Roughly 25 minutes after Reading walked off the pitch following the full-time whistle at Bloomfield Road, Paul Ince re-emerged to give his thoughts on the game.

It’s no secret that Ince has adopted a much sterner approach with this group of players than Veljko Paunovic did.

One example comes in the way of a new fine system for late arrivals to training. Whereas the Serbian asked his players to arrive at a loose time between about 9:30-10:00AM, Ince’s policy is much stricter: any player showing up past 9:45AM will incur a fine.

Considering this propensity for the strict rather than relaxed, the lengthy team meeting after Reading capitulated late on at Blackpool must have been full of some harsh words, right? Wrong.

“Listen, I’ve said to the lads in there ‘just keep believing’,” Ince explained. “We had a great result on Tuesday night and then you come here and it’s a bad result.

“It wasn’t a bad performance but it was a bad result. The way we conceded the goals, defensively we’re making silly little errors. And when it’s 2-1 I said to them ‘stay in the game’. We’ve seen the record of Blackpool…in the last 15 minutes (of games this season) they’ve conceded 13 goals.”

Reading Chronicle: Paul Ince instructs his team on Saturday. Image by: JasonPIXPaul Ince instructs his team on Saturday. Image by: JasonPIX

Ince is correct in a lot of ways: on the balance of the 90 minutes, this wasn’t a 4-1 game. The hosts’ third and fourth goals came in the final four minutes of normal time and until that point, Ince’s side had hung about if not set the world alight.

Arriving on the Lancahsire coast off the back of two consecutive victories, Reading started quite well and took the lead through Lucas Joao’s close-range finish after Andy Yiadom - playing at left-back - tricked his way to the byline.

It wasn’t to last long though, Blackpool equalising ten minutes later in another example of catastrophic team defending from Reading.

But even after that, Reading remained in the game. At half-time it was 1-1 and while Blackpool were probably the slightly better side, the Royals were certainly alive. Gary Madine’s header, after, yes, more catastrophic defending, made it 2-1 Blackpool just past the hour mark. But still, Reading hung about.

At the half-time interval, Blackpool led 10-6 in the shot count but by the time the Seasiders notched their third killer goal, Reading had a 15-14 advantage in shots and a 9-4 advantage in second half shots while maintaining 66% of the second half possession.

Of course, not all shots are created equal and Reading tried their luck six times from outside the box in the second half compared to zero such long-distance efforts from the hosts. Still, the expected goals timeline below, showing the build-up of each team’s expected goals throughout the game, displays that Reading stayed within touching distance of their opponents until their late surge.

Reading Chronicle: Saturday's xG timeline. Credit: Experimental 3-6-1Saturday's xG timeline. Credit: Experimental 3-6-1

Finally though, with time running short and Reading throwing bodies forward, Shayne Lavery and Josh Bowler clinically completed counter-attacks to end any Royal hope.

Understandably, the full-time whistle was met with anger from sections of the Reading fanbase who have grown exasperated by frequent meek surrenders this season. But Reading are balanced on a delicate tight-rope. It’s easy to fall into the hole of negativity that has consumed so much of this season, but they just can’t afford that - there’s no time left.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the negatives from another defeat - Reading’s 19th of the season - should just be ignored. Much of the frustration over this latest loss was due to the familiarity of it all. Not only did Reading collapse under pressure again, but they gave away another four goals that left the most optimistic of supporters scratching their heads.

Blackpool’s first two goals came from set-pieces, stretching Reading’s lead at the top of that particular table to six (19 to Hull’s 13). The harsh reality is that Reading can play their very best football but it won’t matter if they continue to be so easy to beat. Need a goal against Reading? Just win a corner.

Blackpool’s first came from a raft of defensive errors as Reading somehow managed to lose four consecutive headers en-route to Marvin Ekipeta nodding past the on-rushing Luke Southwood. Blackpool’s second - again from a corner - saw the hosts win just one header this time - the only one they needed - Madine climbing above Michael Morrison to touch past Southwood from about one foot off the goal-line.

Much has been made of zonal marking vs man-to-man this season but the truth is, this debate is a red herring. For both catastrophic corners, Reading went man-to-man with their marking system. In both cases their players failed to win their individual battles as Blackpool turned set-pieces into concrete success as many other sides have done this season.

It would be a little unfair to put too much emphasis on Saturday’s defeat considering the harsh nature of the scoreline and Reading’s makeshift XI that played right into Blackpool’s hands.

Neil Critchley’s side rank sixth in the Championship in terms of long balls per game and 19th for short passes. Against Reading it was no different as they totalled 70 long passes to Reading’s 55 while Ince’s side controlled the short-distance game with 464 short passes to Blackpool's 300.

Reading Chronicle: Reading struggled to cope with Blackpool's physical approach. Image by: JasonPIXReading struggled to cope with Blackpool's physical approach. Image by: JasonPIX

Time and time again Blackpool smashed the ball long, putting physical pressure on Reading that they just couldn’t handle. Tom Holmes has had an inconsistent few months but he’s still a physical leader and tone-setter for this team and that element of his game - the flying headers and no nonsense defending - was sorely missed as Tom McIntyre and Michael Morrison struggled with Blackpool’s aerial threat.

Meanwhile, any time they did win the first header there was no Reading player around to pick up the pieces. With Andy Rinomhota forced out to right-back due to various injuries, Reading desperately lacked the energetic vacuum to clean up the broken attacks and second balls.

In total, Blackpool won 22 headers to Reading’s 12 and their physical supremacy proved vital.

Reading played fairly well at Bloomfield Road - as Ince said - but once again they were blown over by a stiff breeze as Blackpool became the latest team to realise that you don’t have to work particularly hard to score against this Reading side. This is nothing new. 

Reading want to control the ball and play pretty attacking football - something made nearly impossible by the state of Blackpool’s pitch - but they don’t seem capable or ready for the physical fight.

In February, Paunovic likened his squad to lemons - stuck with the properties they have.

“This a more profound conversation we might open but players have their own properties you can’t change," Paunovic said. "So I’ll give you an example with a lemon: if you put lemon in your tea, it’s still going to taste like lemon. If you put it in food it’s still going to taste like lemon. It’s the same with players.”

The properties of this Reading team may not be that of fighters, but they need to morph, they need to evolve.

Reading Chronicle: Reading celebrate Lucas Joao's goal. Image by: JasonPIXReading celebrate Lucas Joao's goal. Image by: JasonPIX

Reading must learn from their mistakes and become harder to beat - something Ince made clear he’s aware of. But they also have to be careful. There isn’t time to fall into another pit of negativity.

Through the month of January Reading seemed to almost expect defeat when approaching each game. Everyone knows the challenges they've faced this season from the injuries to the transfer embargoes to the points deduction. But these challenges created a slippery slope into the underworld of football hyper-negativity - allowing a gloom to dominate RG2.

Seven points in three matches changed the mood around Berkshire but it’s always easy to fall back into the darkness when an implosion like Saturday’s occurs. Ince and his team just can’t afford that. They need to dig deep and maintain belief. 

Accept the good from the Blackpool performance and learn from the bad. But imperatively - move on.