Just when we thought it was safe in more ways than one, Reading returned to the maddening, self-destructive mode at home that has gone a long way to defining this season. Yet again they capitulated when it seemed that, after a very decent first-half showing, the points would be pretty hard to chuck away.
But chuck it away they did. A second half that was passive, sulky, error-strewn and with a lack of intensity, earned Reading what they deserved: absolutely nothing. After a very promising start they should have capitalised and gone into half time more than a goal to the good. What was said during the interval seemed to go in many sets of ears and straight out of the other as we slunk back into our old ways by sitting deep and inviting pressure. When will we ever learn?
Follow the leader?
A feature of such performances is always the lack of leadership in the team. When the entire unit is malfunctioning, it needs big characters to step up and cajole better out of the players. Simply put, where are they?
The players seemed stroppy. Josh Laurent looked very frustrated, shrugging his shoulders at times; Lucas João couldn’t control the ball or make simple decisions well; Tom Ince struggled to get any foothold in the game; John Swift should have done better with his chance that could have killed the game and eventually succumbed to a worrying injury.
Save for Andy Yiadom and Danny Drinkwater, the fight was collectively missing. Even when we were a goal to the good, they didn’t seem to believe in themselves despite their recent form. If you can’t put your all into a very winnable game at home, when should you? With two very difficult away games ahead this was huge chance missed to win points at home.
While our bench options have improved of late, the lack of a replacement option for João remains a worry. After scoring his early headed goal and some sublime touches in the first half, the other side of João returned where a lack of game intelligence and sloppy touches came back. The game was crying out for changes to the front line.
Unfortunately, injuries to Swift and possibly Hoilett enforced other substitutions. What was really required was for a different focal point up front, a different kind of striker or structure. We changed nothing and, arguably, were punished for a lack of tactical fluidity. In hindsight, having three wide players in the form of Ovie Ejaria, Femi Azeez and Brandon Barker looked foolish.
The post-match interviews with interim manager Paul Ince did not seem to dwell too much on what the fans would have seen as a dreadful second half. Instead, Ince cited not getting too high after a win or too low after a defeat. It’s an old trope to trot out, but still equally valid.
So is the fact that hands would have been bitten off anyone that offered us to be eight points clear with just five games to go. It might have been a shocking result, but the facts remain: it’s still ours to lose. Many outlets have already stated that it’s a done deal, we’re safe for another season. For the fans, it is still hard to believe the hype after second halves like this.
Lesser and fewer
The bright side of the weekend, if there was one, was that none of the teams below Reading really capitalised save for Peterborough who grabbed a point. A blanket could be thrown over the bottom three as they all fight to not finish last. Reading could and should have all but put this to bed against Cardiff but a lesser performance prolongs the agony further. With one fewer opportunity ahead to deal with, games and time are running out for the faltering pack to catch up.