I remember this one time, a good 10 years ago or so now, driving back to my dad’s on a Friday night from where I live just outside Birmingham. We were driving down these narrow, winding country lanes near where he lived at the time and we came across this owl that was just sat at the side of the road.
It looked shaken, frightened, had obviously been hit by a car and was clearly on its last legs. We stayed with the owl for a good 10/15 minutes, and even called the local vets to have somebody come out and try and rescue it. But just as my Dad put down the phone to the vets, out of nowhere the owl spread its wings and flew off into the Leicestershire night sky as if nothing had ever happened.
Bit of a weird story to start a Reading v Swansea match report with I know, but there’s a reason for it. Reading in recent months have been that owl. Completely shook, on our last legs, and looking like we needed to be put out of our misery. However, there’s always been a little part of me that hoped, dreamed, maybe even believed, that we could do as that owl did and rise miraculously from the ashes - oh how foolish was I.
Even though we were better today than we were against Cardiff City and Luton Town (which, don’t get me wrong, is nothing worth congratulating the players for), it was another 90 minutes that showed why we don’t deserve to finish in the top six.
A lack of quality and game management, combined with more tactical naivety from Paunovic was our undoing today. Football hinges on moments, and this game changed in the 64th minute - but we'll get to that in a bit more detail later.
We were better today than we have been recent weeks. We weren’t good by any means, but we were better. We were the only team who looked like even wanting to score in the first half as, understandably, the Swans looked content on playing for a point.
John Swift’s introduction to the team paid dividends as he swung in a delicious ball for Yakou Meite who eats crosses like that for breakfast - planting his header into the far corner with aplomb. I do think though that it was a sign of our recent downfall that I didn’t even move a muscle when that goal went in. Yes, I was a pleased we scored, but the phrase ‘too little, too late’ instantly came to mind.
READING LEAD— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) April 25, 2021
Yakou Méïté nods the Royals ahead and the battle for the top six is not over yet
Watch Reading v Swansea live on Sky Sports Football now pic.twitter.com/NxocOyV5kT
Half time and it was 1-0. Were the owls’ eyes starting to flicker? Was there a little bit of life left in the injured, confused, shivering bird? No, there was not. Because then came that moment in the 64th minute that I alluded to earlier.
This is Pauno’s first season in the Championship, and he has done so much right during it. No matter what has happened in recent months, he has built a solid team which has undergone some serious serious progress under his management. Whether or not that can be continued or not remains to be seen, but that’s the fact of the matter.
However, at times he has shown some tactical naivety. For instance, starting four centre backs and Andy Rinomhota at right wing against bottom-of-the-table Wycombe Wanderers, and countless questionable substitutions too. Today, we saw another of those baffling subs.
Olise for Swift is completely understandable. Swifty just coming back from injury was never going to complete the full 90 minutes. However, Pauno accompanied that change with Alfa Semedo for Yakou Meite, which is just utterly, utterly baffling.
Not only this, but at the same time the visitors went gung ho and bought on Andre Ayew, who single-handedly turned the game on its head. Within minutes Ayew had sent Liam Moore for a hot dog, before Lowe tapped home from close range.
Then Ayew added copious amounts of salt into our already gaping wounds by scoring himself, and despite Esteves’ late finish (which was actually very good, but ultimately means absolutely nothing), Ayew’s goal was one that put an end to our season once and for all and put the battered and bruised owl out of its long-awaited misery.
Too little, too late...❌— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) April 25, 2021
Reading earn a last gasp draw at home to Swansea but that is not enough to confirm they will miss the play offs this season pic.twitter.com/ohvonmWA7T
Back to those subs. I completely understand that we were at the point of the game when Pauno had to stick or twist, and I also understand that hindsight is a wonderful thing. But it's a mistake Pauno has made far too often this season, and has been his biggest downfall.
Look, the same may have happened if Pauno didn't bring Semedo on and just replaced Olise with Swift. However, at least we’d have more players on the pitch then that could go and get us back into it. Instead, we were left 2-1 down with Alfa Semedo in the number 10 position and Olise playing off the right which, as good as he is, is not his preferred position.
Moments in games win you football matches. We know that more than anyone after the season we’ve had. And it was the subs in the 64th minute that won Swansea this match. Pauno has given us so much this season, but he needs to start learning from these mistakes.
We didn't miss out on the top six because of today. We missed out on the top six because of missing an open goal against Barnsley, losing to basement club Wycombe Wanderers, poor home defeats to Millwall and Middlesborough and, ultimately, just not being good enough when we needed to be. The biggest disappointment for me is that our season has petered out; we haven’t even made a scrap of it. We’ve got two games now that simply do not matter.
But, for all the negativity, frustration and anger that we feel now. It’s been a season of progress and a season that’s been miles better than the relegation scraps we’ve gotten used to in recent season. The big task now for the club is to keep this momentum going, which is going to be very, very difficult.
Another action-packed summer awaits the Madejski Stadium, but I fear, not a very fun one. Players will go, but whether we can get players in to replace them is another thing. I'm not optimistic about it at all, in fact, I'm incredibly nervous and fearful.