Reading - McCarthy; Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss (Le Fondre 80), Cummings; McCleary (Drenthe 66), Guthrie, Williams, Obita, Robson-Kanu (Pogrebnyak 45); Sharp
The most surprising team news came in the shape of Pavel Pogrebnyak's benching in place of Hal Robson-Kanu, who lined up out wide, with Jordan Obita floating between the lines in the middle of the park. And as ever with the Royals, they started the game on the front foot, spreading the ball wide and trying to get in behind the Bournemouth back four. Reading did manage to win a few corners, and Billy Sharp had one header cleared off the line, before Gorkss headed another wide. Some nice interplay from Reading saw McCleary, Obita and Robson-Kanu all released in space, but all that came of their endeavours were more corners which were relatively easily dealt with by the Cherries. McCleary pelted a 25-yard left-footer high and wide in the only real shot Reading mustered until that late consolation.
As we've seen in recent weeks, Reading's failure to capitalise on the opening 15 minutes has been a major problem, and sure enough, Bournemouth grew into the game with some neat play of their own. Harry Arter ran at the defence and piled into Gorkss who stood his ground, and the ref gave no free-kick. Two minutes later some more neat work saw him in space but he couldn't get the shot off. Lewis Grabban was looking dangerous and he fired off a harmless 30-yarder which McCarthy didn't need to dive for as it flew into the North Stand. But he couldn't miss his next chance. Alex McCarthy did well to get down to a Steve Cook header from a set-piece, but Grabban emphatically fired home the rebound from a yard to put the Cherries ahead.
Three minutes later, Reading's woes were doubled. Danny Guthrie gave the ball away in midfield, and the impressive Grabban found space down the left, before squaring for a waiting Matt Ritchie just outside the box. He had time to set himself before firing into the bottom-left corner. The back four was at sixes and sevens, and Kaspars Gorkss was exposed by a punt forward which he contested with Arter - the Latvian managed to recover the situation just in time, to the relief of the Reading fans. But on the half-time whistle, the boos rang out in the chilly Berkshire air - and the PA's decision to play "Spiralling" by Keane during the break was ironically appropriate, to say the least.
Nigel Adkins made another early substitution as he brought on Pogrebnyak for the inept Robson-Kanu at half-time. But it was Bournemouth who were controlling the game and carving out the chances, as Marc Pugh and Grabban combined to release Ritchie, who curled a 20-yarder over the bar. Alex Pearce did well to deflect another Grabban chance out for a corner, before Pugh was released by Arter through a square Reading back-line, but fired wide of McCarthy's goal.
The introduction of the mercurial Royston Drenthe raised the spirits of the Royals faithful briefly, and he came close to reducing the deficit with 20 minutes left. Jordan Obita fired a dangerous cross into the box, which was deflected to Drenthe on the right by-line. His return centre was agonisingly close to the heads of both Sharp and Pogrebnyak, who just couldn't stretch enough to nod home. Bournemouth nearly struck on the counter, with Grabban showing electric pace to bear down on goal, and his square ball to the back post was just in front of the outstretched leg of Pugh.
Adkins threw on Adam Le Fondre in place of Gorkss to try and find two goals in the last ten minutes, but the move to three at the back was almost exposed instantly by Brett Pitman, who couldn't quite capitalise. In the end, the two latter subs combined for a scarcely deserved consolation, as Drenthe dribbled and fired in a shot which fell to Le Fondre, who fired home. But with just two minutes left, it was too little too late, and anything other than a Bournemouth win would have flattered the woeful Royals.
Reading totally conceded possession in the middle of the field, despite Robson-Kanu lining up out wide after a few rather disappointing runouts as a makeshift striker. And when Pog came on at half-time for the aforementioned HRK, that lack of control was magnified further. Every Royals fan who watched the precarious 1-0 victory over Charlton knew that a better team would punish us, and Bournemouth, led by Lewis Grabban, did exactly that. It seems that teams are finding Reading out, and the slow-burning build-up play is failing to catch on with either the players or the supporters.
The good news is that we remain in the play-off places; the bad news is that we have been second-best in two "winnable" home games in a week. The season is spiralling out of control, both on and off the field (if you believe the whispers) - still, we all wanted a rollercoaster ride in the Championship, rather than a nosedive off the Premier League cliff, didn't we?