Town’s FA Cup adventure – already stalled by an appalling referee 10 days previously – came to a shuddering halt at the hands of another official who harshly, if not without reason, sent off Jonathan Hogg for a trip on the dangerous Vydra and Reading ruthlessly exploited their advantage in a painful second half.
Up to that point, it is no exaggeration to say that Town had destroyed the sluggish home team with pressing, incisive passing and high energy.
The whole team, from Murphy (who seems much more adept at the possession game than Steer) to a lively Wells up front put on a display which surpassed anything seen in Wagner’s reign to date and if there is anything to take from a hugely disappointing night, it is the fact that the players can be irresistible when everything clicks.
Lolley and Paterson tormented the Royals who mustered just one attack of note in this period which fizzled out with a poor final ball.
Finding space and time, the visitors soon took the lead though it was through the unlikely route of a long ball from Lynch being headed up in the air by Reading’s centre half. Wells latched on to the loose ball and Paterson took it off him to score and give Town an early and deserved lead.
In total control, dominating possession and completely outplaying their hosts, further goals were only a matter of time.
The second should have been Huws’ header against the bar following great interplay between Wells, Lolley and Paterson, but the rebound fell to Smith who shot against Al-Habsi and was then in position to take a pass at the edge of the area from Dempsey and drive the ball in to the far corner and off the post.
At 2-0, Town began to toy with Reading and their patient, accurate passing threatened to overwhelm them. This period culminated with Wells clean through on Al-Habsi and a third goal then would have killed the tie and emphasised Town’s total superiority, but instead of shooting, Nahki decided to try and take the ball round the keeper. This time, he was thwarted legally and the game was about to be turned on its head.
A poor aerial challenge by Lynch saw the ball falling to Vydra whose quick feet took him past Hudson and clear on goal, only for a clumsy Hogg challenge bringing him down. In Hogg’s defence, Vydra had cleverly shielded himself from such a challenge and a coming together was somewhat inevitable – though the shock red card that followed wasn’t.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that the red card wasn’t correct. Many referees would have cautioned Hogg and it seems unlikely that such a decision would have caused any sort of uproar, but his interpretation of the law was, strictly, correct.
Instead of being 3-0 up and coasting, then, Piazon’s excellently placed free kick put Reading, undeservedly, back in the game, Town lost Lolley’s creativity as well as a man and though they played out the rest of the half reasonably comfortably, the momentum was now with the seemingly blessed hosts.
A disastrous second half followed. Town never got to grips with being a man short and, to their credit, Reading exploited the advantage with the ruthless efficiency of a bully.
Disjointed and lacking any cohesion, it was only a matter of time before the visitors succumbed, but it was ironic that the equaliser came following a Town corner. Having got out of their own half and winning a pressure relieving set piece, Paterson and Davidson managed to make a hash of it; despite eventually getting the ball in the box, it was being competed for by Lynch and Hudson and the eventual loss of possession left Town hopelessly exposed.
Vydra eventually finished off a fast break after Murphy had made a superb one handed save and the game was level.
The home team went ahead soon after with a passing move through the tiring visitors – again, Vydra was on hand to finish.
Town weren’t quite dead, and an excellent through ball by Huws – who had been magnificent until blunted by the loss of Hogg – found Wells whose lob hit the post with Al-Habsi beaten. This final jerk of the corpse summed up Town’s experience over both games – any fortune available had flowed to Reading.
Vydra’s hat trick goal had more than a touch of quality with a drag back easily beating Cranie, but by that time, Town had thrown both Hudson and Lynch forward in a desperate attempt to equalise.
Reading added a 5th in injury time but it barely mattered – the game had been won by them making the most of the many advantages they were given and they will no doubt now go on a magnificent cup run again.
In freezing conditions, the warmth generated by the opening spell was plunged in to cold despair at a shambolic second half performance which seemed to owe as much to psychology as numerical disadvantage. Reading appeared to have more than one man advantage for much of the half and as shoulders slumped amongst the visitors, gaps opened up with alarming regularity.
Being human, it is easy to sympathise with the Terriers who had, in both games, been thwarted again and again by a demonstrably inferior team, and the latest setbacks seemed to badly affect individuals and the team as a whole – it is to be hoped that the football Gods have dished out enough misfortune in these two cup ties to last for the rest of the season.
However, those opening 25 minutes showed just how good Town can be and Wagner, undoubtedly, will build on that aspect of the game.
When Reading visit in a few weeks time in the league, a good thrashing is in order.