An early goal from Reading in a dull first half was enough to give the Royals the points and although North End were much more dominant in the second half we just could not put the ball into the net.
Moult hit the outside of the post in the first half and a Sean Maguire header thumped against the crossbar but on the back of several bad results this lightweight display once again did little to encourage the North End faithful including the 704 travellers in attendance inside the Madejski Stadium who bore witness to this fourth defeat in five games.
North End started in the predictable 4-2-3-1 with three changes from the side beaten by Derby on Easter Monday. Rudd, Bodin and Moult coming in for Maxwell, Gallagher and Maguire.
Reading started the more likely and it was only 12 minutes into the game when the home side scored the goal that was to decide matters. A free kick from Kelly on the right was flicked on and Barrow was there at the back post, unmarked, to give Reading the lead and ultimately the points. North End then had a chance to equalise but Moult hit the post with a good free kick.
Closer to the break Barkhuizen had a good shot saved but Reading had given North End enough to think about and in a half of few chances. North End improved considerably in the second half with Clarke coming on for the out of sorts Davies and Maguire replacing Moult as Alex Neil Shuffled the front four around and played Maguire on the left.
It seemed to work straight away with Bodin carrying on where he had left off in the first half as North End’s most threatening player. A few minutes in and Bodin’s cross was met by Maguire who rattled the Crossbar with, what was to be, our best chance of the game. For all that North End huffed and puffed that killer instinct and that telling final ball were, once again, not in evidence.
The ball flashed across the goal a couple of times late on but we never really looked liked we were going to turn the game around in what was, ultimately, another disappointing performance. Four defeats out of five and North End’s play off hopes have all but gone. Hitting a flat spot around Easter time is not conducive to making a late run and being the team in form when it really matters.
In spite of the defeat there is still much to play for at the end of the season because a good finish will boost the morale and confidence of both the players and the fans as we now start to look towards next season. Another four defeats from the next five games and the season will look similar to last season in some respects and may take away some of the work done by Alex Neil and his team this season.
Let’s not write the conclusionjust yet as I believe there is much to play for between now and May 6th.