Boy oh boy do Reading love to make life hard for themselves. After drawing a blank in each of their three opening league games, they had a fighting chance of finally coming up with a win away to Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night. A two-goal half time lead was well-earned, only to be blown in the second half - it’s a story to which we’ve become far too accustomed.
The evening started off with Paul Clement making three changes to the team that lost 1-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers at the weekend. David Meyler, John Swift and Marc McNulty all came out as Leandro Bacuna, Sone Aluko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson all came in. New signing Josh Sims was named on the bench for the first time, but there was no room for the (presumably injured) Tiago Ilori.
Mannone; Yiadom, McShane, Moore, Blackett; Aluko, Kelly, Bacuna, Meite; Baldock, Bodvarsson.
Subs: Walker, O’Shea, Meyler, Swift, Barrow, Sims, McNulty.
Reading started the game slowly, coming under pressure from a Blackburn side that were keen to build on their win over Hull City at the weekend. A few minutes into the match, Joe Rothwell found acres of space on the edge of the area to smash his shot against the woodwork; cover from the Royals’ midfield being completely absent. The hosts threatened soon after, Bacuna robbed by Armstrong who drew an acrobatic save from Mannone.
However, it was the Royals who took the lead, Bodvarsson latching onto a loose ball amid slack defending to guide his shot past ‘keeper Raya. The goal had come against the run of play, but gave Reading a huge lift. The Icelander then doubled the visitors’ lead with a straightforward tap-in. Tyler Blackett put the ball into the danger area with a vicious left-wing cross that was met by the powerful head of Yakou Meite - the Frenchman’s effort was palmed away only for Dadi to convert.
Paul Clement’s men looked relatively comfortable for most of the rest of the first half, although it was Blackburn who had the chances. First, Liam Moore was on hand to head clear a shot that looked destined for the net, before Mannone gathered the ball easily after a Rovers player had ghosted in unmarked at the far post.
The Royals’ habit of struggling in the second half continued after Tony Mowbray adjusted his team’s tactics; Dominic Samuel coming on to partner Danny Graham up front. Reading were under increasing pressure after the restart and struggled to get hold of the ball to ease that pressure.
In the end, it took just six second half minutes for the deficit to be halved - McShane bringing down a Blackburn player to allow Charlie Mulgrew to smash home Rovers’ first of the night. Reading would have a decent chance soon after to restore their advantage not long after - a low cross was hammered across the six yard area but Bodvarsson couldn’t quite convert for his hat-trick.
However, on 76 minutes, Blackburn levelled it up with another penalty. With the ball in a packed Reading area, McShane lunged in dangerously to give the hosts an opportunity that they didn’t turn down. Reading then managed to hold out for the rest of the game without carving out any clear chances of their own to win the game.
It’s a sick joke that Reading can get in such a strong position to earn a league win, only to see it blown by a reckless individual performance from one of the squad’s senior heads. Despite struggling for much of the second half, it had still looked like we were doing enough to see off a below-par Blackburn Rovers side... except for those two moments of madness from McShane.
Reading have been capable of getting league wins for a long time now, but the mentality in this squad is worryingly unreliable. Why is it that this team can put in encouraging starts to games - Derby and Bolton at home, and now Blackburn away, but still collapse to come away with nothing - or almost nothing?
Even just a few minutes into the second half, it was evident that the weight of getting that first win is getting to Reading. They wilted under the pressure and played like a team that had forgotten how to see out a lead. Although individual performances from Liam Moore and Andy Yiadom were generally good, game management on the whole was poor and the team’s inability to reimpose themselves on the game is worrying.
If we can’t get a win when 2-0 up at Blackburn, when can we?