It has been a while since the phrase “unbeaten run comes to an end” has been uttered around Reading but after four straight league wins, the weekend brought a defeat at Blackpool.
A defeat is never particularly welcome, but it will be a fillip to the team that this loss comes after a positive run of form and is not the latest in a string of reverses as was becoming the norm earlier in the season. Playing in front of the smallest crowd to watch a Royals match home or away in the league this season, Brian McDermott’s team went down to a Blackpool side that coped better with the poor pitch on offer. The game was low on clear-cut chances and it is fair to say Reading never really hit the peaks of recent weeks, but the side are still in a better position after a defeat than they have been in a long time. What will be important now is the manner in which the team react to this defeat. Will they respond confidently and treat this defeat as just a blip in the middle of a strong run? Or will heads go back down now that the positive momentum has been halted?
McDermott is a very level-headed individual, a trait he shares with celebrated ex-Royals boss Steve Coppell. Coppell was ever the pragmatist, showing a similar lack of emotion in triumph or tribulation. McDermott allowed himself a bit more of an emotive reaction to his stunning victory at Anfield, more than understandable in the circumstances as a rookie, but since then he has been a figure of calm consideration. He was quick to praise Ian Holloway’s side for playing the conditions better but stopped short of using it as an excuse, correctly pointing out that Holloway likes his teams to play good football and would not have chosen such a bad pitch either. He called his side flat and timid and said he felt they had not done themselves justice, but he was fair to his players and pointed out the recent positives rather than focussing on one negative showing. The boss was absolutely right with his assertion that Reading were not world beaters in winning four matches in a row and so are not a bad side on the back of one defeat. McDermott’s belief that there is no point getting carried away when you win or in defeat rings true to his nature and the question will now be how well his players reflect their manager’s maxim.
In their first game after the Seasiders defeat, Reading will be without Georgian defender Zurab Khizanishvili who is cup tied for the FA Cup replay at Championship high-fliers West Brom. The loanee from Blackburn has settled into the Royals’ backline with consummate ease, especially given the stop-start nature of his residency at Madejski Stadium. Having come in for the suspended Matt Mills against Plymouth, alongside Ivar Ingimarsson, he then had to sit out the original tie with the Baggies. He then returned to the side, this time partnering Mills against Crystal Palace and Blackpool, knowing he would have to vacate his spot at the Hawthorns on Wednesday. His enforced absence has not stopped the Georgia captain from doing all he can to support his new teammates and he will be present in the Black Country to cheer the Royals on from the sidelines. It is an impressive showing of loyalty from Khizanishvili, as many a loan player would be happy to just go through the motions at their temporary home. Instead, Zurab is fully immersing himself in life in Berkshire and it is such an attitude that will boost both his own chance of success and that of his short-term employers.
Reading have been fortunate to have enjoyed relative success with their loan deals this season, with Ryan Bertrand being one of the team’s more consistent performers in a struggling side, and both Khizanishvili and Andy Griffin contributing significantly in defence since their January arrivals. Icelandic striker Gunnar Thorvaldsson is yet to make his mark but the majority of the loans have been successes so far. Coppell was vocal in his unease at the concept of the loan market and rarely utilised it and it is fair to say that loaning a player can be very hit-and-miss due to the nature of bringing a player in who knows he will not still be at the club in the near future. McDermott is enjoying a more positive experience with his borrowed players and he will hope the attitude of the likes of Khizanishvili will resonate around the dressing room as the Royals look to bounce back from the first stumble in their best form of the season.
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