How to write a match report on a game we have seen a hundred times before? Well, with the rise of AI, robotics and general science fiction horror, the phrase ‘uncanny valley’ has grown in the mainstream discourse. It refers to the feeling of unease or revulsion at the imitation of humanoid features, usually through technology. Think of Alien’s synthetics, Blade Runner’s replicants or when studios bring back dead actors through CGI. They look like people, but something is slightly amiss.
So, today was an unhappy trip to the uncanny Valley in Charlton. For much of the game, there seemed to be a good performance. Certainly, better than recent trips to Leyton Orient, Northampton Town, Blackpool and Exeter City. Reading struggled to create chances in the first half, but so did Charlton Athletic, and are a decent League One team. Nothing to be ashamed about in the opening 45 minutes.
And yet, Reading lost 4-0. This is the uncanny performance that Reading fans are all too familiar with – competitive for a while, is this the day when the away win happens? No. Because this is not a solid away display: simply a false imitation.
Let us forget the history for a minute, because comparing the team that lost today at Charlton to a Paul Ince away loss in January feels redundant. What happened at the Valley? Reading felt more combative with a lower line of engagement and the additions of Michael Craig and Nesta Guinness-Walker. Craig especially understood the assignment – scrapping away in the midfield like the canine nephew to Lewis Wing’s protagonist role. Simple turns and tackles were being cheered in the stand. With his cup performances earning league opportunities, this breakthrough season will be well deserved.
Tucked away in the hills of East London, Charlton feels more rural hideaway than bustling urban environment and the football matched the dreary setting. It was boring. A flight of pigeons descended into the Charlton defensive third just before the break. It could have been a British homage to a John Wu movie (no doves in London), but they appeared to sit in silent protest: “If you aren’t going to make use of this plentiful grass, close to goal, then we will”.
Perhaps inspired by the half-time hero’s crossbar challenge, the second period brought a newfound intensity. The Royals swarmed early as Harvey Knibbs headed wide from a glorious corner. The problem is that football is a simple game. Managers have philosophies, every full-back inverts these days and goalkeepers are judged on their creativity.
Yet, the ball was played wide to Blackett-Taylor (no relation) who ran at Tyler Bindon and lifted the ball for Chuks Aneke to dunk on Guinness-Walker. Winger drives at the full-back and the big striker pulls onto the opposite full-back at the far post. Nothing too clever, yet incredibly effective. A similar situation for goal two. And again, for goal three. Then Reading are 3-0 down and another crushing defeat looms.
Blackett-Taylor had a fantastic game, though aided by Bindon’s awkward role out of position. He could not handle the winger, yet is that a shock? The 18-year-old looked bright with Nelson Abbey in a central role. A right-back, he is not.
Reading would benefit from learning the Addicks’ candour. Knibbs and Femi Azeez spend their games in perpetual motion, failing to find an impact. Sam Smith and Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan looked lively yet received the ball far too sparingly. The attacks are too individualised and improvised to be repeatable. The defending in transition is an issue (see all four goals) but the attacking impotence is more concerning.
Ruben Selles has work to do. Losing 4-0 without playing *that badly* is what relegation teams do. Though with 10 of the next 13 matches at the SCL, maybe sticking rather than twisting is the way forward.