Steve Coppell said it was like "plaiting spaghetti" but Reading's plight is pasta joke. Booed off at half-time, booed off at full-time, they face a Premier League curtain call next Sunday after slipping into the bottom three with a woeful capitulation to Tottenham Hotspur. Mamma Mia. It isn't over until the fat lady sings, but she's gargling in the wings.
Reading will cling to two late saves by Radek Cerny as evidence that they fought to the end, with Coppell claiming "our desire drove us forward" but this was as comprehensive a single-goal victory for Spurs as could be imagined. If they had buried Reading by four or five in the first period alone it would not have been flattering.
Reading have a single shot at redemption left. Their final-day opponents are Derby but, on this form, they will struggle to win that one too. It's now six games – nine hours and 11 minutes to be precise – without a goal with Coppell admitting they have "lost the habit of winning".
Not that a victory at Derby is necessarily enough either. Yesterday's defeat means that Reading's fate is no longer in their hands. "It's hard when you're down at the bottom and have not scored for so long," Coppell said. "There is a confidence factor but it's shit or bust next week to give us a chance." Crude but true and it's not smelling too good right now. Reading will need qualities that they sorely lacked. Guts and heart, belief and ability. At Pride Park they need to find some pride.
They lost to Robbie Keane's 23rd goal of the season – his best ever return – and the striker, alongside a rejuvenated Darren Bent, thrived throughout even though he was shaded, slightly, by Steed Malbranque. With Dimitar Berbatov and Aaron Lennon injured – a state of affairs that was met with some scepticism given the questions over their future – the trio took control with Coppell admitting his team struggled to cope with the fluidity of Spurs' approach.
Indeed they poured through. Bent was released by Malbranque only for his low shot to be blocked by Marcus Hahnemann with his legs and then Tom Huddlestone broke forward before pulling the ball back to Keane, whose back-heel, from inside the six-yard area, cannoned off Ivar Ingimarsson's shins.
"They passed it around us," Coppell said, and that was apparent with Keane's goal. It also owed much to an alert advantage played by referee Howard Webb, who carried on after Keane was upended. The ball was ferried to Bent, who waited for Keane to arc his run beyond him before feeding his partner. Through on goal, the Irishman stabbed the ball across Hahnemann and into the net.
The goalkeeper denied Keane a second when pushing away his free-kick after Andre Bikey had been penalised for a foolish challenge on Malbranque, while an offside flag – wrongly waved – chalked off a goal for the Frenchman after he, again, combined with the Spurs captain.
The two linked up once more only for Liam Rosenior's last-ditch tackle to halt Keane as he bore down on goal.
Reading were in disarray but eventually managed to rally after the break, even though the better opportunities still fell to Spurs. Keane drove a cross-shot which, at the back post, Malbranque planted into the side-netting.
Inevitably Spurs slackened off. It offered Reading a glimmer of hope. Bikey's goalbound shot was deflected away by Didier Zokora and a first-time effort by substitute Marek Matejovsky bounced narrowly wide. But, as Reading pressed, they remained vulnerable and a quick break by Spurs' replacement Jamie O'Hara led to Bent cutting inside and drilling a shot which beat Hahnemann but smacked off a post and spun across goal. "We completely dominated," said Spurs' head coach Juande Ramos. "And should have finished the game off."
Then came Reading's chances. Shots by Dave Kitson and Rosenior were parried by Cerny, still keeping Paul Robinson, who is set to go in the summer, out of the side. "We're still in the mix," said Coppell. They are. But, spaghetti or no spaghetti, they lack a vital ingredient.Reuse content