Reading FC Match Report: 2017/2018 Season - Championship
READING 1 SHEFF UTD 3
Reading: O Richards (51)
Sheff Utd: B Sharp (11), M Duffy (44), B Sharp (63)
Reading's defensive performance plummeted to new depths of incompetence this evening and by their manager's own admission were let of lightly in only conceding three goals. The opening ten minutes were like a pantomime on ice as Reading's defence dithered on a snow-covered and blue–lined pitch and gifted United two good opportunities to take the lead, which they failed to take, before Sharp finally put them ahead after eleven minutes. A second United goal from Duffy just before half time looked to have secured an unassailable lead for the visitors. Remarkably Reading rallied after the interval when Richards slammed home the rebound from Bacuna's free-kick. The turning point came in the space of two minutes. In the sixty second minute Bacuna missed the chance to level the scores when substitute 'keeper Moore saved his penalty. A minute later United had controversially extended their lead though Sharp after Gunter had mistakenly put the ball out of play to allow treatment for Moore who was already back on his feet. United celebrated as Reading protested and Reading never looked likely to recover.
Less than seven thousand spectators, possibly the lowest ever attendance for league match at the Madejski Stadium, turned up on a bitterly cold evening but I suspect it was not just the weather which deterred fans from coming along. You can question their loyalty but certainly not their judgement. Reading started slowly and United took advantage of poor defending to take the lead through Sharp. It was all too easy for Clarke to get his cross in for Sharp to finish at the second attempt when his first came back off Mannone. Reading managed to pull themselves together and at least keep the ball better for a while. Both sides were disrupted by what appeared to be self-inflicted injuries. McCleary turned his ankle when attempting to cross the ball as early as the third minute, and in the thirty-fourth minute United’s keeper Blackman was replaced by Moore and Clarke by Donaldson.
Just when it seemed they might be able to re-group at half time only one goal behind Reading conceded a second. Twice in a matter of minutes Reading found themselves outnumbered on their right flank and on the second occasion their poor organisation was punished by Duffy with a fiercely struck shot from outside the box. Well hit, but Mannone will be disappointed not to get a hand on it. There were so many errors it would take too long to catalogue all of them but one example pretty well sums up the nature if their shortcomings. United set up to take a short corner and remarkably only one Reading defender came out to deal with it. No prizes for working out what happened! Half time was greeted with boos from presumably the same small section of fans who remarkably still seem to believe that their action will produce the desired motivation and improvement.
Showing a degree of resilience Reading came out in a positive for the second half. Kelly stood out like a beacon for his industry and sense of urgency and won a free kick just outside the box. Bacuna hit target with to dead ball kick and Moore’s save was in vain as Richards pounced on the loose ball and powerfully hammered the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle. The goal gave the home fans hope and the mood changed. In the sixty second minute Kelly burst in to box and had his run blocked by Stearman. It looked to me like obstruction but Reading needed a break and the referee’s decision to award a penalty presented the Royals with a chance to get back on level terms. Bacuna stepped up and in keeping with Reading’s recent form his attempt lacked conviction and Moore was able to push the ball wide of the goal. United celebrated and went up the other end and delivered the fatal blow to Reading’s chances. Sharp tucked away a long diagonal ball into box with a deft touch and ran off to celebrate his second goal against his former club to join the growing number of ex-Reading strikers who find their scoring touch after they leave the Royals. We have to ask ourselves why. Mannone was booked for his protests over United’s decision not to return the ball the Reading after Gunter had mistakenly put it out of play to allow Moore to receive treatment when he was standing up and ready to continue.
I do not believe it is a lack of desire which is preventing Reading from winning games recently, although when Clement backed out of a fifty-fifty challenge on the half way line I did begin to question that notion. The reasons for their current downward spiral is largely to do with poor decision-making and execution throughout the squad, and that process of decision-making is significantly impaired by a loss of confidence in themselves and each other. The defence which looked so solid in the first half of the season has disintegrated into a shambles recently. Worryingly even Stam openly admitted he might lose his job after the game which indicates he is also reaching the end of his tether. The only way out to stop the rot is to win a game. Catch 22! A draw away at Wolves on Saturday would be as good as a win although on current form that would be nothing less than miraculous, but stranger things have happened.
This Championship game took place 114 days ago in the 2017/2018 season.