Derby County 0
Reading 3 Appiah 2, Hector 72, McCleary 85 (pen)
Looking forward to this game some months ago I was hoping that it would be a promotion party – how wrong that turned out to be.
Needing a point to secure a place in the playoffs the Rams folded against a Reading team with nothing to play for, the final margin of victory not being flattering to the Royals
Yet another 30,000 plus attendance at the iPro was loud and urgent in its support for the team but, after a first half burst that saw a Darren Bent shot saved by Adam Federici, a corner nearly turned into his own net by Nathan Chalobah, a Richard Keogh effort cleared off the line and, most damagingly, a Darren Bent penalty saved on the stroke of half time we offered nothing in the second half and meekly fell out of the top six.
Something has gone very wrong at this club of ours over the last eight weeks – certainly injuries have damaged the team but the lack of defensive organisation and leadership from the team over this period has been painful to see.
I’m as sick as everyone is with the talk swirling around Steve McClaren’s future but he has handled this situation very badly with his evasive answers and insistence on legal type phrases such as
“I am contracted to Derby County”
With talk this morning (Sunday) of his imminent departure to the wreckage that is Newcastle United to rescue them from relegation I hope that one way or another we can get some certainty at Derby soon and start to plan for next season.
In possibly his last selection as Rams Head Coach McClaren made three changes, Raul Albentosa, Johnny Russell and Darren Bent returning to the starting line up in place of Conor Sammon and Jesse Lingard who dropped to the bench and Simon Dawkins who was absent owing to a personal situation.
This saw Stephen Warnock line up as defensive midfielder in a move that did not make it to half time as he was withdrawn on 37 minutes with the Rams chasing the game.
He struggled to make an impact and seemed to wander from his station – at one point I noticed with some alarm that he was our furthest forward player chasing down a Reading defender.
You had to feel for the player as he trudged off to be replaced by Jesse Lingard but his signing has been a strange one and his impact has been limited.
We were chasing the game at this point because of a characteristic self inflicted catastrophe on 2 minutes.
To calm frayed nerves we needed an early goal in this game and we surely got one – but in the wrong net.
Working the ball around the Reading half Will Hughes turned and played a pass back over half way directly to Kwesi Appiah who raced away from Raul Albentosa, evaded Craig Forsyth, sidestepped Richard Keogh’s sliding block and slotted the ball easily past Lee Grant.
Deflating and disappointing but sadly not at all surprising after recent weeks.
When our player of the season and one of the finest players at this level is making such an error it is yet another symptom of a team in trouble.
We huffed and puffed for the rest of the first half knowing that despite everything a point would still be good enough to get us into the playoffs but Darren Bent’s tentative saved penalty was another disappointment in a long recent list.
The second half saw the last throw of the dice, the emergence of a clearly below par Chris Martin in place of Johnny Russell.
Subsequent to this game more information has come out about the injury he is carrying – not so much a recovering hamstring but also a problem with tendons around his knee which explains the length of time it has been taking for him to recover.
In truth by even playing the parts of games that he has our Number 9 has been playing above and beyond the call of duty and potentially worsening the injury.
We posed little if any threat in the second half and gave away a second goal on 72 minutes failing to take two opportunities to clear a corner allowing Michael Hector to stab home and bring an end to our season.
Time was then marked as the game drew down, Reading, a team who had not won in nine games and had lost to Rotherham last Tuesday, were enjoying themselves enormously and to the unknowing observer looked like the play off team.
The final indignity came on 85 minutes when Reading cult hero Jem Karacan found himself all alone with the ball on the six yard line and was brought down by Lee Grant. Gareth McCleary put the penalty away and the scoring was complete.
Not that it mattered, but I thought that Karacan was offside and that Grant may have got a hand onto the ball. Having watched it back this morning I see that he wasn’t and he didn’t, so fair play to the officials for those decisions.
Walking away after the final whistle I felt less bothered than I thought I would be and less angry – just deeply disappointed that we have missed out on such a good opportunity as this season was.
In amongst all of the gloom that was yesterday it must be noted that the minute’s applause for Colin Bloomfield prior to the match was a genuinely moving affair and very fitting.
A big well done to Sam Rush for very quickly stating that the club would do this.
The Rams’ season ends then in failure and no little turmoil. We’ve all been here before.
What comfort I can draw when I think ahead is that the club is run well and that in Sam Rush we have someone with the ability to take us on.
It is going to be an interesting summer (again)