Finally, after 46 mostly horrendous games, the fork was finally put into Reading’s season. We were well and truly done. Little can be said that hasn’t been repeated many times before: this was a carbon copy of so many of our away performances. No bite, no movement, no ability, no shots on target.
It came as little surprise that, even with the pressure being off, that a remarkable sea change in events could occur. This team is far too mired in its misfortunes to be able to rise again miraculously.
While it’s fair to assume that these players could play better than they have been, the level wouldn’t be massively increased, even on a very good day. Individually and collectively, they looked very much below par. They looked like a sad and beaten side that has had the stuffing kicked out of them time and time again.
It was a day to forget for most, including Reading legend Shane Long, who appears to have played his last game of professional football.
Also, the last in a Reading shirt for the likes of Scott Dann, Junior Hoilett, Cesare Casadei and Jeff Hendrick. Maybe even the last of Amadou Mbengue. Many fans might not wish to see a fair few of these players ever don our colours again, frankly, and who could blame them? There are other players who have beached themselves, mentally and physically.
Newer players also had their time: Coniah Boyce-Clarke took his place between the sticks, Jay Senga had a short appearance, as well as Mamadi Camara who returned to the fold after being totally shell shocked at Coventry City, as did the perennial league substitute Kelvin Abrefa. These players will no doubt have a much bigger role to play in League One when August rolls around. They really can’t be much worse than the current crop. Can they?
Despite the new faces, they are not to blame for the result. As a unit, they failed to control any of the basics, basically. Short passes going astray, long passes even worse. Unable to move into space, a lack of intelligence on and off the ball, putting Boyce-Clark under pressure with back passes that he could well do without on his debut.
Huddersfield, at half-speed, had way too much composure and know-how. A Neil Warnock side was always going to out-smart this beleaguered bunch. A superb strike by the superbly named Joseph Hungbo was a fitting nail in our coffin. A goal we could do nothing about conceding.
Reading lacked enthusiasm and endeavour. No risks were taken, all so static and devoid of inspiration. It was a mind-numbingly dull performance but there was nothing new under the sun here; mentally, these players were no doubt exhausted and it showed in their play.
Either they didn’t know how or didn’t have the confidence or belief to try. The damage has long since been done. There was no relief in relegation, just more of the same that got us into this horror show of a run. In truth, we couldn’t expect anything more.
Hats off to the travelling throng that still turned up in their numbers despite the already confirmed relegation. They have endured a torrid time on our travels, witnessing depressing performances and journeys home time after time.
They applauded the team for their effort as that’s all that was really given. All the fans could do was to enjoy themselves with gallows humour, singing songs about visits to Shrewsbury and doing the conga. A solid case of “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” if ever there was one.
At full time, the players, led on by Noel Hunt, applauded in embarrassed apology. Hunt, who has always been aware of the importance of having the fans on side, has tried his utmost to get more out of his players, but the task was too high even for him in such a short space of time.
Either the players never had it in them in the first place or Paul Ince had sucked the joy from the football club. Regardless, the travelling support deserved more than to watch the last twitches of this dying corpse. The anger from the fans had long since dissipated. All that was left was mutual disappointment and regret.
So now we move on, much like most of this squad will, thankfully. Hopefully, in the coming days and weeks we will hear countless rumours of who will be our next manager. Early suggestions that Chris Wilder could be a possibility has piqued the interest of many.
Having worked with Jared Dublin at Sheffield United to great effect, this suggestion would seem to make perfect sense. The trouble is, at Reading, we’re not renowned for making sense. If Wilder were appointed, he would be rolling back the years to do at Reading what he achieved at Sheffield United: to be promoted from League One and, ultimately, to the Premier League. It’s utterly preposterous to think that could happen with Reading, but he’s got the credentials.
The carrot for him is that he, with the help of Dublin, who would have provided him with many players during his time, will have a blank canvas to work on. The hard sell, if there is one, is that there’s little baggage to worry about. What Wilder, Mark Bowen, Brian Carey and Jared Dublin design is their own story to unfold.
If it happens, it’s the kind of appointment that ticks many boxes. Experience, authority, success, compatibility, relationships, etc. For years we have been crying out for an experienced man at the helm and not some left-field punt that made little sense or had a sense of purpose about it.
If this is nothing but paper talk then we do need someone in the mould of Wilder - someone who knows what he wants and how to get it done. The rebuild requirement demands someone who can lead in all aspects on and off the pitch. For too long people have said that we’re a good club with good people, but what we need is experienced people with a desire to make it possible.
We have the remainder of spring and summer to put this wretched season behind us and to reinvent the management and the squad. Bowen, Carey and Dublin will have been waiting for this moment to put in place what we hope they have been working towards. It might not have been Plan A but if Plan B involves Wilder, then we could be onto something. Whoever it is that ultimately has control has a huge task on their hands. The oiliest of oil tankers to turn around.
We wish you the very best of luck, whoever you are. UTFD.