Reading FC will always be a part of Huddersfield Town’s history, as the vanquished play off finalist at the end of the remarkable 2016/17 season.
Their supporters, on the whole, took the defeat in good grace perhaps with a knowing smile as they looked kindly upon our excitement to be joining the Premier League circus they had recently experienced.
As the novelty of global media exposure turned in to annoying, patronising blather, not always delivered with respect, and finally to sneering derision at a club struggling to compete at the top level (self inflicted wounds aside, it was a massive step up requiring two consecutive miracles), the Royals’ fans’ stoical reaction became increasingly understandable.
5 years ago, and rather less memorably, The Madjeski Stadium saw Chris Powell’s thrill laden tenure come to an abrupt end following a creditable 2-2 draw, making way for the Wagner era which will eventually be remembered for its glory rather than the sad denouement still haunting the club long after his departure.
Powell was co-commentating with Paul Ogden for Radio Leeds and the iFollow service; a likeable and respected man whose apparent belief that Huddersfield Town had its limits was thoroughly demolished by his successor but who could be forgiven for thinking that, ultimately, he was just being realistic.
Town are now back in the same position Chris left us in, scrabbling around at the ugly end of a perennially difficult league hoping against hope that the incompetence of others, on and off the field, will provide the gap which will allow another season in a crazy division staring down the barrels of massive financial difficulties which could poison the very basis of the competition.
Still, the future will look after itself and, meanwhile, Town needed to build on the 4 points, garnered in contrasting style, from the past 2 games. The charmless point earned at home against Preston was, at least, a small step forward as others faltered; now for a tough looking fixture at Reading.
A much improved and far more convincing performance earned another point and another clean sheet. Spells of dominance which invariably fizzled out in front of goal should have resulted in a win, though the disappointment of failing to overcome a largely sterile Berkshire outfit unable to replicate their demolition of Luton was tempered, again, by favourable results elsewhere.
Comfortably quelling the early control of the home side which lacked any real threat, Town slowly began to worry their rather lethargic hosts with strong running, decent passing movements and the piercing thrusts of Smith-Rowe who looked of conspicuously higher class than anyone on the field.
Willock had a reasonably influential first half with incisive running but his crossing was invariably wayward. Promising build up play, particular in the first quarter before the drinks break and after an uneventful first 10 minutes, established a semblance of control for the visitors who looked hungrier than the hosts, but hesitancy and poor decision making thwarted the Terriers.
The otherwise excellent Smith-Rowe could have squared to Hogg after an excellent run on to a through ball by Stankovic but chose to shoot weakly at Barbosa who gathered easily.
Town’s offensive play was massively improved on the pallid fare served up against Preston but, frustratingly, entirely lacked the ruthlessness necessary to win games on the road. At least the play was leading to attempts on goal but, sadly, they were either wayward or weak and towards the end of the half, the visitors’ grip loosened.
2 midfield errors in quick succession created chances for the home side. Meite, whose goals had destroyed Luton but who didn’t carry the same threat in this game, failed to connect with a good ball over the top, while Lössl did well to close down Puscas who had got behind a defence exposed by another midfield error.
A relatively entertaining first half was perhaps enhanced by the comparison to Saturday’s attritional eyesore and Town’s serial failures when in threatening positions tainted the decent standard of general play they produced.
An early chase by Smith-Rowe early in the second half forced the unusually quiet Swift in to an under hit back pass to his keeper which Grant, perhaps a little less committed to a challenge than he should have been, nearly reached ahead of Barbosa. Overall, the leading scorer had a poor night and his trademark cutting in from the left was easily dealt with by the home defence.
Halfway through the second half, Town’s principle threat, Smith-Rowe, was replaced by Pritchard. The Cowleys clearly feel that the prodigious talent is unable to safely complete 90 minutes at the moment, or his young legs are being saved for the massive Luton game on Friday, but he looked disgruntled to be replaced and not without cause.
His replacement can produce decent link up play but simply doesn’t trouble defenders enough and lacks thrust. One cross shot which deflected off a defender and forced a routine, if a little uncomfortable, save was the sum total of his threat and a signing which promised much continues to disappoint.
On both flanks, Toffolo and the excellent Chalobah, got forward with conviction but were unable to provide the spark for a goal, while at the back, Stankovic produced a display which was tinged with the regret that an under utilised talent will be departing at the end of the season. There are various reasons for him appearing so few times and for his departure, but there remains an overwhelming sense of waste.
Town were unable to reproduce the purple patch of the first half despite some lengthy spells of possession. The disruption of substitutions didn’t help and, in particular, the midfield base of Hogg and King while unspectacular, had provided the visitors with a good level of control from which to build attacks and subdue the hosts. It was always the plan to share the Hogg role with O’Brien, but it took the youngster quite a while to find the pace of the game. King took a knock late on with Chalobah’s fine full back display interrupted to shore up the midfield.
Losing Smith-Rowe automatically degraded thrust and creativity while Mounié’s aerial ability, admittedly not put to much use, was replaced by Kachunga’s hassling. Perhaps taking a small risk with Smith-Rowe was one worth taking; he looked far from spent.
The replacements were rational in the context of utilising the full resources of the squad in a brutal schedule and with a massive encounter just days away, but the final stages of the game drifted away from the Terriers and, alarmingly, Reading found a very late gear which threatened to ruin Town’s night.
Suddenly on the front foot, the hosts made life a little too uncomfortable and Lössl was forced in to action for the first time since his first half block. Routine as it was, it echoed Preston’s late flurry and suggests a vulnerability which needs addressing.
Late goals for Brentford and Barnsley produced more helpful results elsewhere which put a gloss on a mundane away point. They now need to complete the job on Friday to get to the 50 point mark which should secure Championship status.