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Wigan Athletic 1-0 Reading: No Moment Of Quality

Aasgaard’s first-half strike was the difference as the Royals’ unbeaten run came to an end in the North West.

This was my fourth visit to Wigan Athletic, and in my experience games here tend to largely follow the same theme: Reading not being all that convincing going forwards. The Royals drew 0-0 here under Paul Clement, were extremely naff in a game under Mark Bowen before George Puscas’ late hat-trick turned the match on its head, and last season just got over the line thanks to a Tom Ince free-kick.

In short: we don’t play that well overall here. We always need someone to step up and be a hero, someone to summon up a magic moment to win the game or at least secure a draw.

The current edition of Reading isn’t a team that usually struggles in that regard. In Lewis Wing and Femi Azeez in particular, but also Sam Smith and Harvey Knibbs to a lesser extent, Reading have attacking players who can come up with a goal or bit of creativity in an instant. Think of Reading’s last league game when an Azeez rocket earned a 3-2 win over Exeter City, or of the match before that, when a brace of assists from Wing sealed a comeback 2-2 draw at Cheltenham Town.

It was ironic then that, in a fixture previously defined by someone decisively grabbing the headlines, this time no one could. True to form, Reading fluffed their lines collectively, desperately struggling to break down a stubborn home side, but on this occasion there was no saviour to step into the limelight.

Wigan on the other hand found their own golden moment to secure the points. Just over half an hour into the game, Thelo Aasgaard cut inside from the left and fired a beautiful strike past David Button for 1-0: just the kind of sudden inspiration from pretty much nowhere that Reading so badly needed themselves.

It was a touch harsh from Reading’s point of view for the game to be decided on that one moment: the Royals were generally OK (except in the final third) and a point would have been a fairer reflection of how the game played out overall. Wigan themselves didn’t threaten all that much. But you can’t have any complaints when attacking quality is so badly lacking and, of course, when Reading have won games in this exact fashion themselves.

So, beyond Reading failing to summon up any individual moments of class, what went wrong exactly?

Well, fatigue certainly wasn’t an issue. The Royals have had almost three weeks since their last full league game - the New Year’s Day win over Exeter. Indeed, Reading used those energy reserves to create some of their better attacking moments today, pressing aggressively and high up the field to disrupt the hosts effectively on a number of occasions.

Nelson Abbey’s absence wasn’t the problem either. The young centre-back wasn’t included in the matchday squad ahead of an expected permanent move to Olympiakos, and although the Royals suffered in deeper build-up from the lack of a left-footed, positive, progressive passer and dribbler on that side of the back line, that doesn’t account for a lack of cutting edge higher up.

It did however seem that Reading were generally severely short of mental sharpness and focus, and I’d put that down to two things as possible explanations.

Firstly, while not playing a league game for a few weeks is great for energy levels, it’s awful for momentum. Intensity naturally drops when you’re not playing week in, week out, and it’s difficult to immediately pick that straight back up. Maybe not for better teams who’ve been playing their style for a long time, with at least a full season of development under their belt so that everything becomes second nature, but that’s not Reading.

Secondly, of course the off-field matters had an impact on this side. How could they not? Seeing constant speculation about the future of the club, watching teammates sign for other sides and not knowing if you’ll be staying at Reading (and probably also becoming less keen on doing so) is bound to be a distraction for any player.

As fans we’ve been through the wringer recently. The chaos at this club has taken its toll on us and it’s surely done the same to the players too. They’re human.

So partially because of that and partially because of the fact that other matters at this club are infinitely more important than one league result, I can’t feel all that emotional about a 1-0 defeat at Wigan. A win would have been great, yes, and this game certainly goes down as a missed opportunity, but it’s not the end of the world.