The coldest football match I have ever been to was this exact fixture. The cold weather was impounded twofold as well. Firstly, I came straight from work and forgot to pack a spare pair of clothes so had to endure what felt like -20 degrees celsius in brogues. Secondly, we were horrendous and lost 3-1, missing a penalty in the process.
The temperature tonight wasn't much better than they were three and a half years ago (the matchdays of Bovril and 4+ layers are well and truly here). However, I had to settle for watching it on my sofa rather than being in the stands. Now, enough about me. More about the football.
After the ebbs and flows of Saturday afternoon, when we were good at points, bad at points and okay at points (classic Reading), as you can probably guess it was Sheffield United who came to the fortress that is the SCL Stadium.
One change to the eleven that drew to Forest at the weekend, with Man of the Match Tom Holmes dropping out for Tom Dele-Bashiru. Some would say harsh, but Liam Moore is Pauno’s captain and someone who the Serb trusts and relies on - so not surprising in my opinion.
TDB coming back in saw a change in formation to something very festive. Festive in the fact that the formation replicated a Christmas tree. Southwood was the stump in goal (that sounds like an insult, but I promise it isn’t, Luke), then came the back four and from the on it got narrower and narrower.
Ejaria, Laurent and Drinkwater were the midfield three and then came Swift and TDB behind the star at the very top of tree, Puski.
While the formation showed signs of festive cheer and joy, the first-half performance certainly did not. Although Sheffield United started the brighter of the two (which went hand-in-hand with some more suspect defending), the half petered out into a pretty drab affair.
Although the formation switch helped to nullify the threats of the visitors, it hampered us going forward. There was no width at all and we struggled to to find any kind of space for the likes of Swift and TDB to operate in.
The first half can be summed up with the fact that neither team managed to force a shot on target. Although there were flurries of promise, there was nothing for either set of supporters to get largely excited about.
Then came the second half, and with it came the sucker punch that Reading didn’t want. McGoldrick floated a cross into the box, Baba Rahman got lost under the ball and Jayden Bogle was on hand to smash past Southwood. 1-0 to the visitors.
A pretty sobering moment soon followed, a moment that makes everything I’ve written above this and everything I will go on to write below completely and utterly irrelevant.
As Sheffield United broke forward, Scotland international John Fleck fell to the ground off the ball and the match was quickly halted. It soon became clear that his condition was serious, with medical staff rushed on to help him.
After an understandably lengthy stoppage, Fleck was carried off the field on a stretcher. The most important thing though was that he seemed to be conscious, and he was rightly taken to hospital. It goes without saying but we all truly hope he is okay, and that whatever happened is not too serious.
More football followed, but there was definitely a different atmosphere surrounding the game. I could sense that even sat on my sofa. It all felt a bit redundant, but onwards we went anyway.
Before Fleck’s injury, Andy Carroll had entered the fray. He managed to lift things a little bit. He forced Wes Foderingham into his first save of the game with a sweet strike from distance. However, still Reading lacked any real fluidity or rhythm.
Carroll’s introduction meant another switch of formation, this time to a narrow 4-4-2 with Swift and Ejaria filling the wide spots. It proved difficult to get either into the game, as neither are out-and-out wingers that really suit a 4-4-2.
The long stoppage meant 13 minutes of added time was shown on the 90-minute mark as we continued to look for a way back into the game. However, as hard as huffed and puffed, it just wasn’t our night.
Halilovic entered proceedings later on but couldn't make any real impact on his long-awaited return from injury.
A frustrating night. A really, really poor night. Questionable tactics, lacklustre performances all round and it's not like Sheffield United were even that good. But they didn’t have to be to get all three points. A really disappointing 90 minutes of football, but an irrelevant 90 minutes, too.
All TTE’s thoughts are with Fleck right now. Thankfully, he left the stadium conscious, and we hope that good news continues to come and that whatever happened, isn’t as serious as it looked at the time.