WORD leaked out in the press room that Reading boss Brian McDermott was the cousin of chrome-domed overly inventive TV chef Heston Blumenthal (snail ice cream? have a word….) and there’s no doubt he has served up a revival recipe for the visitors.
For Boro though, the play-offs could now be off the menu after this hard to swallow and stodgy Riverside stalemate.
Three games in a row Boro have let slip commanding leads and ended up with disappointing draws. Those six squandred points would have put them in the play-off places. As it is they remain five points adrift – although Cardiff have two games in hand.
It was a dismal first half; scrappy, laboured and uninspired and without any indication that there was so much at stake. It felt like an end of season contractual obligation of the sort that fits neatly into Mrs O’Neil’s travel plans.
The second half started with a flurry as galvanised Boro came out fighting after a rocket and they got the goal and in a lively spell had chances to seal it. But that soon fizzled out. And once they blew themselves out Reading came back strongly, got the leveller and had some good chances to snatch it late on.
After the game Colin Cooper admitted that Boro had huffed and puffed and beavered away but were not good enough to win. That is a fair assessment. Boro’s failure to take the opportunity – not just here but also against Newcastle and Derby – has not been because of any lack of effort. They are just not good enough. Since Cardiff Boro have had three good chances to claw themselves into the play-off frame but wasted them.
In truth Boro were always going to struggle today. With McManus out the defence was always going to need tweaking but to change four of the back five was a massive gamble. Pogatetz was clearly well short of fitness and was played in his flawed full back role while Taylor was dropped, Naughton was on the bench although clearly fit enough to come off the bench and – the riskiest of all – Coyne was on punishment details after a costly fumble at Derby with boo-boy favourite Bard Jones returned.
To be fair Jones made two cracking saves, a couple of routine ones and looked solid enough … although palming the free-kick high into the air late on caused a scare before he tipped it over the bar when it came back down.
And he deserves credit for playing well in the face of audible widespread pre-match derision. Yes, there is a consensus that he is not good enough and an assumption that he is on his way out, and yes, he scares some supportrs and at times it seems his team-mates too but what people think is to be gained by booing a Boro player in a concerted bid to further destroy his confidence before kick-off escapes me. His first clean take was greeted by a noisy round of the most sarcastic clapping ever.
Now Boro’s hopes are on a knife-edge. We have eight game left and probably need to win six and/or go unbeaten until the end of the season if we are to barge in – and there has been no indication that this team has the tools, the mentality or the desire to do that. The players are still talking about mathematical possibilities and we can cling to hypotheticals but realistically a couple more draws and a defeat and it is all over.