Reading 3, Barnsley 0
It is difficult to comprehend why Barnsley’s fortunes have taken such a dramatic turn for the worse since the international break.
In the three games prior to that they had been buoyed by the accumulation of seven points out of nine. The three games following their return to action have brought successive defeats.
They were unlucky to go down at Norwich, but were woeful in Saturday’s televised game at home to derby rivals Leeds United and almost as bad at Reading on Tuesday night.
Two goals in the space of nine minutes in the first half gave the home team the incentive they needed to go on and complete a very comfortable victory against a side which looked completely shorn of confidence.
A triple half-time substitution by frustrated head coach Paul Heckingbottom (pictured) brought some improvement after the break, but the Reds never seriously threatened to claw their way back into the game.
There were too many errors defensively; the midfield was ineffective; and the attacking threat was almost non-existent, although Harvey Barnes did rattle the post in the second half.
Heckingbottom is always loathe to criticise his players but he admitted after the game that the performance was not good enough, with even some of the solid performers who have been playing well allowing their standards to drop.
However, he also said: “We take a lot from the game in terms of learning about players; it’s a reminder to everyone of where we are. It’s difficult to accept, but with young players in particular I know I have to give them a little bit of leeway and understand that they’re going to be inconsistent.”
There was little of note in the the early stages, but Reading always looked the side more likely to make the breakthrough and they did so after 20 minutes when Liam Kelly’s left-wing corner was headed home by the unmarked Dave Edwards at the near post.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0 and Reading, without a win in their previous four fixtures, were coasting towards a welcome three-pointer. Midfielder Joey van den Berg tried his luck from 25 yards and saw a gem of a strike fly into the top corner of the net.
It was superbly done – but he should have been closed down before he had the chance to pull the trigger.
In a desperate bid to salvage something from the first half wreckage Heckingbottom made wholesale changes at half-time. On went leading goalscorer Tom Bradshaw for Gary Gardner; Matty Pearson in place of Angus MacDonald, and Mamadou Thiam for Ike Ugbo.
The triple whammy had an initial effect, as the visitors showed more attacking ambition in the first 15 minutes than they had done throughout a very lacklustre first half.
However, the only time they looked remotely like making a breakthrough came when Barnes hit the woodwork. Had that gone in who knows what might have happened.
In the event, substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson put the issue beyond doubt two minutes from time when he headed home the rebound after Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies had tipped an Adrian Popa shot on to the bar.
In between times defender Liam Moore sent a 20-yarder thudding against the post as Reading resumed control.
The result saw the Berkshire side leapfrog Barnsley into 16th place with the Reds slipping to 18th, just six points clear of the relegation places, and the visit to bottom club Bolton Wanderers on Saturday has suddenly assumed even greater significance.
The Lancastrians may be propping up the table, but they have shown signs of improvement recently, with only one defeat in their last five matches.
Reading: Mannone; Bacuna, McShane, Moore Gunter, van den Berg, Aluko (Popa, 68 mins), Edwards, Kelly (Ilori, 81 mins), Barrow, Kermogant (Bodvarsson, 56 mins).
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Yiadom, MacDonald (Pearson, 45 mins), Lindsay, Fryers; Williams; Potts, Gardner (Bradshaw, 45 mins), Moncur, Barnes; Ugbo (Thiam, 45 mins).
Bookings: Williams (Barnsley).
Referee: Darren Bond.