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Reading 0-3 Wigan Athletic: Abysmal

See also: appalling, dreadful, ghastly, horrendous.

A row of 5 five portable toilets at a festival, UK Photo by: Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Long-term readers of The Tilehurst End will recognised the ongoing tradition of summing up a particularly awful performance with a joke picture at the top of the match report. From memory, we’ve previously used photos of huge waste bins (both on fire and not on fire).

This time it’s the turn of “five portable toilets at a festival, UK” as Getty describes the above image. Notice how they form a better shape than Reading did against Wigan, and with about the same amount of movement off the ball.

From start to finish, Reading were a particularly pure form of awful. There’s no getting away from that. Normally, after a really poor performance, for the sake of context and balance I’d either try to say why the match wasn’t that bad or attempt to pick out a few bright notes or silver linings. In this case, there weren’t any, except the sweet, blissful release of the referee’s full-time whistle.

As I write this piece (started on the train back to London Paddington, continued the following morning - at which point I’ve had to come to the cruel conclusion that last night wasn’t a bad dream), I’m struggling to properly comprehend what’s just happened. I’m basically unpacking and making sense of that sh*tshow as I type, and I’m struggling to manage it. There’s not one single element that I can pick out to fully explain that disaster; it was a horror show across the board.

Mark Bowen’s tactics were nonsensical, his substitutions weren’t much better (not to mention the unforgivable lack of a third change, even at 2-0 when there was nothing else to lose), Reading were collectively dire in all thirds of the pitch, and individually lacking in basic levels of effort, concentration and initiative.

Watching that perfect storm of a dire evening unfold in real time was painful and embarrassing in the extreme for the few of those who were unlucky enough to be at the Mad Stad. It felt humiliating to be there, and full credit should go to the hardy punters who braved the ice-cold weather and pathetic performance all the way until the full-time whistle.

Of course, it’s nothing we’re not used to. Capitulations both at home and on the road have been all too common in the years since relegation from the Premier League, and Wednesday night certainly brought back memories. Ipswich Town at home in 2018 springs to mind, for example.

So was that humiliation by Wigan the sign of a deeper rot, about which we should all be worried? Time will of course tell, but - to finally stumble upon a semblance of a silver lining - that game felt like a particularly freak result. It’s one that Mark Bowen and his side should well learn an awful lot from - if they’re brave enough to all be introspective about their roles - and I don’t think it’ll precede an immediate collapse.

Mark Bowen denied after the Wigan defeat that Saturday was a “must win”, but that certainly isn’t true. Three points may not be vital mathematically, but the reaction has to start against Barnsley - and boy do we need a reaction.