Reading lost away from home yet again at Cambridge on Monday night.
It was a defeat which raises question marks over Ruben Selles and these players’ ability to turn around such a dismal run on the road. It may extend beyond large parts of this squad and manager but that results, and let’s face it performances, have failed to improve risk derailing the fans’ confidence in the rebuild underway in Berkshire.
Reading were under threat early as Sullay Kaikai dazzled down the left wing and Gassan Ahadme nearly turned home a first-minute opener, only for an improvised David Button stop and hack off the line.
It was a scrappy, tetchy start to the game from the visitors who largely escaped defensive moments through Cambridge’s errors rather than their own ingenuity. There were chances to be had in attack with direct play and a high press looking useful, if under-used.
Reading’s best chance of the first half came after 30 minutes, when Harvey Knibbs raced clear and forced a goalmouth scramble that saw him inadvertently block Femi Azeez’s shot before Will Mannion’s fine double save denied Caylan Vickers and Ben Elliott.
Otherwise, Reading were too reliant on swinging balls into the box and while efforts from Azeez and Matt Carson in particular looked threatening, the diminutive teenager Vickers was ill-suited to such a tactic against the towering veterans Ryan Bennett and Michael Morrison.
Cambridge finished the first half stronger with a trio of opportunities before they opened the second half the better, too, keeping Button the busier of the goalkeepers.
Kelvin Ehibhatioman, benched due to an injury risk, entered after an hour and he forced the free-kick which forced the corner which should have forced the opener. Charlie Savage’s fine ball in landed square on the head of Harlee Dean, who diverted narrowly over the bar.
The clock ticked into the final third of the game with an increasing sense any goal would win it, Ehibhatioman having a cute curled effort deflect wide before the rapscallious Cambridge midfielder George Thomas swung one wide down the other end. The pressure was growing on the Royals with what would have been a harsh handball call going the visitors’ way.
Tivonge Rushesha entering for Azeez after 82 minutes hinted at Selles settling in for a point, eager to avoid the late shocks of Port Vale and Exeter repeating themselves. Seconds later though, Cambridge found too much space down Reading’s left - marshalled by debutant Clinton Bola in his first professional game since December - and Fejiri Okenabirhie slammed a low cross home.
Knibbs thought he’d equalised in the 95th minute but his shot bounced off the bar and onto the wrong side of the line. It was a rather fitting moment in what has been the cruellest of runs for Reading away fans.
It meant that, three League One away games in, Reading have been level in each after 70 minutes but lost every time. Selles won’t have forever to turn it around.