Jaap Stam made six changes from Tuesday’s win over Stevenage. Supporters rejoiced as Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was finally given a Championship starting berth, whilst George Evans began a home league game for the first time since August. Star performers Vito Mannone, Liam Moore and Mo Barrow all returned after missing the cup replay, and there was also another opportunity for 19 year old Omar Richards.
As far as Madejski Stadium first halves go, it was a relatively lively opening 45 minutes, helped in part by Reading’s slightly shaky defence. Although with self-belief at an all-time low in a system that heavily relies on confidence with the ball, that’s hardly surprising. Having said that, the backline did do well to prevent Brentford opening the scoring inside ten minutes, with Mannone showing good reflexes to thwart Lasse Vibe before combing with Chris Gunter to deny Ollie Watkins on the rebound.
Reading grew into the game just as an emotional round of applause began around the ground in remembrance of teenage Royals fan Tom Stead, who sadly passed away on Boxing Day. They put together a number of promising moves, but were denied either by the offside flag or indecisiveness. It was more often the latter, once again highlighting the doubt that all too often creeps into the players’ minds in this possession based system. Bodvarsson came closest to scoring with a volley on the turn, but Daniel Bentley set a precedent for the remainder of the afternoon by showing a strong pair of hands to deny the Icelander.
Meanwhile, the visitors’ best opportunities came from a pair of free-kicks, that saw their attack attempt to confuse Reading with a bizarre drawn out approach of effectively creating a second wall. Needless to say this didn’t work on either occasion, with Mannone tipping over Yoann Barbet’s effort and Florian Jozefzoon’s strike dipping wide.
Going into the break, Reading were good value for the draw. I’m not sure the of the last time I was able to say that!
An injury to Omar Richards saw Tyler Blackett arrive on the scene at half-time, and the former Manchester United defender proved his worth almost instantly with an incredible block on the line to deny what would have been a certain goal from Jozefzoon.
Much like the first half, Reading stemmed the early pressure to create opportunities for themselves, and this time with an end product. Well, almost an end product. There was nearly a replication of Tuesday night when a Gunter cross found Bodvarsson in the middle only for the striker to volley just wide, before Liam Kelly, who had struggled to assert himself on the game up until that point, struck the crossbar with a free-kick from just outside the area.
Usually it’s Reading who are making errors at the back, but this time they themselves were able to capitalise on a defensive mistake as Kelly was gifted the ball from a fluffed Brentford clearance. It was moved around well before finding Barrow, who with more confidence would likely have put the Royals in front, but he inadvertently helped the Bees do so. The Gambian’s shot was blocked, allowing the visitors to counter, a tactic they employed for much of the afternoon. Jozefzoon was one of a number of players in the Brentford side with pace to burn, and he was sent clear before being denied by Mannone. Unfortunately that was not the danger averted, and Lasse Vibe pounced on the loose ball and did well to then find the back of the net through a number of bodies. The Danish striker, who was once linked with Reading, has now scored four times against us in five games.
Yann Kermorgant was brought on for Joey van den Berg as the Royals went in search of an equaliser, and an effort from the Frenchman deflected into the path of Barrow, who once again could not convert in front of the imposing Bentley. From the resulting corner, Kermorgant flicked the ball goalwards once again, only to be denied by Barbet’s header on the line. The Bees defender is reportedly a transfer target for Jaap Stam, but he said after the game that he could see “no point” in moving to Berkshire.
In truth, who can blame him, with Reading’s inability to find an equaliser meaning they now sit just four points above the Championship drop zone in 18th position. It was a game that they would likely have won last season, but they lacked the clinical nature that Brentford possessed.
To be honest, this result and performance probably wouldn’t be categorised as that bad in most other seasons. Reading provided fairly good opposition for a dangerous Brentford side for most parts of the game, but couldn’t quite find moments of luck or quality at either end of the pitch when it mattered. Yet unfortunately 2017/18 doesn’t seem like it is going to be like ‘most other seasons’. A relegation battle for the Royals now seems more and more likely, with today’s result the latest in an eight game winless run in the league.
Not since 2014/15 have the club been on such a dire run of form, and it’s becoming increasingly harder to be excited about going to games and supporting the team. Many recent results have made me angry and frustrated, but now I’m just starting not to care. I didn’t feel anything much upon the final whistle, I just couldn’t be bothered. As sad as it is, the current crop of players, headed up by a stubborn and foolish manager, are sucking the enthusiasm and passion out of supporting the football club. That’s perhaps hyperbolic, but I’m finding it harder and harder to ‘back the boys and make some noise’. Dwindling attendances suggest that many other fans no longer feel bothered as a result of a lack of entertainment and underwhelming results. No ticket incentives or free coach travel will solve the problem, only what happens on the pitch. With Jaap Stam seemingly out of ideas, or at least incapable of implementing any, it’s a worrying state of affairs.