Dahl Tomasson.

The size of the task didn’t become smaller on the back of three successive Championship wins, and nor does it grow on the back of a first defeat.

Yet it was a reminder of not only the task Tomasson faces - but also how easy it is to come unstuck when you fall below your levels.

A little over two months into the job and the head coach’s imprint on the club is clear.

The players have bought into his philosophy, supporters too, with this the first bump in what will be a long and winding road.

‘Ambition with patience’ has been a tagline of Tomasson, and there has been no shying away from the amount of work that lies ahead.

The squad remains incomplete and any points on the board gained before that is close to being the case will be particularly welcome.

Central defensive issues have become almost customary for Rovers in recent seasons, but to find themselves in the position they do only four games in shows the threadbare nature of the squad.

It is nothing new that while Rovers' strongest starting line-up is extremely competitive, reinforcements are required to fill out the squad given the intense nature of both the schedule and the way Tomasson wants to play.

He focuses heavily on his players making the right choices, something his side didn't do enough of.

On the ball they played in areas where Reading wanted them to go, the hosts setting traps from which they were able to counter-attack with purpose.

In one-on-one battles, Rovers came off second best.

Reading were bang up for it, and it showed. Rovers were unable to find the answers in the pressure moments.

This served as a timely reminder of the need to do the basics right or face the likelihood of coming unstuck.

Rovers outworked their opponents in the opening three matches, their will to win looked stronger.

Yet against a Reading side who found a big response to a weekend humbling that saw them ship four goals in the opening half at Rotherham, they appeared rattled.

Their decision-making was poor as a result, and bar a five minute spell earlier in the second half when Ash Phillips went close with what proved to be their only shot on target of the night, and the strong claims for a penalty soon after, they were second best throughout.

Gaps between the defensive and attacking four were too great, the midfield two unable to ascertain any level of control, with an animated Tomasson calling his players over to the touchline during a break in play at the midway stage of the half in a bid to try and stir them into action.

The changes to the team before the game, as Jack Vale and Tyrhys Dolan came in for Sam Gallagher and Ryan Hedges, didn’t pay off. Rovers looked lightweight and susceptible to set plays, so it was no surprise to see Tom McIntyre put the hosts ahead with a header from a right wing corner.

Equally, the expected second half response upon the introductions of Gallagher and Hedges, as well as Bradley Dack, failed to materialise.

Tomasson was measured in his post-match press conference, accepting of the result and his side’s part in that, but also crediting the opposition for their performance.

He didn’t seek to move the attention to what appeared to be a strong shout for a penalty for his side who he expects to respond when they head to Sheffield United this weekend.

Tomasson’s tone was very similar to that after the three successive wins, but don’t be fooled into thinking he wasn’t well aware of the limitations of the performance. He is a winner, both as a manager and player, and those nights will hurt him.

The need to strengthen is becoming increasingly pressing and we have reached a pivotal point of the season already. There is the time factor to consider, with the need for reinforcements coming at the same time as speculation begins to mount in Ben Brereton.

Tomasson has made the case of Rovers’ shortage of numbers, and it is now a case of providing the head coach, but also the rest of the players, with the necessary help required to ensure the next steps taken are forward ones.

While this was a backwards step, the strides Rovers have made already have been vast, and wins have only helped build the belief in the Tomasson project.

A Reading side who four days earlier conceded four goals in defeat at Rotherham then putting three unanswered goals past a previously unbeaten side could be viewed as 'peak Championship'.

While the Royals were deserving of the credit Tomasson paid them, Rovers didn’t help themselves on a disappointing night in Berkshire where they have now lost in six of their last seven visits.