‘Is this worth it?’, Royals fans may ask. Reading’s season tickets are among the most expensive in the Championship. They even exceed those of some Premier League clubs.
So, without a win and just one goal scored in four matches at the Madejski Stadium this season, what is there to encourage Royals supporters to turn up each week?
On evidence of their efforts against Cardiff City this evening, very little. In a week where speculation surrounding a possible take-over of the club by a Middle Eastern consortium mounted, Reading lost out 1-0 to their Welsh rivals with Chris Burke netting the game’s only goal.
The harsh reality is that Reading lack class in the crucial departments. And an annual pass to view eleven players purport that argument when it costs more than watching Wigan Athletic or Fulham every Saturday doesn`t seem quite right.
Although it was almost a case of ‘history repeated’ when Adam Federici nearly replicated his goalkeeping heroics of last December when he equalised against Cardiff in injury time here, Reading lack a show-piece edge like you won’t believe.
Starting at the back for Reading, Cardiff’s Paul Wittingham and Burke illustrated why any Championship side needs a classic winger to get out of this division as they danced around full-backs Shaun Cummings and Ryan Bertrand all evening.
There is no belittling their value as an attacking outlet – they have shown they are capable of creating wide space in threatening areas – but tonight’s display showed that Wittingham and Burke form a queue of Championship wingers that will comfortably out-muscle them. Athletic full-backs they may be, but their playground is the opposition half.
Up front (a term for which the Rodgers English Dictionary also carries an entry under ‘midfield’), Reading have the ability to build pressure but it is quite clear that no-one in their squad is capable of scoring the goals required to get this side promoted.
Indeed, Cardiff`s defence were not tested as much as they should have been on an evening where their centre-backs Anthony Gerrard and Rob Hudson were way off the pace.
Nevertheless, it was the Bluebirds that had the better of the chances in the first half as Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd ensured it wasn’t a quiet evening for the Royals defence. Alex Pearce could only watch, probably impressed, as the forward pair exchanged a wonderful one-two on the edge of the box on 28 minutes that culminated in Chopra unable to shape his effort into the bottom corner of Adam Federici’s goal.
An uncharacteristically fluid passage of play saw the Royals come close to scoring on three occasions as the second half raised its curtains to a barrage from the home side.
Brian Howard’s low long-range effort brought a fine parry around the left-hand post from David Marshall, while Marek Matejovsky forced an even better stop when he unleashed from 25 yards across goal.
Reading came even closer, however, when Grzegorz Rasiak’s low ball across the box wasn`t properly seized upon by Noel Hunt, who skewed the ball wide of the mark with Marshall rooted at the near post.
But just as Hunt and Rasiak were proving to manager Brendan Rodgers – and every last one of their humble fee-paying fans – that a forward pair, not a lone striker, is the best route to goal, disaster struck:
With Reading close to finding the goal that their second-half performance warranted, Cardiff opened the scoring at the other end to break Royals’ hearts.
The hosts were stunned as Chris Burke negotiated some space on the right-hand side of the box before bulging the back of the net to leave Ryan Bertrand and Adam Federici wondering just how they had conceded out of nothing.
One goal should have become two barely a minute later when Wittingham’s low cross found Burke at the far-post again. But, with a yawning goal at his mercy, the midfielder stumbled over the ball as 2,000 Cardiff fans had already begun celebrating in the home supporters’ direction.
With three minutes remaining, Pearce rose to meet Sigurdsson’s corner but was only able to locate the stanchion with a bullet header. Howard then volleyed over Marshall’s crossbar as Reading desperately sought an equaliser following Stephen McPhail’s dismissal for a reckless challenge on Jem Karacan.
Rodgers announced to journalists still rubbing their hands from the harsh cold of the gantry that the “supporters were with us right to the end and made a great contribution.” His positive spin presumably means that he hopes no-one plans to chuck their season ticket in his direction any time soon.
Adam Federici – 6
Shaun Cummings – 5
Alex Pearce – 5
Darren O’Dea – 6
Ryan Bertrand – 6
Marek Matejovsky – 6
Jem Karacan – 6
Gylfi Sigurdsson – 7
Brian Howard – 6
Grzegorz Rasiak – 6
Noel Hunt – 5
Jimmy Kebe (Karacan) – 4