Should we really have expected anything different? Reading’s defeat on Tuesday night at Birmingham City - and the predictable manner of how it unfolded - suggests not. Another promising first half was shattered by a dire second, with the Royals grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.
Goals from Gary Gardner and Lukas Jutkiewicz were ultimately enough to see us off, although Yakou Meite found the net in the 90th minute to halve the deficit, add to his personal tally and give the away fans behind the goal something to cheer. Without further ado, let’s revisit how the match unfolded.
If you don’t want to, and would rather be distracted from just how bad Reading are at playing football, here’s a compilation of cute cat videos.
Still with me? OK, here goes.
Paul Clement made two changes to the side that beat Millwall 3-1 on Saturday, bringing in Josh Sims and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to spruce up the attack. They replaced Garath McCleary and Sam Baldock who hadn’t contributed too much to Reading’s attack at the weekend in open play, so all in all the switches made sense.
The Royals were otherwise unchanged, with Anssi Jaakkola keeping his place in goal behind the same back four, with the midfield again consisting of Leandro Bacuna, John Swift and Liam Kelly. That surprised me when I saw it - our midfield had looked weak and lacking in presence on Saturday so a tactical switch or recall for David Meyler would have been wise.
The opening stages of the match went in the home side’s favour, although they didn’t manage to carve open any clear-cut opportunities. However, as the match went on, Reading pushed up the pitch and started creating a few of their own. Liam Kelly forced a ham-fisted save from Lee Camp from range, with Yakou Meite seeing a shot parried from a tight angle.
Reading had most of the possession via Ilori, Bacuna and Moore, although much of their playing out was too slow. The away side needed to move it forwards quicker and more purposefully than they did, and looked better when that was the case. Defensively, there were a few slip-ups that threatened to hand Birmingham the opener - Yiadom, Blackett and Swift all giving the ball away - but the home side didn’t capitalise.
There were no glaring opportunities that went begging for Reading. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Yakou Meite and Josh Sims needed to get more into the game in the final third than they did, with too much of the play happening at the back or in the middle of the park while the home side were happy to sit back and stay solid.
All in all, a promising but but far from perfect start.
Despite that lack of penetration in the first half, they’d largely been comfortable at the back. No such luck after the break. Garry Monk wisely told his players to press higher up and more aggressively, which perhaps prompted Liam Kelly into an awful pass that evaded Tiago Ilori to go out for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Gary Gardner tucked home past Jaakkola to give the hosts the lead.
Reading are so good at fluffing their lines just after half time, aren’t they? We’ve seen the same thing before, whether against West Brom, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday or others, and Paul Clement just hasn’t sorted a problem that should have been buried a long time ago.
That goal changed the mood of the game and we couldn’t react. One up, Birmingham City were even happier to stay compact defensively, press when they could and then break - as they did a few minutes after the opener, with Jota almost converting a Che Adams cross. Reading had the bulk of the possession again, but too much of it was in their own third, not going forward quickly enough into dangerous areas. Now when have we seen that before?
Birmingham City would double their lead on 70 minutes through Lukas Jutkiewicz - Adams outmuscling Tiago Ilori on the wing before sending in a cross that the lanky striker beat Yiadom to, heading past a helpless Jaakkola.
In years gone by, Reading would have rallied at that stage, brushing off their previous poor performance, picking themselves up and trying desperately to get back into the match. This team however looked beaten as soon as the first goal had gone in, let alone the second. The pace didn’t pick up and there was no noticeable increase in urgency, although Yakou Meite did well to unexpectedly sneak home a goal in the 90th minute. Too little, too late.
This match was there for the taking. Birmingham’s game plan of staying compact, letting Reading have the ball and taking their own chances - not hugely dissimilar to ours against Millwall - was enough to beat us, but the home side were beatable.
It was perhaps always going to be a tight game, so doing the basics and defending set pieces properly is vital. Reading can’t do that at the moment and have struggled for a while now, this being the fifth match in a row where they’ve conceded from a corner. Even then, the match wasn’t out of reach, but the huge drop-off in belief when that opener went in was so predictable that it’s an obvious sign of the times.
So what can Reading do to change their fortunes? The team looks desperately short on confidence and organisation, and those aren’t qualities which can be conjured up quickly, whether through a new manager or not. With the team in 21st, two points off the bottom three ahead of Wednesday’s games, time is running out to find answers.