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THE TILEHURST END: Time for Reading to sink or swim

Reading v Middlesbrough

It would be very easy for me to use the next 500 words to go on a tirade about Reading’s 1-0 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night. Trust me, I’ve thought about it.

Why we lined up so defensive against the team bottom of the table, why no substitutions were made until the 79th minute (see last week’s column for more on that) or why Lucas João should be firmly kept away from all future penalties. But I’m not sure that would do me any good or make for a particularly enjoyable read.

There’s no doubt about it though, Tuesday was as bad as it has been for Reading this season. It has been a largely positive campaign, certainly no one expected the Royals to be as high in the table as they currently are, but this is the low point. Now it has to be the turning point.

The result at Adams Park was a shock, but it could be said to have been coming. Reading are now on a run of one win in six games, and that solitary victory came against an out-of-sorts Bristol City side who sacked their manager after the defeat.

If the 3-1 win against Bournemouth at the end of January was the top of the mountain, the Royals have been slipping down it ever since. We have lost three successive home games and suddenly a place in the playoffs is no longer so assured.

Particularly given the form of the sides just behind the top six, some social media users would have you believe that Reading’s season is ‘over’ and there is no hope left.

Maybe that is a heat of the moment reaction. The team are still in fifth and their destiny remains in their hands, but there is undoubtedly a worry that all the fantastic work earlier in the season will be undone if this current slump is not halted.

From an optimistic point of view, Reading have got themselves out of ruts already this season. The five game winless run in November was followed by one defeat and three wins in the next six, while after back-to-back defeats in December they went on a seven game unbeaten run.

I suppose the worry is that Tuesday night is arguably the club’s most demoralising defeat of the season. The squad as a whole have to shoulder the burden of losing to the side bottom of the league who had 10 men for the final 25 minutes. Meanwhile an individual like João, currently on his driest run of goals this season, has to cope with missing a third successive penalty.

Now is the time for the squad to stand up and be counted. They have 14 games to make something of this season and qualify for the playoffs. It’s sink or swim.

Veljko Paunović’s man management has been talked about a lot this season and now is when it will be most crucial. It is time to see him bring the best out of the likes of João and Michael Olise whose body language after defeats has led to questions being asked.

For Reading not to finish in the top six after barely dropping out of it so far this season would be a disaster. Let’s see what they’re made of.

By Olly Allen

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