The result was all that mattered, so no positives to be taken, just a third in succession to quickly forget and move on to the next. Three consecutive defeats, each by a single goal with only one scored (and now just three in the six games since the resumption). That tell’s its own story. As Bowyer has left nobody in any doubt, on another day Aneke’s follow-up is not ruled offside and we get the penalty late on. Fact is their keeper didn’t get really tested all afternoon, stats showed two efforts on target, despite more good positions worked.
I send a message in our group that as soon as we kicked off we would go up two places, which we duly did. That lasted all of three minutes, before Oshilaja was caught out of position and the wrong side of their guy in the box. A clumsy challenge from behind and the ref had no option but to give the penalty. In previous games Oshilaja has had spells when he gave away too many free kicks for poorly timed or slightly rash challenges (and to be fair he has been unfairly penalised sometimes). You felt it was only a matter of time before one of these happened in the box. Something he does need to work on to develop.
I suspect that start pretty much meant the game plan being thrown out of the window. We’d set up as a 4-4-2 again with Bonne and Aneke up front from the start, giving the impression that we’d go for it, look to get ahead in the game, and adjust later on to protect a lead, with Hemed the only other normal forward option on the bench (with Green missing). Instead we found ourselves chasing the game almost from the off, with Reading able to play with even less pressure.
In the first half you’d have to say that we had more possession and openings but they looked the more likely to add to their lead. Their forwards were able to find space between our defenders with good movement and fluid passing, especially down the flanks. By contrast we looked static, with their central defenders handling our front two pretty well and not a lot coming from us down the flanks. But that’s perhaps too negative, we did create possibilities, half-chances, occasionally something better as Bonne failed to get a decisive touch on a ball in at the near post, then as McGeady’s shot was palmed out and Aneke put in the rebound, only to find himself flagged offside.
In the second half Reading seldom threatened and it became a case of whether we could, finally, get the ball into the net. The introduction of Doughty gave us a real threat down the left, while that of Williams helped us to dominate possession as he won his usual share of free kicks by drawing challenges. The closest we came was when Doughty put in a good lowish cross and Pratley just failed to connect.
But the minutes ticked away and we understandably became increasingly desperate. The introduction of Hemed as a third forward left us looking decidedly disjointed, especially as we were getting no joy from long balls. And then with five minutes left on the clock came the moment, with Forster-Caskey (on by then for Pratley) going down in the box. The referee opts for a dive and a yellow card. I’d have to see it again, but this was a day when we got none of the breaks.
Bowyer’s blaming the officials for the result was understandable, perhaps predictable. But when the opposition’s manager (albeit someone we know well, with a surely a soft spot for us) comments that “there were decisions that I raised my eyebrows at too” you get the sense that we were indeed hard done by.
There’s nothing to be done about it, we wait for the other results over the weekend (and without wishing to jinx things those being played today were looking good at half-time) and then prepare for what is obviously a massive game for us at Birmingham. It’s been a few years since we staved off relegation at St Andrews. Going to need a similar result this time around.