The Royals went into this game looking to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat at Wolves, having previously won by the same scoreline at home to Blackburn in Brian McDermott's first game (back) in charge. With less than 48 hours between Boxing Day's fixture and the visit of Brentford, changes were necessary, although only two were made. Matej Vydra (recently criticsed by Tim Dellor in a bizarre rant) and Garath McCleary dropped to the bench, with Ola John and Lucas Piazon taking their places in the starting XI.
Reading started the game brightly - controlling the game well and getting into good positions in the final third. Hal Robson-Kanu, lining up in his preferred role as striker, was arguably the pick of the bunch, working hard in a lone role. Behind him, Blackman and Piazon were relatively quiet, with Ola John providing some flashes down the left wing. In many ways, the opening stages were a continuation of the Wolves match - despite Reading's dominance, they failed to properly open up the opposition and create clear-cut chances. Notable efforts came through Nick Blackman (via a very well-hit free kick from range) and Hal Robson-Kanu (harrying the away side's defence brilliantly before winning the ball and hitting a shot at goal from a tight angle).
The opener from Brentford set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Driving forwards down the inside right channel, Ryan Woods unleashed a missile from ~22 yards that swept into the far top corner of Jonathan Bond's goal. As far as blame goes, you'd have to put it at the feet of Oliver Norwood more than Bond, as the midfielder had failed to properly close Woods down. That said, some strikes are so good that they deserve to change a game. This was one such strike.
Unsurprisingly for a team that's been struggling of late, Reading's mentality began to erode away. Had the Royals taken the lead, you'd have thoroughly fancied them to go on and win comfortably, but Woods' goal had flipped the game, and the home side couldn't cope. The early momentum started to die away, with Brentford digging in increasingly well. However, in truth, the West London team was offering very little going forwards. Besides a brilliant solo strike, the threat to Jonathan Bond's goal was pretty minimal.
Brian McDermott made two half time changes to try to get the Royals moving in the second period. Hal Robson-Kanu and Ola John departed, with Matej Vydra and Garath McCleary replacing them. The substituted duo had, in my eyes, been two of the brighter players in the first 45, although John ended the half injured. Hal Robson-Kanu can count himself unlucky to have been removed, with Lucas Piazon for one looking like a thoroughly average waste in his attacking role.
It was one of the substitutes that almost got Reading back on level terms shortly after the break. A Stephen Quinn cross found Matej Vydra in the box, with the Czech's header bouncing up from the ground and against the bar.
McCleary and Vydra soon justified their introduction with a cutting-edge team goal. Using Matej Vydra in a one-two, Garath McCleary ghosted in behind the Brentford defence and slotted past Button. It was exactly the spark that Reading had been missing thus far - a clear-cut opportunity to get a shot away at goal.
However, Reading failed to push on, and it was instead Brentford that got the all-important third goal. Liverpool loanee Sergi Canos, on the right wing, flicked the ball past Stephen Quinn and then Michael Hector, before hammering home from distance.
The only other action of note in the rest of the game was a moment of madness from Michael Hector. Up in the Brentford area and already booked, the Chelsea loanee threw himself to the ground in search of a penalty. The ref wasn't buying it, and sent Hector off for the blatant dive.
The underlying impression that I get from this performance is that this was very much a Steve Clarke performance and not a Brian McDermott one. It bore far more resemblance to the poor displays we'd seen in Clarke's final weeks than those in the latter stages of McDermott's last time at the club.
Obviously, that's understandable, seeing that McDermott has only been in this job a short time. He's still firmly in his 'anything that goes wrong isn't his fault' honeymoon period but, unless results soon pick up, he won't be.
That being said, his substitutions were a tad bizarre. Lucas Piazon was an obvious candidate to be removed at half time, but somehow kept his place on the pitch. The Brazilian had not only been anonymous going forwards, but also showed the non-committal attitude in his defensive play that we've come to expect of him.
Vydra and McCleary were pretty indisputable introductions, but the failure to deploy Orlando Sa really baffled me. If he's fit enough to make the bench, surely he's fit enough to get a 20 minute run out? I've got nothing against Rowan Liburd - he's got a big future ahead of him in my opinion - but he wasn't at all the right man for the job today.
Stay tuned to The Tilehurst End for our full player ratings, further analysis and reaction from today's loss over the next couple of days.