Are we cursed? I think we must be.
By ‘we’ I mean anyone who’s had the ‘joy’ of following this club on the road in the last 12 months, a period in which Reading have won just one league away game: the 2-1 at Hull City in mid-November 2022. We’re really not all that far from getting to the full 365 days - we’re just 50 short in fact.
And yet, recent weeks have brought two fantastic away performances and wins... just not in the league. Yep, Reading can smash Millwall 4-0 at The Den in the League Cup and then annihilate Exeter City 9-0 in the Papa Pizza John’s Trophy Cup, but only a few days later, that away-league curse rears its head once more. Death, taxes and misery on the road for any poor sod in attendance: they’re all inevitable.
This time it was Blackpool’s turn to inflict the misery upon Reading’s travelling contingent, running out 4-1 winners. Jordan Rhodes netted a hat-trick and Kylian Kouassi added the other, while Reading grabbed a late(ish) consolation that’s been credited to James Husband as an own goal. I missed it due to a bit of live-tweeting so couldn’t tell you from first-hand experience how the goal happened, but then again, it’s inconsequential.
The hosts were decent enough in their own right, but the killer from our point of view was just how easy they found it. Reading have actually been one of the better defensive sides in the League One this season, whether going by goals conceded or underlying xG stats, but that may as well not have been the case today.
Reading made mistakes too readily - a theme that was consistent regardless of an individual player’s experience. Veteran Sam Hutchinson and (relative) rookie Clinton Mola were both seriously poor, while centre-back pairing Nelson Abbey and Tyler Bindon - previously so impressive - weren’t as bad but still put in their worst showings of the season.
Let’s not give the attack an easy ride though. Reading started off really brightly to be fair, looking much the better side in the opening exchanges, but that momentum faded before 1-0, collapsed in the rest of the half and was borderline non-existent after the break. The consolation goal was more of a statistical quirk than anything to take heart from.
It could have been more than a three-goal margin, a lot more, or a bit less if the footballing gods had imparted a huge chunk of undeserved mercy. But what this game was never going to be was a league away win for Reading Football Club. Nowadays you can only watch those in the archive of Reading’s YouTube account.
The truth of the matter is that, sitting here in the couple of hours after full-time, I feel numb to it all: to the inevitability of the result, to the shocking performance and even to the scoreline. Heck, it’s not even been that long (February 2022) since we last lost 4-1 at this exact ground.
During the intervening 19 months, Reading have managed just four league away wins. Horrid, isn’t it? That stat may not have quite the same punch as ‘no league away wins in 315 days’, as is the case now, but it’s still depressingly poor.
Turning that away-league form around feels as difficult as Dai Yongge finds it to honour a financial commitment, but that’s what must happen if Reading are to kick on as a football club - or if Reading’s long-suffering away supporters are to retain any of the sanity and joy they’ve still got at this point.
Despite all that I’ve still got faith in this team and this manager. Neither of the preceding two fantastic games made us champions-elect, and this one isn’t the end of the world. Regardless of how bad we were today, regardless of all our away-day misery, this is still a talented team, full of hard-working characters, with an awful lot of potential.
It doesn’t deserve unlimited faith or a shield from all criticism: days like today have to be a learning curve for all players culpable, whether inexperienced or otherwise, as well as for a young manager in Ruben Selles who’s also got plenty to learn himself. But this team and manager do deserve patience.
It’s a quality Reading’s away support have had plenty of time to practice.
315 and counting.