A third defeat in 8 days, two of them under his now almost certainly temporary tenure as manager, was a little harsh on Mark Hudson who has, at least, instigated some structural changes in a deeply flawed squad which has encouraged better performance for a little longer in games than his unlamented predecessor.
He has not, however, and thus far, been able to banish a losing mentality so entrenched that it is almost impossible to envisage from where salvation will emerge. Mentally and physically frail, with the former being perhaps understandable but the latter unforgivable, the players produced the best 30 minutes of the season from the kick off yet were unable to muster a shot on target and belief began to ebb as the flow was exhausted.
A game which must have been targeted as the one to turn around horrible early season form rather ignored Reading’s solid start to the season, though the Royals looked deceptively limited as the home side ratcheted up considerable pressure under a wilting August sun.
The visitors barely crossed the halfway line in the first 15 minutes and offered little but resilience in a one sided first half. They did, however, muster the only realistic attempt on the frame of the goal which Grabara saved well. The keeper, a positive bright spot amidst the gloom of our relegation hangover had earlier played the team in to trouble with a poor ball out and paid for it with a collision with Kongolo to prevent a disastrous concession in Reading’s first foray in to the final third after 15 minutes.
At the other end, Van La Parra’s trickery caused Reading concern on several occasions which quickly dissipated as the winger’s decision making was invariably poor.
His counterpart Diakhaby showed tantalising glimpses of whatever talent resides within the leggy French kid though rawness too often foils his intentions.
Another youngster, however, lit up the game in the first half with a powerful performance which provides a glimmer of hope. Trevoh Chalobah couldn’t add to his midweek goal at Cardiff which should have earned an unlikely and undeserved point, but he possesses the power and intensity so absent from Huddersfield Town displays for the past 18 months.
Like the rest, he faded as the crushing despair weighed down in a desperate second half but he may be an asset a new manager can build upon amongst the general wreckage.
Jaden Brown at left back also produced an encouraging performance which was full of calm decision making as he replaced Kongolo who, too belatedly, was drafted in to a central defence finally relieved of Elphick.
Things may have been different had Pritchard made more of a good through ball by Grant but instead of taking on a shot, the diminutive and too often disappointing play maker allowed the ball to bounce up and the opportunity was gone; extinguished by hesitancy.
A Schindler header from a corner went narrowly wide and Chalobah saw a good effort have an identical result but the optimism generated by a much improved showing was severely tempered by the near immutable law that if you don’t convert dominance in to goals you will be bitten, hard, on the arse.
The second half saw a perceptible shift from the beginning with Reading finally showing intent further up the pitch, perhaps sensing the home side’s almost permanent mental fragility.
The first chance, however, fell to the Terriers as Grant latched on to a Reading error. Sprinting forward, the leading goal scorer had Diakhaby free to his right but decided to shoot and bring a good, but not particularly difficult, save from Cabral. It may have been a better decision to release his colleague but had that not worked, a strong possibility, he would have been criticised for not taking the shot (our first on target); damned if you do…..
Up the other end, and almost immediately after Grant’s effort, Reading were nearly rewarded for their more adventurous approach when Grabara had to keep out a rasping effort by Boye after Yiadom had crashed the ball against the bar.
A decent Pritchard effort was tipped over the bar, again routinely, before Diakhaby was found by Grant alone in the area but he couldn’t bring the ball under control quickly enough and his effort was deflected wide by a recovering defender.
By this point, the hosts were wilting and the visitors began to capitalise. Encouraged, Reading manager Jose Gomes brought on the ominously monikered Puscas (joining Pele who was already on) and within minutes, the Royals took the lead.
A simple one two in the middle of the park set Ejaria free and he waltzed through Town’s tiring rearguard and struck an excellent shot past Grabara.
The atmosphere, which had been remarkably buoyant in support of a team which so rarely delivers, subsided immediately; raw belief hasn’t materially impacted results for such a long time and it wasn’t going to change now.
Deflated, unquestionably defeated and staring at yet another failure, Town couldn’t and didn’t recover. Belief, as in all walks of life, simply isn’t enough and the players had nothing left with which to respond.
With 7 minutes left, a corner to Reading was converted rather too easily by Morrison. This was the cue for a mass exodus as supporters left to enjoy the rest of the day’s sunshine and, apparently, little of note occurred in the remainder of the game.
Hudson deserves some sympathy. He made the right changes for his second game in charge, had clearly motivated and organised the team to produce an encouraging, if flawed, first half performance and can hardly be blamed for the lack of confidence which envelops at least half of the team no matter how hard they try to put it right.
Basic fitness levels appear deficient to say the least, exacerbated by the burden of persistent individual and collective failure weighing down on shoulders.
Sacking Siewert was necessary but was never going to solve the deep, systemic problems plaguing a club in steep, possibly irreversible, decline. Hodgkinson now has to make a difficult choice of new manager; the values which brought success to the club have all but crumbled over two disastrous transfer windows and the new direction and shake up which should have happened in January but didn’t, leaves him in a classic zugzwang.
Disciplinarian or innovator? Experienced or hungry? English or foreign? Whomever gets the job deserves our sympathy and patience, but the latter is in very short supply.
It always seemed a little odd just how sanguine Reading fans were after the play off defeat. A little more understandable now, perhaps, but is there any excuse for a club not to capitalise on the huge injection of revenues two seasons in the top league has brung?
The ironic chant about going to Luton is not so funny now, is it?