This match report is titled ‘A Fitting Ending’ because, if you could take Reading’s season in its entirety and whittle it down to 90 minutes of football, you’d get an exact replica of what we’ve just seen this afternoon.
By that I mean it was a game where we looked dangerous going forward, solid at the back and extremely comfortable - as we had been in the play offs up until a few weeks ago - only for us to completely fade away in the second half and get punished for doing just that. 90 minutes that summed up our weak downwards decline in the season as a whole.
The Huddersfield opener aside, it was a start to the game that had an abundance of swagger, confidence and quality, with Michael Olise typically at the centre of it all in what will more than likely be his last game in the blue and white hoops.
Olise absolutely ran the show in the 80 minutes he was on the pitch. He showed exactly why he’s the best youngster in the Championship, gliding around the pitch like it was his playground and, as has been the case all season, he had the end product to back that up, popping up with the equaliser and the assist for Yakou Meite’s looping header too.
On top of Olise’s oozily good performance, the rest of his team mates were more than holding their own. Yakou was playing the lone striker role better than I’d seen him do before, the makeshift defence was limiting an albeit very tame Huddersfield attack to very little, and player of the season Josh Laurent was commanding the midfield battle alongside Semedo and Rino very well.
So, all in all, it was going swimmingly - and going into the half-time break we looked well on our way to at least finishing the season in a convincing way, even if it didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. What could go wrong?
The second half started in the same ilk as the first one had ended in fairness; we were in full control, Olise and Swift were dictating the play and, still, we looked extremely solid and affirmative at the back. However, we weren’t creating anything in terms of clear-cut opportunities to really kill the game off.
There were a few half chances here and there, with Meite threatening to go clear on a couple of occasions. But as the game dragged on, I think it’s fair to say that the players were just waiting for that final whistle, believing they were in full control and they’d finish the season with three points.
But that wasn’t to be, as with pretty much the last kick of the game Bacuna somehow wormed a pass through Richards before Edmonds-Green somehow wormed a shot through the legs of Luke Southwood who, after having such a good couple of days with the signing of a new contract and being handed his Championship debut, had a really tough afternoon. Perhaps showing why Rafael has been such a cemented figure of this Reading team all season.
It was a dead rubber game which the result of, like I said earlier, was never going to matter in the grand scheme of things. If we’d have managed to hold on to all three points it would’ve allowed us to look back at this season with that little bit more positivity. However, I’m now sitting here feeling exactly the way I’ve felt after every game for the past two months or so.
It's becoming close to apathy. I do love this team, and I have always been an advocate for looking at the bigger picture, which is still a good one (just about). However, we’ve now won just one of our last 11 league games, and with an ominous looking summer coming up, today's result just added another grey cloud to the already murky and gloomy overhead conditions.
That’s what all of our attentions should and will turn to now. The end to this season has been catastrophic but it’s done. The gap between now and the first day of next season will arguably be more important for Reading than the last eight months have.
This club has a decent track record of shambolic summers, but if the people at the top aren’t careful, this one has the potential to be the worst of the lot. Key players out of contract, FFP regulations increasing their stranglehold and whether or not we’ll be able to replace those that will inevitably leave are, all huge hurdles we’re going to have to overcome.
However, if it’s done correctly and properly, there is something to build on, and there is a chance for us to give it another really good crack next time out. If we prioritise getting some core players on new contracts and allowing Paunovic to build on what he’s started, then of course the clouds will begin to disappear and the sun can start shining again.
And, most importantly, all of the signs point to today being the last time we’ll ever have to use iFollow. Come August, the Mad Stad will (hopefully) have 20,000+ bouncing Loyal Royals back again, and that’s what matters the most. We’ll have our football back, let’s just hope we'll be able to enjoy it when we do.