Steve Clarke made a number of changes to the side that beat Middlesbrough 2-0 before the international break, with injuries still a concern. The back five was unchanged, meaning that Ali Al-Habsi, Chris Gunter, Michael Hector, Paul McShane and Jordan Obita all started. Aaron Tshibola and Oliver Norwood anchored the midfield, with Nick Blackman, Lucas Piazon and Ola John supporting Orlando Sa. That seemed to equate during the game to a 4-2-3-1 formation: Blackman and John the wide options whilst Piazon took a central role.
The Royals started the game brightly, with Lucas Piazon and Ola John both going close in the early stages. Clever work from Orlando Sa set the Brazilian through on goal down the inside right channel and, finding no one central to cross to, he drew a good save from Nick Pope low at the near post. Not long after, John rounded off some intricate link-up play on the edge of the box by firing over the bar.
After those opening salvos however, Reading started to lose their momentum. As a low mid-table side, Charlton came to the Madejski with a doggedly defensive mindset that, to be fair to the visitors, appeared to be working well. In contrast to the last home game against Middlesbrough, the onus was on the Royals to get forward and attack, but they didn't look comfortable doing that. First half shots tended to be hopeful punts from distance, with Reading yet again struggling to break down an away side that sits deep.
The second period did start better for Reading than the last one had ended, but on the whole it was much of the same. Charlton again looked to sit back and soak up any Reading pressure, with the home side failing to open them up. Michael Hector almost opened his account for the season with a well-hit drive from distance that was deflected over, and Nick Blackman also saw a ranged shot go off target.
Reading spurned one of their few well-worked chances through Lucas Piazon mid-way through the second half. Ola John, now playing on the right, combined well with Chris Gunter before crossing to Piazon, whose shot from about 10 yards was deflected wide. This was exactly the kind of move that the home side needed more of - being patient, putting pressure onto Charlton and then creating a relatively straightforward chance from close range. Shortly after, Blackman ran at the Addicks back line in a quick counter attack, and was fouled by Patrick Bauer. The German picked up his second booking of the afternoon, bringing the visitors down to ten men.
With Reading looking to get forward more, they took the lead on the 76th minute. The ball was fed out to Lucas Piazon on the left, who whipped in a pacey cross for Nick Blackman to convert at the back post with a well-placed header. Reading saw out the rest of the game professionally enough, with the last few minutes being run down by a dull but effective game of keep ball between the midfield and back five.
It's easy to write this game off as 'yet another win', but I for one found more to be worried than excited about from Saturday's game. Yes, three points are three points, but edging a 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Charlton (they dropped to 20th after the game), having barely created any clear-cut chances, worried me. To be fair to Steve Clarke, several key players were either missing or only fit enough for the bench: Jonathan Bond, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Williams, Stephen Quinn, Garath McCleary, Hal Robson-Kanu and Matej Vydra.
That said, I found no evidence to suggest that Reading have learned how to be comfortable taking the game to the opposition when we're the ones expected to. Generally speaking, most of the attacks were pretty rushed and ended with an effort being blazed off target from distance - lack of imagination much? When Reading did actually realise that a bit of patience and ingenuity would do the trick, we looked at our most dangerous and finally scored.
Much of the post-match reaction will be along the lines of 'we were patient against a defensive Charlton side, and Nick Blackman scored yet again'. But that brushes over what was in truth a very average home performance. Upcoming trips to Rotherham and Fulham give the Royals a chance to get back to their favoured away game style of play, so it'll be interesting to how well we do from those two fixtures.
Keep an eye out at The Tilehurst End over the next few days for our player ratings, further analysis of the match and more.