Nigel Adkins made three changes to the side that won 2-1 at Birmingham at the weekend, leaving out Hal Robson-Kanu, Adam Le Fondre and the suspended Danny Guthrie, whilst bringing in Pavel Pogrebnyak, Nick Blackman and Garath McCleary. The Royals seemed to be lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that they finished the game on Saturday with, having a centre-midfield pairing of Jobi McAnuff and Hope Akpan. Ahead of them, McCleary, Blackman and Drenthe took up the attacking midfield roles, leaving the Pog as the lone front man.
The opening stage of the game was severely lacklustre, with neither side able to exert themselves on the match. As for the Royals, effective passing was largely non-existent, especially at the back where goalie and defence looked uncomfortable on the ball. The early threat from the home side repeatedly came down the left wing, with Garath McCleary regularly cutting inside and running at the Barnsley backline, with Jordan Obita getting forward in support - however, there was minimal penetration or end result, save a mazy run from McCleary that resulted in a saved shot by the Barnsley stopper. At the other end, Alex Pearce and Kaspars Gorkss lacked any composure on the ball, with the latter at one stage passing the ball straight out of play for a corner. From the resulting set piece, McCarthy had to be alert to two long range drives from Barnsley, saving each attempt well.
With the game at a boring 0-0 at that point, I decided to make a note for my match report that read ‘Seem to lack defensive organisation'. As I looked up, McCarthy was scrambling to rescue a bizarre back pass from Chris Gunter, with the Tykes then capitalising with a well-taken finish to open the scoring.
So far, so dire.
Just under five minutes later though, the Royals were back in the match. McAnuff released Pavel Pogrebnyak, bursting down the inside-left channel, with a lobbed through ball, before the ‘Rather Large Russian' was scythed down in the area by Kelvin Etuhu. The Pog obliged with a very well-taken penalty, putting the ball into the very bottom left of Steele's goal whilst sending the goalie the wrong way.
However, even with the scores levelled back to 1-1, the Royals struggled to take advantage with any increased momentum. The game reverted more or less back to the drab affair that was seen throughout almost all of the first half, although there were still some chances created. In a rare moment of quality, Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff gracefully danced into the Barnsley penalty area before seeing his shot blocked. The last action of the first half was a Drenthe free-kick from a central 35 yard position, with the home side unable to create a chance from it. The half-time whistle was greeted with a few lacklustre boos from the home fans.
The second half started more or less where the first left off, with the earliest chance going to Barnsley, although the awkwardly bobbling effort was smartly saved by McCarthy. The next one fell to football genius Nick Blackman. The former Sheffield United player was let in down the inside right channel, but could only lob his shot over from what was in truth quite a difficult chance.
On 53 minutes, the Tykes again took the lead. Cutting inside from the left, the ball found itself at the feet of Noble-Lazarus, who worked back inside onto his left foot from the right channel, before curling his shot into the top corner past Alex McCarthy. Although being in truth a very smart finish, the goal again demonstrated the lack of organisation in the Reading defence, with the build-up play not being closed down anything like as much as it should have been.
Four minutes later, and it was 3-1 to the visitors. Originating from the same inside-left channel that had produced Barnsley's second, Dale Jennings ran at the Royals' defence unchallenged before unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard drive into the top corner of Alex McCarthy's goal. Again, a terrific finish, but Jennings should never have been allowed that much space and time. At that point, Nigel Adkins played the card that many fans had been expecting - Adam Le Fondre coming on for Nick Blackman.
Reading then almost pulled one back, with the Pog doing well to keep the ball on the edge of the Tykes' area, before Royston Drenthe lashed his shot just wide of the near post - a golden opportunity going begging. With 20 minutes still to go, Drenthe then cut inside from the right wing, before firing over from 25 yards. The Royals were struggling to exert any sort of pressure on the visitors, with these fleeting moments the only chances that went their way.
A few more opportunities fell the Royals' way, with Pearce so nearly finding the top corner with a header from Jordan Obita's free kick. The last one came from Adam Le Fondre, with the Royals striker unable to find a shot from Garath McCleary's cross.
Nearing full time the Reading supporters in the East Stand (at least near where I was in Y26) took to banging their seats in anger, as much a sarcastic gesture of ‘hooliganism' to recent events as it was a sign of their discontent with the players. At full-time, boos rang out from all round the stadium, along with chants of ‘that was embarrassing'. At almost all home games, the players come over to applaud the East Stand - however, only Alex Pearce did so this time, receiving applause in return. As much credit as I would give him for acknowledging the support after that dire 90 minutes, it's noteworthy that he was the only one to do so.
As a whole, Reading struggled to settle either on the ball or off it, not looking comfortable at any stage. As a result, the match was a scrappy, bitty affair that no-one seemed able to grab hold of. I often think that a good measure of a performance is the amount of times a team wins 50/50 challenges - it shows the desire to get stuck in, and the quality to win and then keep the ball. However, all too often last night, 50/50s went the way of the visitors, with the Tykes showing spirit and application. Moreover, Reading simply could not get the basics right throughout the match - passes went astray, tackling was weak, and Barnsley players weren't closed down well enough. As bad as Reading were, all Barnsley goals were immensely preventable - one sloppy back pass and two cases of not closing down opposition players running at the back line gifted Barnsley three goals, and thus the three points.