It's a bit of a clichéd excuse to blame a defeat on the fact that your team was up against its former manager, but it's one that holds true to Reading's closely-fought defeat against Swansea City. Brendan Rodgers, after his time at the club, knew its players and therefore knew how to play against them. Kebé, Reading's player in form, was wrapped up by the Swansea defence and not allowed enough space to run. Long, the lone striker, was isolated so that his ability to flick the ball on to other players so well counted for very little. And in midfield, a man Brendan Rodgers knows very well was played completely out of position. Jobi McAnuff looked completely out of place in the centre of midfield, and a Swansea defence well-informed on his ability to cut in from the left was easily capable of containing him.
Meanwhile, when Swansea were on the attack, they looked most dangerous down the flanks. Nathan Dyer against Harte and Scott Sinclair against Andy Griffin were both mismatches in pace. Every time those two ran at the Reading defence they looked threatening and to be honest, Shaun Cummings would probably have had more chance of dealing with the pace of Sinclair. Griffin and Harte are talented defenders, but with wingers as quick as Swansea's, Reading would have been better served with Cummings and Armstrong or possibly Williams as full backs. They would have at least kept the Swansea wingers under pressure. When your full backs don't have pace, they only get one chance to stop them, whereas someone like Williams could have tracked back after being beaten and tried again.
In midfield, I remain unconvinced by Chris Armstrong. I think he will do well at Reading as a second left back, possibly starting if another team is playing smeone like Dyer. But as a defensive midfielder, he doesn't have the calm assurance of Brynjar Gunnarsson. Jobi McAnuff is not, however much McDermott wishes, a central attacking midfielder. He's a left winger, and he's better than Robson-Kanu. Reading fans have seen him leave right backs for dead countless times, but how many times has he hammered one into the top corner from 25 yards? McAnuff is not Sigurdsson and neither is Howard. But if Reading are determined to stick with 4-3-3, then they need to persevere with Howard in that position at least until January. At that point, they will hopefully do what all Reading fans are desperate that they do, and spend some of the 'Sigurdsson fund' on a new central attacking midfielder. The money Reading are supposed to have could surely attract someone like Bradley Johnson of Leeds or Chris Commons of Derby County. James Coppinger has started the season well for Doncaster. Or failing that, why not look to the same place we found Gylfi? The likes of Jordan Obita, Jake Taylor, Scott Davies and Jason Rowe are all looking to break out of the Academy and into the first team. I'm sure that at least one of them will put us in better standing than we are with our star left-winger in the centre.
Overall, alarm bells aren't ringing yet for Reading, but they do have some work to do.