The Royals made three changes from Saturday's defeat to Nottingham Forest with Lucas Piazon disappearing from matchday duty altogether for Garath McCleary to return from injury, along with a start for Alex Fernandez and Anton Ferdinand. What looked like a 4-3-3 on the team sheet actually lined up a standard 4-4-2, Espanyol loanee Fernandez setting up on the left flank behind an attacking duo of Nick Blackman and Matej Vydra.
It was Blackman who opened the visiting defence up first, neatly interchanging with McCleary to win a free-kick. Oli Norwood delivered it nicely for Michael Hector at the far-post, but the defender headed across and wide of goal.
The exact same free-kick routine yielded a small chance moments later as Reading settled and Rangers offered nothing in the opening 15 minutes, while set-pieces offered the main route for the hosts to trouble QPR. Fernandez, seemingly employed to offer more protection to defending our left-back area, then forced a counter after a lucky bounce off James Perch set the Spaniard away, but his well-timed through ball to Vydra was overhit and nothing came of a good opening.
Meanwhile the reality of playing a Colin W. team were hard and true; constant fouls broke up the game and it took 29 minutes for the first yellow card to be branded. QPR's first breach of Reading's back-line came as Junior Hoilett stole the ball from a hesitant Fernandez in his own half and the Canadian fired straight at Al-Habsi. The Royals faded somewhat after this, Blackman dragging an effort wide with his weaker right foot while at the other end Clint Hill failed to connect in the six-yard box from a corner ball that should probably have opened his side's account.
The visitors arguably began the half brighter, although the match was evenly balanced. A questionable Hector decision to chest a cross down in his own box, one of many such by the Jamaican, almost gave a half chance, but any dominance subsided quickly. Norwood's deliveries from dead ball situations continued to be a highlight and yet continued to yield little of worth as Hector again connected with a well-timed run, but again missed the target.
Just like the rain, the game was drifting in and out of action. An attendance of barely 16,000 summed up the low interest from those present or otherwise, the announcement instinctively making the regulars crane their necks to a screen that wasn't actually there for this game. The match needed quality, not least to prevent the Sky bosses from asking for their money back, and Blackman provided a strong dose with a thunderous free-kick, hit with fabulous technique, that pounded the crossbar above Rob Green's unmoved feet.
QPR wasted another headed opportunity in the area as the West Stand clock edged to a conclusion, Steve Clarke hastily throwing on Hal Robson-Kanu, Ola John and Orlando Sa in an attempt to wrestle a home victory against a mid-table side without a proper manager. Welsh winger Robson-Kanu did break into space, teed up nicely by McCleary, but fired wide when he desperately needed to test Green. The value of forcing the opposition keeper into action as a bare minimum then hideously bore fruit for QPR, when captain Onuoha met a corner at the far-post in stoppage time to win the game. Heading the ball into the ground, it bounced straight at Al-Habsi but an incoherent flap of the Omani's hands was wholly insufficient to prevent it deflecting off his body and lamely rolling home.
This was a truly disappointing defeat. Let us not consider our own performance for a moment, but the fact this was a lame duck Rangers side with a weak away record who presented Reading with a thoroughly beatable performance on the night. If you seriously desire promotion, not only should you beat these sides, you should actively look like you're trying to. On both of those counts the Royals failed miserably tonight.
In open play there was no creation of space, in midfield the touches were poor, too often our passes were aimed sideways or to nowhere. At no point tonight did Reading generate any sort of momentum, create any lasting pressure, or display any degree of fight that could justify the victory this type of game demands of promotion chasers. The fundamentals of the team are unbalanced, the physicality of the team is weak, and the mentality of the club is contrived. Familiarity breeds contempt because these midweek home defeats have been routine for years. The knee-jerk reaction of many supporters is predictable if not somewhat impatient and misdirected, the players and signings employed by the club hierarchy remain extremely questionable, likewise do many of the manager's recent decisions on and off the pitch.
There was little surprise when the boos rang around the stadium tonight, but while the details can be disputed for longer than they deserve to be discussed, this defeat further backs up the notion that this Reading team is anything but a Premier League team in-waiting.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Taylor, Hector (c), Ferdinand (Robson-Kanu 73), Fernandez, Norwood, Williams, McCleary, Vydra (John 80), Blackman (Sa 80).
Subs: Bond, Obita, Cooper, Hurtado.