Credit to Reading for twice fighting back to get a point, but even so there's something dreadfully hollow about having to feel positive about a sneaking a point from a game we could, should and needed to win. For 60 minutes Reading once again looked worthy of their place in the Premier League, but the inability of the back four to deal with the movement of Fulham's forwards ultimately led to an eighth game without a win.
Reading Prem Watch:
2006/07 PLD:8 W:4 D:1 L3 PTS 13 - 8th
2007/08 PLD:8 W:2 D:1 L5 PTS 7 - 17th
2012/13 PLD:8 W:0 D:4 L:4 PTS: 4 - 18th
Reading: McCarthy (6); Shorey (6), Gorkss (4), Mariappa (6), Cummings (5); McAnuff (5), Tabb (7) Leigertwood (6), Kebe (5); Roberts (6); Pogrebnyak (5) - Subs: Robson-Kanu (7), McCleary (6), Le Fondre (5)
Giving out player ratings such as the ones above might sound a bit harsh but really, no Reading player stood out today during a game that showcased plenty of heart but dreadfully little quality.
Going into the game there had been plenty of talk about 4-5-1 v 4-4-2 and from a personal perspective I was delighted to see Reading revert back to the 4-4-2. It's a formation that has brought so much success to the club recently and Brian went back to it, with Jay Tabb replacing the injured Jem Karacan and Danny Guthrie dropping out for Jason Roberts to make his first appearance of the season.
Reading started the game well, never pressed too much by an odd Fulham system that saw Dimitar Berbatov given a free role that generally saw the Bulgarian just wander about fairly aimlessly. The Royals could have been ahead in the early stages but Pavel Pogrebnyak couldn't quite steer his short range header past Mark Schwarzer.
The first half was reminiscent of the Newcastle game as Reading were first to every ball and didn't give Fulham a moments peace. Their hard work and endeavour was soon rewarded with the opening goal as Leigertwood slammed home from the edge of the area midway through the first half. Thankfully, unlike the Newcastle game, Reading were actually able to calm the game down after the goal and kept Fulham fairly quiet. There were one or two moments when the visitors were allowed to strike from range but that aside, Reading were good value for a 1-0 lead.
Into the second half and Reading once again started well, earning an early free-kick that caused trouble and for the most part looked well on course for those precious first three points.
But then... well it just went wrong.
Fulham boss Martin Jol decided to change things up on the hour, bringing on £10 million pound man Bryan Ruiz and moving Berbatov into a more central striking role. The changes immediately upset the Reading defence and midfield who had been comfortably dealing with lone frontman Rodallega and now had two forwards operating in the gap between the defence and the midfield. Gorkss, Mariappa, Tabb and Leigertwood were suddenly fraught with indecision, opting to just sit back rather than close the strikers down and surprise surprise Ruiz took advantage, putting a great strike into the top of the net from outside the area that McCarthy could do nothing about.
This is the key difference between this league and the Championship. On numerous occasions last season, Reading were happy to let the opposition have the ball 25 yards from goal, safe in the knowledge that there wasn't the talent on the pitch to make much happen when you've got 2 banks of four defending well on the edge of the box. Sadly in this league there are those special talents out there and if you give a £10 million pound man time and space on the edge of the D, he's going to hurt you.
Things soon went from bad to worse as Reading fell behind with about 15 minutes to go. I always tend to listen to BBC Radio Berks while I'm at the game and co-commentator Kevin Dillon was almost screaming at Jimmy Kebe not to leave the area he was guarding at the near post as Fulham lined up to take a corner. Sadly Jimmy just didn't hear him and wandered off, leaving a big space for Baird to attack and score.
Reading threw on Robson-Kanu and Le Fondre to join the recently introduced McCleary as Reading tried to get their way back into it and as they have done so often under Brian McDermott, the substitutions paid off as McCleary got the equaliser.
Suddenly you thought we could go out and get all three, but such optimism was snuffed out in staggering fashion as former Royal Steve Sidwell played a lovely ball through to Berbatov who had the time to get the ball onto his favoured foot and placed it past McCarthy.
