That thud you just heard was the sound of Reading coming straight back down to earth after the high of back-to-back league victories. Winning at Wycombe Wanderers and then at home to Carlisle United had injected real hope that the Royals would be able to build up some momentum... only for that to stall with a limp 3-1 defeat at home to Barnsley this afternoon.
Try as I might, I can’t feel too strongly about this one. We shouldn’t have gotten too high after seeing off relegation candidates Carlisle and similarly shouldn’t feel too low about being outclassed by a promotion-chasing Barnsley side that’s taken most of its points on the road. Reading’s season won’t be defined by matches like this one.
Still, that’s not to say the performance wasn’t without its concerns from a Reading point of view. Failing to build on an early lead in the first half, going flat in the second half and being punished for slack defending a couple of times are all issues that need addressing.
Ruben Selles missed the mark with his substitutions in the second half too. Reading needed attacking changes to spark themselves into gear, with the visitors looking the stronger side after the restart. However, bar the introduction of Caylan Vickers on the hour mark for Paul Mukairu (the right call), offensive alterations only came in the 85th minute as Reading went 4-2-2-2 when 2-1 down. Kelvin Ehibhatiomham, Ben Elliott and Charlie Savage only had two minutes on the pitch before Barnsley made it 3-1 anyway.
On the other hand, there are some positives to take. The Royals more than held their own in the first half, looking like the stronger side and starting excellently with a well worked set-piece goal as Harvey Knibbs nodded in at close range. We would have gone into the break 1-0 up, if it weren’t for the ball striking the outstretched arm of Tyler Bindon, who’ll learn a lot about the importance of concentration from that harsh lesson.
That isn’t to say the positives balance out the negatives, not at all, but we’ve had worse defeats and worse performances this season. To sum up: meh.
The afternoon started with Selles making one enforced change to the side that beat Carlisle United. Clinton Mola came in at left-back for the injured Jeriel Dorsett, meaning Reading looked like this:
Button; Yiadom, Bindon, Abbey, Mola; Craig; Azeez, Wing, Knibbs, Mukairu; Smith
Reading couldn’t have started much better. Following a brief stoppage for a smattering of tennis balls that were thrown onto the pitch, Andy Yiadom charged upfield and won a free-kick. Lewis Wing swung the ball in, it was nodded on, and Knibbs was on hand to head home from close range.
The Royals had their moments going forwards later on in the half but faded as the game progressed. Barnsley on the other hand, while improving, didn’t have that much cutting edge and were only handed a way back into the contest when the ball struck Bindon’s arm in the area after a set-piece. David Button went the right way but couldn’t keep out Herbie Kane’s spot-kick. Where’s Joel Pereira when you need him?
You just had the feeling that the visitors would up their game in the second half and they did just that, looking much more dangerous than Reading up to the hour mark. At that point Selles made a straight swap at left-wing - Vickers for Mukairu - but it made little difference initially.
The longer the game went on, the more it just seemed to drag. Reading had been scoring goals pretty freely in the league recently, but simply didn’t have the answers to unlock a resolute Barnsley. Devoid of ideas, Reading time and time again went long to Sam Smith; time and time again it didn’t work. That 20-minute spell after the introduction of Vickers was the time to make more changes, but only one happened: Amadou Mbengue for Mola, seemingly an attempt to freshen up at full-back, an alteration Selles has frequently made this season.
Barnsley were the ones to find a way through however, in quite some style. A long ball was nodded down on the edge of the area to Devante Cole, who leathered a shot from range past Button. A great hit, but one made easier by the space which Barnsley had.
Seven minutes later, after the 85th-minute triple substitution, the game was killed off. Bindon was again at fault, this time losing out in a challenge in his own area, with the Tykes gratefully taking advantage of the space to put a low cross in that Max Watters converted from close range.
So a bad but not disastrous day at the office for Reading. Perhaps most worryingly it’s a sour note upon which to head into Tuesday’s crunch match: a local derby at home to Oxford United. No pressure lads...