Reading Football Club are, as if it wasn’t already obvious, going down.
This trip to Huddersfield Town would provide no saving grace, no throwing-off of the shackles, no release of the handbrake and no last laugh. Any sense that the Royals would take their final step into League One with an ironic victory was dismissed in typically crap fashion.
However, this game was not so much about the fact that Reading end the season with five fewer away points than the next-worst team, nor about Josh Koroma taking advantage of numerous defensive errors for his 49th-minute opener, nor Joseph Hungbo’s emphatic late second for the hosts. Nor even Neil Warnock,
This game was much more about what pieces will be left to pick up to rebuild the club over the summer.
On the pitch, the heads-held-high final goodbyes for Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite simply didn’t happen, for they were elsewhere. Fittingly, it was the unloved Jeff Hendricks, Junior Hoiletts and Scott Danns of this team wheeled out for one last fumbled attempt at glory.
Coniah Boyce-Clarke, the academy debutant in goal, looked nimble and talented but incredibly raw - as any 20-year-old likely would, having previously only reached the National League South in senior terms. Maybe five or six of the first XI will still be at the club next year and, of that, it’s hard to make the case that any should be guaranteed starters. Problematically, so few of the youngsters look capable of ousting them.
Off the pitch, there was a sanguine sense of business as usual around the club. Reading aren’t a club that delivers, well, anything off the pitch these days. In years past, you might get a reassuring march across the pitch from the owner to salute the away fans. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore.
In the stands, the 2,000-plus away-day sellout had been reduced to almost 900 hardy souls, effectively serving as pallbearers for this footballing funeral. Some sat solemnly, others complained at the team as if it were still alive, while a fair few indulged in the catharsis of doom: relegation conga lines, chants of Shrewsbury and Oxford, the fading cries of Reading ‘Til I Die. Too many of those who hadn’t turned up justified the value of their time and money by spending the afternoon complaining on social media instead.
And so the season ended with a disparate group of players, glum-faced and limply applauding weary supporters, encouraged only by a rookie youth manager parachuted in on a wing and a prayer, and otherwise desperately shorn of leadership from every level of the club. Broken. Beaten. These days, it’s The Reading Way.