Cue half of the Reading crowd leaving but they were premature in their despair as another late free-kick swung in by Shorey was diverted past Schwarzer to give Reading an unlikely point. Roberts then so nearly snatched all three but just couldn't get the contact he needed, 3-3 the final score.
Performance wise and Alex McCarthy couldn't do much with any of the goals. He commanded his area well and his distribution was pretty good.
Nicky Shorey and Shaun Cummings both had fairly lacklustre games. Cummings needed to do better for the third while Shorey let himself down with several poor set pieces, his assist for the equaliser see's him just edge out Cummings.
Adrian Mariappa was pretty good for most of the game but again let himself down with a bit too much indecision late in the game. His partner Kaspars Gorkss looked poor, woefully off the pace and Alex Pearce must be in with a big chance of a recall because I cannot see for the life of me what Gorkss is bringing to the team right now. That may sound harsh but when you've changed 3/4 of a defence that's leaking goals you have to change the one remaining part that's been a constant throughout all of those leaky performances.
Pearce is out of contract in the summer and can talk to other clubs in just over two months time and I can't imagine he's going to be overly motivated to sign on if he's not being selected for a team that's conceded 11 goals in the five games he hasn't played.
Midfield wise and Jay Tabb put himself about in a fashion we've become accustomed too in the last three years. He gave it all he had and didn't do much wrong, which is why his substitution after the equaliser was slightly baffling. His partner Mikele Leigertwood looked impressive in the first half but faded badly in the second. His goal was top quality though and it's still one of his better games this season.
Jobi McAnuff helped create the opening goal but too often failed to make the right pass or find a man with a cross when in a good position. I barely remember him touching the ball once he'd moved into the middle. Jimmy Kebe had one of his poorest games for a while, struggling to beat Riise and again failing to deliver when in good positions. His positioning for Fulham's second was dreadful and it wasn't surprising to see him subbed.
The Pogrebnyak/Roberts partnership up front does have some promise but neither man had an outstanding game today. I thought Roberts was the better of the two and Pog will be gutted not to have stuck away a big chance in front of the Fulham fans early on.
Of the substitutes and Hal Robson-Kanu again played well from the bench, scoring one and setting up another. If only the Welsh international could perform as well from the start! McCleary also played well, and it was nice to see him score his first Premier League goal. Alfie didn't really have any chances to impress.
So what have we learned from all this? Firstly that Reading are still lacking the quality needed to make this a comfortable season of survival. They've shown in patches throughout this season that they can compete in this division but there's certainly not the quality to go and comfortably pick up three points on a regular basis.
With all due respect, Reading should not be having a plan A of Leigertwood/Tabb and a plan B of a tiring Leigertwood/McAnuff as their central midfield options. When Fulham can afford to leave a player of Sidwell's quality on the bench you can see what we're up against. Brian McDermott said that Guthrie was left out of the team because 'he just couldn't get in the 18' but there's more to this than meets the eye because with no other fit central player there's no way you just leave him out a week after he starts at Anfield. Maybe there's still some tension from his Twitter comments or maybe he didn't appreciate being left out of the starting lineup or perhaps he's still not getting 'The Reading Way' but the Guthrie experiment seems to be going very wrong right now. I hope whatever it is that's keeping him out gets resolved because Reading need a player like Guthrie far more than the player needs the club right now.
The defence is also something that still hasn't been sorted properly and as mentioned above, Pearce for Gorkss seems to be a move that should be made sooner rather than later.
Attacking wise and we've probably got the best options on the pitch but maybe a return to Hunt/Roberts might be an experiment worth trying. Beyond that and neither Jobi McAnuff nor Jimmy Kebe should be automatic starters given recent form.
So where do we go from here? Well thankfully we've got 3 games in the next 14 days to try and get into some rhythm and find the winning formula. The result against Arsenal won't really matter but defeat at Loftus Road next week would be a real, real blow.
I'm trying to be positive and I'm delighted at snatching a late point but I can't pretend to be happy when we've blown another lead and made it eight games without a win.
But let us know your thoughts in the comments below, each is very much welcomed and appreciated!