Mark Robins would have more than a case for being the best manager of this Championship season but his players let him down today. The former C. D. Ourense and Panionios man has been scathing of his players in his post match comments and little wonder: they didn’t muster a shot on goal in the 1-0 reverse at the Madejski Stadium and such meek capitulation to a team occupying the penultimate slot in the table will not be countenanced in future.
Twenty five is young for a goalkeeper but Luke Steele’s reputation is as high as any custodian’s in the Cocaleague, but his fingers seemed smeared with lard in the run up to Shane Long’s goal. In central defence, Darren Moore was served an extra, belated helping of the torment dished out by Shane Long in a famous match at this level back on April Fool’s Day in 2006. The colossus persisted in dropping as deep as he could to make up for his lack of zip, and the play consequently became stretched, with Reading exploiting the resulting gap between midfield and back line. His central defensive partner Stephen Foster and utilitarian left back Carl Dickinson also enjoyed undistinguished afternoons and it was only the raw, bambi legged right sider Ryan Shotton who emerged from Berkshire with any credit. Like Dickinson, Shotton is on loan from Stoke – his raw materials and pace and skill look better suited to an EPL future than his shaven headed counterpart’s
The flanks provided the one bright spot for Barnsley. Adam Hammill at first reminds one of another former Liverpool youngster, Richie Partridge: not much tackling back, but deft footwork and whipped low crosses aplenty. Alas, that pear tree dweller has seen a promising career subside and my thoughts on first encountering his spiritual successor were that Hammill may go the same way. A visit to this same arena back in December 2008 had seen the petulant youngster throw his dummy out of the stroller at being substituted tactically by Simon Grayson, with both then at Blackpool. Today was more encouraging for the 2006 FA Youth Cup winner. He shone on both wings as Robins intelligently tryed different formations in order to prise a way back into the match. His fellow swappee, the usually cultured Anderson Silva De Franca, put on a disappointing show, as did another Youth football star of the past, Hugo Colace and Nathan Doyle in centre mid.
Iain Hume will carry the best wishes of all fans after the wrongs meted out to him in recent seasons, but the Canuck is still feeling his way back into football, an example perhaps to put alongside that of Krisztián Timár of how cranial injury can lead to an understandable loss of confidence. His partner from the start today, Jon Macken is like a latter day Carl Leaburn in his failure to attract the attention of the golden boot organisers – it was therefore no surprise when that most cosmopolitan of players, Daniel Bogdanovic emerged from the bench to replace him at the half way point. The Libyan born Maltese injected a little more fantasy into proceedings, but was powder puff on this occasion.
Robins is looking to increase his options with ex-Miller Chris Sedgwick top of the January shopping list. At the commencement of this afternoon’s fixture, I was struck by the quality of the squad Robins and his predecessor Simon Davey have quietly put together and wondered if they might launch a surprise challenge for promotion in 2010-11. If this fabled saviour of Fergie can show the acumen that saw Jamal Campbell-Ryce leave Oakwell earlier this month only to be on the wrong end of a 6-0 pasting on his debut, then don’t bet against them – I believe Robins when he says this was an off day and the underlying trend is forward.