I’ll start this off with an admission. I really, properly hate writing match reports on a night like this; another night when Reading have played poorly (bar a few promising bits) and suffered another defeat at home. It’s become routine by now, and we’re more than used to it. I wasn’t particularly surprised when Sheffield United scored their first goal, nor by their second. We always expect the worst - and are right to do so.
Going into this report, I was struggling for a compelling angle. Unfortunately, ‘Routine Defeat’ and ‘Reading Were Dire’ don’t really stand out anymore. Instead, you, dear reader, get the joy of wallowing in my misery. Because that’s basically where we’re at now.
On the whole, I’d consider myself to be one of the more optimistic football fans out there - ‘stadium half full rather than stadium half empty’ if you will. But a year and a half or so of crap football at a directionless club takes its toll. In the end, you wonder why you bother turning up in the first place. That’s a question many of you, judging by attendances in recent years, have understandably answered with a resigned shrug of despair. I don’t blame you.
Fortunately, there weren’t too many punters at the ground to watch a standard Reading performance and depressingly familiar result. Despite a bright(ish) first half, after the break the team reverted to their pathetically tepid norm, seeing a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. A well-drilled Sheffield United side showed the steel (pun unintended for a change) and discipline we sorely lack to see out a comfortable away win. They weren’t overly troubled by a home team that looks increasingly resigned to its fate. Zero shots on target in 90 minutes of football says it all.
Side note: it was at this point during the writing of the match report that I changed trains at Oxford, where I bought some slices of mango at M&S. This was immensely more enjoyable than anything I’d experienced at the Madejski Stadium earlier in the day.
None of Reading’s faults against Sheffield United can be put on the shoulders of Scott Marshall, the poor guy tasked with trying to get a win out of this team. On the contrary, the interim boss brought some clever attacking ideas in the first half; his side causing United problems with some direct, pacey attacks down the flanks. Simple but effective.
However, Marshall - and whoever takes over on a permanent basis (more on that later) - had a mountain climb if he were to conjure up three points. Despite those bright first-half moments, Reading never really got that close to scoring, but did let themselves down in predictable fashion with two soft conceded goals late in the second half.
Reading looked resigned to their fate after the first goal, let alone the second. Long gone are the days when an opposition opener would fire the Royals into life; desperate to make amends and turn the game around. In truth, the players probably never truly believed they could win the game in the first place - as ever, they’re going into a game in the expectation of defeat. So, just like the fans then.
Turning that all around will be a mammoth task for Paul Clement’s long-term successor, whoever that is. There are no easy solutions for us at the moment, and the current mess won’t be solved any time soon.
At this point, I’m just praying for a saviour.