Supporting this club has felt like a chore before, devoid of entertainment, but right now it feels pretty painful. Drawing 1-1 at home to a decent, mid-table Hull City side might not seem to fit into that category, but the manner in which the result came means it certainly qualifies.
Reading were so lifeless and uninspired today. Yet again. It’s long since become a theme that this side doesn’t know how to convincingly take matches to the opposition and this was another example. The pre-New Year Reading may not have had the ideas or quality to find a winner in this scenario, but you’d have at least still come out of the game content that the belief was there. However, in the last few months confidence has become increasingly elusive.
Statistically this match wasn’t quite as toothless as the 1-0 defeat to Millwall in the Royals’ last home tie. That day, the hosts managed a mere two shots - both off target, both from outside the box; today Reading managed five on target including Andy Carroll’s equaliser.
The eye test however tells a very different story. Although there were sparks of quality, the overall picture was one of Reading severely lacking the confidence or ideas to at least try to win the game. For so much of the match it felt as if the Royals were happy to settle for a point when three were badly needed in order to move away from the relegation zone.
You could see it in the painfully long amount of time taken for Joe Lumley to get the ball upfield, on the incessant occasions Scott Dann and Tom Holmes exchanged a short pass rather than playing forwards, and in the severe lack of movement higher up (which made the job of Lumley, Dann, Holmes and others more difficult). Too often Reading were forced to ineffectually go long in lieu of anything better to try and, accordingly, nothing good came of it.
The afternoon started with Paul Ince making a few changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Blackburn Rovers in midweek. Out went Amadou Mbengue (dropped to the bench), Mamadou Loum (suspended) and Shane Long (injured and out for the season); in came Liam Moore, Andy Yiadom and Andy Carroll. That meant a 3-5-2 looking like this:
Lumley; Holmes, Sarr, Moore; Yiadom, Ince, Hendrick, Casadei, McIntyre; Joao, Carroll
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen some of those tactical choices fail to work. Pairing Joao and Carroll (both immobile centre-forwards) makes no sense, as does putting a centre-back in Tom McIntyre out to left-wing-back.
Paul Ince deserves some credit for a pleasingly attacking midfield three, but it’s so damn frustrating to see that undermined with poor choices that should have long since been binned. When Nesta Guinness-Walker and Femi Azeez (both fully fit) are sitting on the bench and available as alternatives, there’s really no excuse.
The game itself was fairly low on interesting incidents, but there were some worrying ones for Reading in the way of first-half injuries. Moore, making his first start in a lifetime, was forced off after only a quarter of an hour, replaced by Dann as Naby Sarr shifted to the left of the back three. 25 minutes later, McIntyre had to go off for Guinness-Walker.
I feel for both injured players but Moore in particular. The last 12 months have been brutal for him due to him incessantly being kept on the sidelines, getting tantalisingly close to a proper return on various occasions, only to be denied. It’s rotten luck that must be deeply frustrating for the man himself, and you could see just how upset he was when he knew he had to come off today.
As for match action, Reading had some decent moments in the first half, typically coming down the right through Yiadom. Joao managed a couple of headers on target while strike partner Carroll put one wide, as well as Sarr nodding a corner at the goalie.
Hull however generally looked sharper and more positive than Reading, and cut through the Royals like a knife through butter for the opening goal, with Regan Slater slotting home after being played in by Adama Traore. That move looks even worse from a Reading perspective when you rewatch it. Our attempt at a press was so easily bypassed; the midfield may as well not have been there and the back line was pulled out of shape like putty.
The Royals found an unlikely equaliser right before half-time, as much by luck as design. Yiadom’s right-wing cross was met by Cesare Casadei and then not dealt with properly by Hull’s defence, with the ball landing at the feet of a grateful Carroll who slammed home into the bottom corner.
I was relieved for the sake of the players as much as anything else at that point. The home fans’ frustrations had been building throughout the first 45 and it felt that - had the score remained 0-1 - anger would be unleashed when the half-time whistle blew.
Carroll’s goal should have been the springboard for Reading to attack the game in the second half but... nope. Although Guinness-Walker was sharp down the left wing (showing some particularly good skill at one point to dance his way into the box and send over a low cross that didn’t find anyone), the Royals barely looked like getting a winner. Probably the closest we came was a chance in the area when Joao seemingly had the goal at his mercy but failed to pull the trigger.
Reading needed fresh ideas on the pitch and had options on the bench to provide them, particularly Azeez. He should have come on for Carroll to provide a different kind of threat alongside Joao, but was kept on the bench until the 88th minute when he replaced... Joao, the more dangerous of the Royals’ two strikers on the day, barring the goal.
The Royals’ painfully poor afternoon was summed up on the final whistle. Standing over a deep free-kick, Ince should have launched the ball into the box, but instead chose to play it backwards to Yiadom, at which point the referee immediately blew his whistle.
I’m not one to turn my nose up too much at a point which could well be crucial at the end of the season. But Reading needed three today and, simply put, didn’t approach the game or perform in it accordingly. Though future results may eventually say otherwise, at the moment this draw feels like a costly missed opportunity.