An afternoon to forget for Pauno’s men at Brentford’s new Community Stadium - the ruthless Bees stung the Royals three times within the first half an hour. Reading tried their best which today just wasn’t good enough. The most positive: no further injuries after the full 90 minutes in West London.
Reading began the match with two changes, one again through injury as Lewis Gibson was out and Tomas Esteves played at left back. Up front Sam Baldock came in for Sone Aluko. Apart from the Royals’ number 24, eight academy graduates were sitting on the bench. The tactical system looked like a 4-3-3 with Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent and Alfa Semedo in midfield and Baldock, Michael Olise and Ovie Ejaria the offensive trio (from right to left).
Both teams had a quiet start. Brentford tried to take control, while the Royals sat a bit deeper, were defending well and lurked for quick counter-attacks. After 11 minutes the first effort on target for the Bees… and it was 1-0. A misunderstanding between Baldock and Rino allowed Jensen to break through into the box. His shot from 12 yards went straight at keeper Rafael. It looked like an easy catch, but the ball squeezed in under his arms. Big mistake from the Brazilian.
On the 20th minute, Olise won a free-kick on the right. His inswinging ball nearly found Holmes. From the following corner, Moore sent a volley directly into the arms of Bees’ keeper Raya. Three minutes later the second attempt on goal for the home side... 2-0! Esteves didn’t track Mbeumo aggressively enough. Brentford’s number 19 cut inside and curled it passed Rafael, who had no chance this time.
And it went even worse. In the 29th minute, Reading gave the ball away after a throw. Moore and again Esteves left Mbeumo too much space. The French striker could turn and strike the ball easily into the right bottom corner. Sloppy defending from the Royals. Not even half an hour was played and it seemed already game over.
Understandably the 11 players in the blue and white shirts were under shock. It took them some time to reorganise and get some calm into their game. After 38 minutes the visitors had an opportunity to reduce the deficit. Ejaria played a short pass to Laurent, who had his right-footed shot tipped over by Raya. Shortly afterwards it was half time. What a shocking scoreline! Shots on target: 3-2. Score: 3-0! The statistics made it clear. Reading were really poor in their own third.
In the second half, the weather adapted to the Royals’ performance so far as it started raining heavily. Reading showed character though and pressed higher in the search for their first goal. In the 53rd minute Baldock made a good run down the right and fed Ejaria with a back pass into the middle. Unfortunately, Ovie’s finish wasn’t precise enough and was saved by the keeper. On the other side, Esteves lost the overlapping Thompson whose cross went luckily past everyone.
Right at the hour mark Veljko Paunovic made his first substitution: Aluko came on for the rather invisible Semedo. The Royals kept pushing and were rewarded in the 63rd minute: Olise on the left with a pin-point delivery for Aluko who nodded the ball into the net. Perhaps it wasn’t already game over… seven minutes later it could have been 4-1. Brentford had a quick counter-attack that resulted nearly in a clear shot on goal. Only a brilliant tackle from Holmes prevented them from scoring.
Pauno’s men kept their spirit high and had now most of the possession. Still, they found it difficult to create any clear chances. It took until the 80th minute when Ejaria had the next opportunity. His left-footed shot was saved by Raya from close range, and that was it for the Royals… As time was ticking away Reading were unable to create any further danger.
This last bit of energy was just missing. Something quite comprehensible. The long list of injuries combined with a similarly long list of players being ever-present all season (Moore, Morrison, Laurent, Rino, Ejaria, Olise) took its toll. It seems that some of them would just need a break...
Right before the final whistle, Brentford could have made it four. First, former Royal Tariqe Fosu came close with a left-footed shot that went too high, then a header from short range hit the bar. Seconds later it was full time. Reading lose 3-1 to Brentford.
Not because the opponent was clearly superior. The overall team performance (under the circumstances) was OK. Some moments of lax attention in defence were enough to allow the Bees three rather easy goals. A difficult Christmas period is waiting for Pauno and his players. At least now the Royals have got seven days to recover. Next stop: Luton at home on Boxing Day.