It was a day for gallows humour. "If you're all going to Bournemouth, clap your hands," chanted the Reading supporters midway through a soporific first half. The Queens Park Rangers fans, some of whom held aloft an anti-Mark Hughes banner, needed no encouragement to join in. Little more than an hour later the fate of both clubs was sealed. A goalless draw, which was every bit as bad as the scoreline suggests, condemned Reading and QPR to relegation.
In the end, they went down to the Championship with a whimper. Reading, who have looked like a Championship team playing in the Premier League ever since the first day of the season, huffed and puffed without success.
As for QPR, this was another hugely underwhelming performance from a group of hugely overpaid players. Harry Redknapp summed up a miserable 90 minutes perfectly. "It was a mundane sort of game, it was as though both teams knew they'd gone down anyway," the QPR manager said.
By the time Redknapp had climbed to the top of the stairs for his post-match press conference, Joey Barton was already carrying out QPR's postmortem via Twitter. The QPR midfielder, who is on a season-long loan at Marseille, aimed his first barb at José Bosingwa, who was caught on film laughing in the tunnel after the final whistle. "I can't believe QPR have just been relegated and Boswinga was walking down the tunnel laughing! Embarrassing. Show some guts man …" tweeted Barton.
That was followed by another couple of inflammatory tweets where Barton said: "To [sic] many wankers among the playing staff. All brought in by Hughes," before adding: "Hope they can get a load out, if not they'll end up in a Wolves situation because trust me that Championship is a hard league!"
Redknapp leapt to Bosingwa's defence. "To start throwing that one at the boy is completely out of order," he said. "He was laughing because as he walked down the tunnel, another foreign lad, I don't know who it was, came up and said something to him and he laughed and put his arm around him. He wasn't laughing about being relegated, that's for sure."
Whatever the reasons for Bosingwa's behaviour, it is easy to understand why the QPR players will be easy targets for criticism from all quarters on the back of an abysmal season when the club overspent and underachieved in equal measure. Hughes was allowed to bring in 10 players in the summer, many of them on long and lucrative contracts, and Redknapp broke the transfer record twice in January, when he signed Loïc Rémy for £8m and Christopher Samba for £12.5m. In return, QPR have delivered four league wins from 35 matches.
Samba was conspicuous by his absence here, 24 hours after he had managed to get the day of the game wrong. Tweeting on Saturday, Samba said: "Morning people hope we get the 3points we need." A few hours later he followed that up with: "I woke up so excited to play I forgot it was 2mo, sorry my mistake." The plot thickened after the match when Redknapp suggested Samba had been ruled out on Friday with the combination of a virus and a knee injury.
Samba's future will be one of many items on the agenda when Redknapp meets with Tony Fernandes, the QPR owner, at 11am on Monday to discuss what to do with the squad and how to plot an immediate return to the Premier League.
Fernandes has apologised to the QPR supporters, via Twitter, for what they have had to endure but insisted that he will not be quitting and vowed the club "will come back stronger".
Although Redknapp oversaw an improvement in results when he took over from Hughes in November, his record of 21 points from 22 games is relegation form. "If you had the job at the start of the [season] it's different, that's when you put a team together," Redknapp said. "You shouldn't be running around in the transfer window trying to patch a team up, it's very difficult then. I spent days and days away from home, all over Europe trying to plug some holes and find players. The club unfortunately went 13 games without winning a game, that's quite a bad start by anyone's standards, so it was always difficult. I think one of the big problems the club had was that they brought in two strikers and both of them were injured, Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora."
Asked about the lack of character in his squad, Redknapp conceded that "there's problems within the club" and he admitted those issues may not be easy to resolve because 25 of the players are under contract until the end of next season. "You can't shift people when they've got two- or three-year contracts on good money," he said.
There was also a warning about the future, which was on message with Barton's thoughts about next season. "QPR are not a superpower going into the Championship. You look at the Championship and you will see 14, 15, 16 big clubs that have won things over the years, so we're not suddenly going into a league where it's: 'QPR, the big power are coming into the league'," Redknapp said. "I looked at Wolves this year and I thought they'll have a chance; they look now as if they'll go down again unless they have a miracle. QPR have got no divine right to come back up next year. It's going to be very difficult."
For Reading, everything felt so much easier to accept. Their relegation felt inevitable on the back of a summer when Anton Zingarevich, the club's Russian owner, spent only £5m to strengthen the team.
Nigel Adkins, who replaced Brian McDermott as manager last month, said: "It was a very sombre and quiet dressing room. Over the course of the season people have had regrets, but we have to bottle that and make sure we don't experience that again. I'm very positive. The drive and ambition will be there for everyone to see next season."