When you add up the time spent getting across Coventry, taking the train back to London and then getting across London, my trip home today took around three hours, door or door. Or, rather, stadium to door. All told it’s one of the shorter post-match away-day journeys I’ll have this season.
But it felt an awful lot longer; it felt like the longest journey home after a game I’ve ever had. I had that sense of shell-shock, as if I’d just seen Reading’s survival chances blow up right in front of my eyes - on the pitch and also on my phone, checking scorelines elsewhere.
That very well could be that. Combine our own 2-1 defeat at Coventry City with QPR’s unlikely win at Burnley by the same scoreline and you get a huge blow to our chances of remaining in the Championship. The Royals now need to beat Wigan Athletic next weekend (at the very least) and need rivals’ results to go our way, and even then it might not be enough.
Today’s set of results were the big step wrong that Reading couldn’t afford. To be honest, I’m not all that annoyed with where the Royals went wrong today or with what happened at Turf Moor; the truly frustrating thing is that we were in a position this vulnerable in the first place.
After all, it’s the first ‘bad’ game in Noel Hunt’s three matches in charge so far. The interim manager oversaw unlikely draws at home to some of the best sides in the division - first Burnley, then Luton Town. That’s two points Reading wouldn’t have got before he entered the dugout.
Reading simply should not have been in a position where one subsequent big misstep - us losing away to a very good Coventry City side and a relegation rival getting an unlikely win - has such profound ramifications. Hunt was parachuted in far too late - today was testament to that.
Hunt carried on from where he left off in previous team selections, opting for a distinctly positive XI. He retained the 4-4-2 formation that he’d used in his previous two matches, also opting for the youngest XI of the season, including Mamadi Camara getting his first league start:
Lumley; Yiadom, Holmes, Sarr, Guinness-Walker; Azeez, Hendrick, Casadei, Camara; Ehibhatiomhan, Joao
While that was an exciting XI on paper, in practice it just wasn’t up to the task in a very tough game. So much of the contest felt like men against boys - Reading second best against a better organised, more streetwise and altogether more accomplished side which boasted real individual talent in Gustavo Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres.
In both halves, the Royals struggled to impose themselves in midfield, create much going forwards or even keep the hosts at bay. Coventry found it too easy to play through a Reading team which had been so resolute in its previous two outings and too easy to score.
For their first, the defence was exposed on the right when Andy Yiadom was beaten, the ball wasn’t cleared, it bounced around in the box and was lashed home for 1-0. For their second, Hamer drove straight at an exposed defence, reacted quickest to a loose ball, and finished.
The hosts could well have had more. Gyokeres gave the Reading defence a torrid afternoon and hit the woodwork, while Joe Lumley was required to keep out a one-on-one chance at 2-1.
It wasn’t the worst away display Reading have put on this season though. The fight was generally there, elements of the desire to get the ball forward purposefully (seen in previous Hunt games) were present too, and the Royals scored a quality equalising goal.
It was peak Lucas Joao, who picked the ball up in space outside the area and curled it home for 1-1 - one of the few times this season Reading have been able to get the ball into his feet in a dangerous spot: exactly the kind of service he requires.
If this game had happened a few months ago, we wouldn’t have thought all that negatively of it. It’s not so bad to be outclassed by good opposition on the road, especially when having to put out a young and inexperienced side, but nonetheless showing attacking intent.
It wasn’t enough for what we require now though, and that’s points. Three are absolutely required next weekend when Wigan come to town.