Nigel Adkins will not discuss relegation but his Reading players know where they are heading after losing seven Premier League matches in succession for the second time this season. Bottom of the table and eight points adrift of safety with only six games left, they are staring into the abyss, and if Adkins will not speak the "R" word his principal goalscorer is prepared to face up to reality.
After Saturday's demoralising 2-0 defeat by Southampton Adam Le Fondre said: "The new gaffer has been running the rule over all the players, and if we do get relegated there will have to be a comeback and promotion push next season, so it's time to impress and make sure he wants to keep you."
Substitute the word when for if and the 12-goal striker is spot on. Reading's disintegration after a bright start was clearly the product of brittle morale and Adkins does not have the time to put everything right. He was appointed for his success at getting teams promoted and the work on which he will be judged starts next season.
He badly wanted to beat Southampton, who sacked him in January but, as the perspicacious Mick Jagger observed, you can't always get what you want, and the Saints go marching on, with three consecutive victories and 10 points from their last four games.
The proliferation of foreign managers is a worrying trend and the appointment of the unsung and out of work Mauricio Pochettino raised a few eyebrows, but the Argentinian, who was sacked by Espanyol in November, has made an encouraging start, with wins against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea already to his credit.
Saturday's success was not without controversy. Reading claimed Jay Rodriguez had fouled their goalkeeper, Adam Federici, in scoring the first goal, that a header from Le Fondre had crossed the line and that they should have had a penalty when Hal Robson-Kanu went down under Jos Hooiveld's challenge. A less partisan view was that Federici should have been braver in contesting possession with Rodriguez, that there was sufficient doubt about Le Fondre's attempt to prevent the officials awarding a goal and that Hooiveld had made legitimate contact with the ball.
In reality, Reading had only themselves to blame for their continuing decline. They should have scored first but Sean Morrison and Le Fondre wasted inviting opportunities, allowing Southampton to settle and pass their way into the ascendancy.
Delightful triangular movement saw the excellent Rodriguez give them the lead in the 35th minute and the same player then struck the crossbar. Before half-time he was back again, his shot parried by Federici and Gaston Ramírez blasting the loose ball wide of the gaping net. Rodriguez set up the second goal for Adam Lallana and Steven Davis and Guly Do Prado might have doubled the margin.
Le Fondre, the realist, said: "We should have taken our chances – I should certainly have taken mine. Everyone says luck evens out over a season but it seems to be going from bad to worse for us."
Through an interpreter, Pochettino said he was "really happy". Was he aiming for a top 10 finish? "We have to know how to deal with victories, we have to enjoy them but not get carried away. We can't afford to let our guard down and we need to focus more on the games ahead."
He sounds like a Brit already.
Man of the match Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)