Coming into this match, Jaap Stam’s side had a real chance to show the fans, and the division, that the true Reading side was the one which attacked with pace and recorded stylish wins against Nottingham Forest and Derby County. Instead, it was the same old story - a lack of cutting edge, chances squandered, and a feeling that this side is still yet to show its true colours.
Liam Kelly’s return to the side was one of four changes from the disappointing 2-2 draw at Bolton in midweek, with Yann Kermorgant returning up top, Joey van den Berg back in the holding role, and Vito Mannone once again between the sticks. To Reading’s credit, they created enough chances to win the game, and should have been ahead inside six minutes - Chris Gunter’s cross from the left wing finding its way to Sone Aluko, who fired back across goal and narrowly wide.
Indeed it was Aluko’s profligacy which was probably the main factor in the Royals not getting that all-important goal. On the stroke of half-time, the Nigerian found himself with a free shot at goal about 15 yards out, but his goalbound volley was blocked by a Wednesday head before Kieren Westwood even had a chance to react. It was the Owls’ keeper who nearly gifted Reading the lead on the half-hour mark, missing an inswinging Kelly corner which was met instead by the onrushing Paul McShane, who somehow headed over from inside the six-yard box. The half-time whistle blew - zero shots on target from either side, but the home team certainly in the ascendancy, with Wednesday struggling to get out at all.
After the break we saw the struggles Reading seem to have all too often at the back. A blocked free-kick was eventually recycled over the top of the back-line, finding Lucas Joao in acres of space - Vito Mannone spread himself bravely to block his tame effort. McShane and Liam Moore had been struggling at times to deal with the aerial prowess of Joao and Steven Fletcher, and minutes later that almost led to the opener, Westwood’s boot forward seeing Fletcher control masterfully, but the Scot’s second touch deserted him when he looked to be one-on-one. And Joao saw himself with a sight of goal from Barry Bannan’s teasing cross, but couldn’t get enough on the header.
The mini-revival from Wednesday was soon snuffed out, and Reading once again were in the ascendancy, but it was a familiar story - woeful finishing costing the Royals points. Mo Barrow’s deep cross from the left found Kelly, who pulled back to Aluko on the edge of the box, but his curling effort flew wide. Leandro Bacuna finally had a chance to show his pace as he interchanged with substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson on the break. It was the Icelander who put in the cross for Bacuna, who completely missed the ball, leaving Barrow no time to react as it simply hit him and went out for a goal kick. And a couple of minutes later, the same tale, as Aluko found the centre but both Barrow and Dave Edwards couldn’t find a meaningful touch.
A spattering of boos at full-time, borne more out of frustration than genuine displeasure with the result. Reading were clearly the better side, and created enough chances to nick a goal, but as ever the clinical edge deserted them. Aluko was the main culprit, three great chances falling to our record signing and not one of them was even on target. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of ‘shots on target’ as a measure of how successfully your team attacks, the fact that we had exactly one strike on goal speaks volumes for this team’s wayward finishing. Unless I’m mistaken, that shot on target was a weak Aluko effort from 25 yards - thus Westwood had zero meaningful saves to make in the entire match (Kelly had a powerful drive stopped by the keeper, but he’d been flagged offside).
Unfortunately this side has showed us over the last few months that creating chances and finishing them is suddenly a real struggle. Reading fans hoped that the return of Kermorgant would herald a new era, unlock everything, and send us back on our way to the top. Yann still looks off the pace to my eye - he didn’t have even a sniff of a chance on Saturday, and struggled to win much in the air too. Barrow is exciting, yes, quick, yes, but there’s a reason that players of his undoubted skill and flair drop to the Championship - composure at vital moments. And the biggest disappointment for me has been Aluko, who looks skilful and tries to make things happen, but all too often wastes golden chances to find the net.
Still the positive is that Reading kept a clean sheet for the first time in seven matches, and looked relatively untroubled doing so. One important Mannone stop aside, Wednesday created very little, with their battering ram approach of Joao and Fletcher largely handled by Moore, McShane and Van den Berg. The latter in particular had a good game, snuffing out danger and making a couple of vital interceptions which would have led to chances on goal. But in a game you’re expected to win, and with Wednesday happy to sit back, is there really the need for five defenders on the pitch?
If this match was a ‘should-win’, Barnsley now becomes a ‘must-win’. If the Royals harbour even the remotest hope of reaching the playoffs, results need to get more consistent - and quick. It’s now 12 points to the top six, and just six points to the bottom three. That mini-revival at the end of October looks an age away now, and perhaps most frustratingly, it showed the frightening potential of this team when everything clicks. Unfortunately, Saturday just showed we’re back to square one.