Reading: Federici; Kelly (Blackman 79), Pearce, Hector, Gunter; Mackie (Pogrebnyak 87), Williams, Norwood, Obita; Murray, Cox (Robson-Kanu 77)
The first half hour against Rotherham on Tuesday night was pretty insipid, and it was exactly the same today as neither team particularly threatened to hit the back of the net. Glenn Murray, Jamie Mackie and Simon Cox linked up well twice in the first ten minutes, but couldn't find the final ball to get an effort on goal. Twenty minutes in, a short corner from Oliver Norwood found Jordan Obita on the edge of the box, and his shot hit a wall of bodies before deflecting out for another corner.
Charlton came into the game as the half went on, and were creating their best efforts from out wide. Callum Harriott had a cross fall to his feet on the edge of the box - his half-volley was blocked by Alex Pearce. The game was certainly flowing well between the two sides, but rather than being "end-to-end", it was very much "edge-of-Charlton-third to edge-of-Reading-third", with neither side really penetrating the other's back line until the goal five minutes before the break. Chris Solly was the provider from the right wing, and the 5 foot 8 striker Igor Vetokele somehow got the better of Pearce and Hector, nodding a looping header over a stranded Adam Federici. The result of the inquest will be confirmed once we've all seen the replays, but Gunter didn't stop the cross and two centre backs couldn't stop the diminutive striker getting his head to the ball.
The Royals did have a couple of chances to get a quick equaliser before half time. A quick throw found Simon Cox on the left corner of the box and he volleyed towards goal - taking a deflection on its way wide as Glenn Murray arrived just too late to help the ball into the net at the back post. From the resulting corner, Hector glanced a free header wide. Half time came in the pouring rain, and the bleak weather reflected the performance on the pitch.
The second half began, and Charlton had a great chance to double their lead as Johann Berg Gudmundsson played a through ball between Gunter and Pearce which Vetokele just failed to reach. But Reading came closest to levelling the scoreline a few minutes later, as Cox laid down a cross to Oliver Norwood, whose strike from the top of the box clipped the outside of Stephen Henderson's right-hand post before going out for a goal kick.
The final half hour of the game followed a familiar pattern, as Reading retained most of the possession whilst Charlton were very happy to let the Royals keep it, trying to counter-attack instead. Harriott led one such break, and his curling effort from the right corner of the box sailed wide, whilst at the other end, Murray turned provider for Mackie as his low cross found the loanee, but also the boot of Tal Ben Haim.
Nigel Adkins waited until the 77th minute to try plan B, in terms of personnel anyway, and that change was somewhat enforced with Cox limping off to be replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu. Two minutes later, Nick Blackman came on for Stephen Kelly, as Gunter moved to right-back and Jordan Obita came back to the left side of the defence. Still, Mackie and Murray looked the most likely to restore parity - the latter found the former in space on the right wing, and Mackie's drive from just inside the area was tipped over by Henderson.
The Addicks had the best chance to score the second goal of the game as Hector lost possession in the middle of the park, Berg Gudmundsson ran at Gunter and squared to sub George Tucudean, who was one on one with Federici. The keeper made the save and recovered superbly to stop the rebound too. The Royals should probably have had a free-kick just outside the area with a couple of minutes left, as Murray went flying after a robust challenge from a Charlton defender. Nothing given, despite the striker needing physio attention. Blackman had the last chance as he let fly from 25 yards, but harmlessly wide. That was it - boos rang round the Madejski Stadium, and the progress we saw in the last two home games had come full circle.
Let's debunk a few myths. 60% possession, 20 shots to 9, 12 corners to 0, and Adkins said in his post-match interview that we had "35 crosses". An outsider might wonder how we lost that game.
We may have dominated all those facets of the game, but Charlton had the lead. They had no need to possess the ball, to win corners, to shoot, to cross the ball, because they were intent on tucking in and protecting that lead. And in truth, the Royals never looked like breaking them down - indeed, the best chance of the second half fell to the Addicks, as Tucudean had two bites of the cherry one-on-one, but couldn't finish either. So yes, Reading had the lion's share of the ball, but Charlton didn't need it.
And they didn't need it because they knew they had the beating of Reading defensively. 35 crosses, yes, but the majority of those came from Jordan Obita, whose production was woeful. I've been the biggest supporter of his normally wicked deliveries, but today I don't think even five found their man in the middle. Twelve corners, but the success rate from that type of set-piece is extremely low. And 20 shots but just two on target - Charlton had three that forced Federici or a defender to make the stop, as well as the goal.
Quite simply, Reading cannot break a team down. Just twice in the "Adkins Era" have we come from behind to beat an opponent - Ipswich at home on the opening day of last season, and Doncaster away with playoff qualification on the line. Slow build-ups, no intelligent movement up front, and a severe lack of spark mean that the Royals have no option but to fire from afar - no wonder that our best chance to level the scores came from a long-range Norwood strike, with Williams and Blackman also firing wide from outside the box.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Why did the team, or the manager, not realise that Obita's crosses were not working? Why did the slow build-up continue late into the second half, before the inevitable boot forward anyway? And why is there no ability to break down a side once they grab the lead? The first two points lie within this game; the final one is a problem we have seen from this side for nearly two years (though Adkins' reign did begin in the Premier League).
Two 3-0 wins over Blackpool and Rotherham United simply papered over the cracks in this Reading side, as in my opinion, we weren't convincing in either match, despite being more clinical and looking impressive at times. Questions will be asked and worry will set in over the next two weeks, and the upcoming double away at Cardiff and Norwich don't look the easiest games for Nigel Adkins to allay those fears.
The excuses are running out. Danny Williams is back, with Garath McCleary likely returning after the international break and Jem Karacan a couple of weeks behind him. The team we put out today, McCleary aside, is probably near to full strength (depending on whether and where you'd slot Jem into this team). On the pitch, the first half hour of both the Rotherham and Charlton games have been write-offs. Good results mitigate bad performances, and progress on the pitch can offset poor form - at the moment, the Reading faithful are getting neither.
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