Reading: Federici; Obita, Pearce, Hector, Gunter; Norwood, Chalobah (Cox), Williams, McCleary (Stacey), Mackie, Robson-Kanu (Blackman)
What a difference a week can make.
Last week nearly 30,000 Reading fans witnessed a performance full of pride, passion and desire that saw the club take one of the biggest teams in the world to extra-time on an international stage. Today, Reading were humbled by a side playing League One football 12 months ago and with a wage bill a fraction of our own.
Not to take anything away from Mark Warburton or Brentford who have built a terrific team that fully deserve their success but today showed just how far Reading Football Club have fallen in recent years. For the 10th time in 14 home league games we failed to score a goal and for the club it's now just one league win in 12, by far the worst run in the Championship. So let's delve into the latest Madejski Stadium horror show....
Things actually started pretty well for Steve Clarke's side who came into the game with a smattering of changes that saw Alex Pearce, Oliver Norwood, Danny Williams & Hal Robson-Kanu in for Jake Cooper, Jem Karacan, Nick Blackman and Nathan Ake who returned to Chelsea.
For five minutes, Reading looked like a promotion chasing side, with Jamie Mackie full of enthusiasm as always and some neat interplay between Norwood, Williams and Nathaniel Chalobah in the middle. That early promise soon yielded a good chance but Garath McCleary could only half-volley Chris Gunter's cross straight at David Button from just inside the area.
Just when you dared to let optimism enter your brain, Reading reminded you just why they're in the bottom five, as a quick break saw Andre Gray one-on-one with Alex Pearce down the right, whom he beat to put in a teasing cross that saw Alan Judge get in front of Michael Hector to score. Cue delight from the more than 3,000 travelling bees fans and a collective groan from the remaining 17,000 or so in the ground.
Some fans have claimed that we're only missing a forward and while I give Robson-Kanu next to no credit for his own performance as the main striker, he was given next to nothing to work with by a midfield unit that once again failed to create many clear cut chances. Those they did create were squandered, with Nathaniel Chalobah and McCleary again missing decent openings, with McCleary in particular guilty of squandering our best opening of the first 45 when he fired over from the penalty spot.
Reading's sloppiness was exemplified by the number of times they were caught offside in stupid positions, with McCleary, Robson-Kanu and Mackie failing in the basics of staying onside from Federici clearances. On top of that the passing was awful, with Williams guilty of some shocking passes and Mackie's own enthusiasm getting the better of him with some needless fouls being given away. The only thing that Reading fans really had a chance to get worked up about was Button's time wasting that saw the Brentford keeper booked.
Such was the apathy at half-time that fans could barely bother to boo or applaud, with most on the concourses.
Adam Federici picked up the Player of The Season Award after the full-time whistle and showed just why he got the nod with a superb save to start the second half. The Australian using his legs to full effect to deny an onrushing Gray and keep it at 1-0.
With no league goals since the first minute of the second half at Blackpool five games ago, few fans were in the ground expecting a dramatic comeback but we did come close to a goal when Robson-Kanu forced a fine save out of Button before the rebound was tucked home by an offside Chalobah. Sadly it would be just minutes before Brentford would put us out of our misery with their second goal.
McCleary had been outpaced down the right to give away a sloppy free-kick and from the set piece, Brentford's James Tarkowski headed past Federici. Once again some awful marking from the Reading defence who've kept just two clean sheets in 16 games. While Clarke was initially praised for his defensive organisation, things are slipping backwards at an alarming rate.
Simon Cox and Jack Stacey were introduced to try and claw a way back into the game but Cox wasted a one-on-one against Button. Minutes later the lively Stacey should have squared to Cox only to opt for a shot at a narrow angle that was easily saved.
If you wanted to sum up how bad things have gotten for this football club, you could just look at the final substitution of the game. That saw our number nine Hal Robson-Kanu replaced by our record forward signing of all-time, Nick Blackman. The contribution of those two in the league this season? 65 games, four goals and two of those have come from the penalty spot.
The final whistle was met with a loud chorus of boos as many Reading players slumped to the turf and just a handful of fans remained inside the Madejski Stadium as the players completed a 'lap of appreciation' that also saw Federici presented with his POTS award. For Federici it was a particular shame as the Aussie keeper did all he could this season, one which could be his final with the club after a decade at the club. Likewise this could be the last we see of captain Alex Pearce, with the defender also out of contract. Three years ago both were at the top of the world after helping us win the league, today they could have played their final game with the club in the bottom six. Hopefully both will be remembered for the good times and both deserve recognition for fine service to the club.
I don't know where to start because I feel it's all been written here before. We all know that this squad has run its course and needs freshening up but the sheer number of times we've made the same mistakes, had the same problems and under-performed has been mind boggling. The cup run has shown that there's some very talented players at the club but for whatever reason they've failed miserably to translate it to the Championship. It's too simple to say we just need a striker, a new defender or a new winger. The whole club needs a massive injection of fresh blood to stop a downward spiral that started the minute the club won promotion against Forest three years ago.
Two games remain for Steve Clarke this season and while we need to respect Rotherham and Derby as both are fighting at different ends of the table, the time has come to give as many younger players a taste of football as we can. There's nothing else to learn about this group but players like Stacey, Aaron Kuhl, Jake Cooper, Niall Keown all deserve a chance to stake a claim for next season.
In the weeks and months to come much will change at the Madejski Stadium, with Steve Clarke himself dismissing any notion that you can judge what's to come next year based on this season. Sadly the scale of the job at hand has been brutally exposed and some members of this squad have had their reputations damaged beyond repair with many fans - It's a group associated with failure.
So that's it for me folks, the final two games of the season will be covered by Becka who's pulling double duty for Rotherham and Derby. Fingers crossed she has something a bit more positive to write about because the fanbase needs a lift in a big way heading into the summer.