At this point I haven’t really got anything left to say in this match report that I’ve not written before about other away games. Another day on the road, another defeat on the road. When Reading play away from home in League One, there seems to be some kind of all-encompassing curse that guarantees defeat.
The latest beneficiaries were Leyton Orient, who joined Port Vale, Exeter City, Cambridge United, Blackpool and Northampton Town in beating Reading on their patch this season. It’s less a list of fixtures, more a queue of opposition teams patiently waiting their turn to collect three points. Some of them have edged Reading out late on, some capitalised on individual errors and some blitzed us with a heavy defeat, but the one constant is how little this Royals side is up for the challenge of getting points on the board away from home.
Even when we’re on track for a point, we find a way of blowing it. That was true at Exeter City, who scored a late winner in late August, and the same happened at Brisbane Road today.
This time, step forward David Button to - for the fourth time this week - make a critical error that was punished by a goal. A late corner from Reading’s right (itself avoidable if Lewis Wing had defended the situation better) came in, Button got nowhere near it, and George Moncur had the straightforward task of knocking home.
It’s grimly ironic that, as Ross pointed out in his Player Ratings, Button had actually played pretty well earlier in the game. He’d made some good stops and seemed very much to have bounced back from shipping three avoidable goals in midweek at Sixfields. Still, the league away-game curse unavoidably exacts its toll.
Everything else about today’s game feels immaterial and, to be frank, I can’t wait for the exact moment this evening when I’m not having to write about Reading Football Club yet again not being good enough on the road. Yet again sending a packed-out away end home with nothing to cheer and everything to be pissed off about.
The game overall was a weird one. Reading were as usual too open defensively, particularly in the earlier part of the game, resulting in Jordan Brown’s 26th-minute opener. But the response to that poor start was actually pretty good: the Royals tightened up later in the first half (seemingly by dropping the wide players deeper to help out), got an equaliser against the run of play and grew into the contest.
That equalising goal came in odd fashion. While Matty Carson has a lot to learn defensively, one thing he excels at is putting a delivery into the box. One such delivery from the left went onto the head of the impressive Dom Ballard, his finish hit the far post, and Tyler Bindon was on hand to bizarrely skew the ball in off the far post for 1-1.
From then on in, Reading were like a car engine spluttering in its attempts at getting going before eventually stalling. There were signs of life, such as an excellent one-on-one chance in the first half for Harvey Knibbs, who was played in by Ballard but couldn’t beat the ‘keeper, as well as openings on the break early in the second half.
But the Royals faded later on in the game. Frustratingly, the substitutions had no positive impact. Nesta Guinness-Walker made his first-team return by coming on for Carson and had a pretty good game defensively with some important interventions, but didn’t offer more than his predecessor going forward. Ben Elliott and Paul Mukairu were introduced for Femi Azeez and Harvey Knibbs, but also added little in the final third.
The final change was poor though - you know it’s bad when it’s booed in real time. Ballard was withdrawn for the returning Tom Holmes, prompting a change of shape from 4-2-2-2 to something more like a 5-4-1. It was clearly an attempt at seeing the game out, but negative changes such as that have a habit of backfiring. It was also out of character for a manager who’s typically been more positive in his approach, and he’d do well to not repeat it.
Of course, having five defenders and one centre-forward on the pitch when Orient made it 2-1 wasn’t exactly ideal for getting another equaliser. Cue Harlee Dean being pushed up front in a desperate attempt at creating an aerial threat.
What came after full-time was truly toxic. Reading had been applauded off at the break but were roundly booed off at the finale as hundreds of furious travelling supporters unleashed their frustrations.
By my count every player came over to acknowledge the fans to some extent, including an apologetic Button. But not many stayed on extensively to face the wrath - and it really was wrath - of the Reading faithful. Nelson Abbey was the first one over (as in the photo at the top), later joined by Ruben Selles, coaches Andrew Sparkes and James Oliver-Pearce, Mamadi Camara, Paul Mukairu, Ben Elliott, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Matty Carson, Dom Ballard and Joel Pereira.
That group stood and took a barrage of flak, including a particularly pointed chant of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”. I completely get why people were utterly furious at full-time, and there’s absolutely room for strong criticism after a poor display and yet another away defeat, but it wasn’t fair on a group of young players who definitely care and proved it by holding their ground in front of the away end.
That experience will have hurt badly for those who had to stand there, particularly Abbey, who’s played very well this season and made a good captain. As for those not at the forefront of that photo, only they can say why they left the pitch. I’d like to think they didn’t knowingly, deliberately leave their teammates, but either way, I’m sure that after Abbey and co got a bollocking from the away end, they got one of their own in the dressing room.
Up next, the small matter of a derby with Swindon Town at the SCL. At least it’s not a league away game.