The most obvious consequences of Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Wigan is that we missed out on three very crucial points and seeing Wigan gain three of them as well as a 6 goal swing in goal difference. The other key blow was losing striker Pavel Pogrebnyak for at least three games and with Pog central to our 4-5-1 system, where do we go from here?
While people have been debating 4-4-2 versus 4-5-1, there's no denying that starting with 4-5-1 had led us to our most successful run of results this season.
The Russian's strength made him the ideal candidate to fill that role of the lone forward and while he's not always been effective, he's certainly put in a lot of hard work since being restored to the starting lineup,
Christopher Lash explained in great detail how our various tactics this season have worked out so I won't waste time going through all of that again. However in short, the 4-5-1 was designed to keep us in games and look to attack on the counter, until such point we needed/wanted to exploit a more open game by switching to 4-4-2 and using Adam Le Fondre.
That game-plan has been all but thrown out of the window with Pogrebnyak's suspension, as with Jason Roberts out injured, the Russian was just about the only man capable of leading the line solo.
So who will step up and how might we adapt? Let's look at a few formations.
4-4-2: Hunt & Le Fondre
This would appear to be the most likely lineup and one that's been used as recently as last Monday's FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford. It would be a classic 4-4-2 with Hunt and Le Fondre up front, two defensive midfielders in Karacan or Akpan with Leigertwood while using McAnuff and Kebe the key men to link the midfield and attack.
It's a formation and system that the players are used too and gives Adam Le Fondre the chance to start with a partner, something that he's always thrived on.
It does leave us open in the midfield and Reading have managed just one league win this year when they start a game going 4-4-2. The extra striker means that two defensive midfielders are needed and it also restricts the freedom of Kebe and McAnuff to get forward as they'll usually be helping protect the defence. It also reduces our ability to change things later on, with no out and out striker on the bench.
4-5-1: Hunt becomes the new Pog
Alternatively, McDermott might try and keep the general system the same and ask Noel Hunt to try and do the job that the Pog does. Nick Blackman might also be a candidate for this role but given Hunt's experience and ability to win things in the air, he might ask Hunt to do the best job he can for 60 minutes before bringing on Le Fondre and going 4-4-2 if the situation requires it.
Maintains defensive stability by having three defensive midfielders and a striker who can try and hold the ball up.
Hunt isn't really suited to being a lone striker and while he has done the job for a brief time in the Brendan Rodgers era, I fear he'll struggle to compete with better defenders and just be horribly isolated. There's also limited creativity in the midfield so we'd almost certainly be banking on set pieces to create any sort of chances.
4-5-1: Pace and guile XI
If Brian McDermott wants to be a bit more expansive while continuing to have a more solid midfield, he could also elect for a 4-5-1 with a bit more of a creative midfield. By including McAnuff, Akpan and Guthrie the team would be more likely to create changes for Le Fondre but not be totally outgunned in the midfield. The inclusion of Shorey would also make the system a bit more fluid.
This would mean using certainly one of, if not our most creative and attacking midfield combinations to help lessen the attacking burden on the lone striker. It also offers more protection to the back four while freeing up Kebe and McCleary to attack down the flanks and be supported by the more mobile Shorey and Kelly. This system also enables Brian to keep a fresh Hunt on the bench to replace Le Fondre if we're protecting a lead.
While you've got numbers in the middle, you've not really got strength and including players like Shorey, Guthrie and McCleary does weaken the team from set pieces leave us more vulnerable to teams with a lot of strength in the middle. It could also leave Le Fondre isolated for long periods and wear him out heading into the final 25 minutes where he's usually so lethal.
A further compromise might be more of a mishmash between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 that sees Reading go 4-1-4-1. It offer a more balanced combination of guile and solidity in the midfield while asking Le Fondre to try his best as the lone striker. Leigertwood will be tasked with protecting the back four and leaving McAnuff, Kebe, Guthrie and Akpan to try and give Alfie some support.
It's a bit more solid than the pace & guile 4-5-1 while also not as restrictive and defence focused as the other 4-5-1 pitched. Again it gives us the freedom to move into a straight 4-4-2 by bringing Hunt on late.
It still leaves Le Fondre relatively isolated and puts a lot of pressure on the wingers to have a good game.
So those are just a few suggestions of how we might line up without the Pog but given Brian's ability to make a surprising team change out of nowhere, it's impossible to really know.
I'd guess that 4-4-2 with Hunt and Le Fondre is the most likely, though personally I'd prefer the more fluid 4-5-1 style.
But let us know what you think? Which of the above would you play or would you propose something else?
If you fancy having a go yourself head to footballuser.com and then post your formations or proposals in the comments section.