News and Views

Middlesbrough Beaten As Royals Close On Leaders

03 October 2015
By Alex Bower

"That was two good teams playing against each other today. We got the key moments in the afternoon and to get in front early changed the whole dynamic of the game."
- Reading Manager Steve Clarke

"The main thing we had to do was not concede a goal in the first minute, but we did- within twenty seconds."
- Middlesbrough Manager Aitor Karanka

Many will have been expecting a tight game when Reading took on Middlesbrough at the Madejski on Saturday afternoon- and at times it was exactly that- but goals from Danny Williams and Nick Blackman rewarded an enthusiastic Royals side with all three points. Middlesbrough had previously won seven games in a row so it was a special performance from the home side to not only take the victory but also keep a clean sheet in the process.

Reading manager Steve Clarke made a few changes prior to the game, with Ali Al-Habsi coming in for the injured Jonathan Bond and Orlando Sa making his return to the team following his suspension.

Despite expecting a close game, it took only fifteen seconds for Reading to take the lead. Straight from the kick-off, Hal Robson-Kanu was found out wide. The Welsh International has come under a fair amount of criticism over the last couple of seasons but his powerful drive down the wing was impressive. Even better was his pinpoint cross to find Danny Williams at the far post who then dispatched the ball into the back of Konstantopoulos' net. Middlesbrough were stunned and Reading had the early lead.

Middlesbrough gradually came into the game and began to put some pressure on the Reading defence. Large periods for the home side were spent without the ball but Middlesbrough failed to create many chances. Chris Gunter in particular came to Reading's rescue when Diego Fabbrini came close to creating an opportunity for himself. Reading came closest to scoring again in the first-half when a Nick Blackman cross was parried back into the area where Orlando Sa was awaiting. His subsequent effort was cleared off the line by Daniel Ayala whose headed clearance kept his side in the game.

Reading chances kept coming with a Paul McShane header ultimately ending up over the bar, but it was Stewart Downing who came closest for Middlesbrough with a free kick. The Middlesbrough midfielder's low effort was turned away by Al-Habsi in the Reading goal- something that would have boosted his confidence following some poor saves in recent games.

The home side continued to create opportunities into the second half and looked comfortable. Robson-Kanu was once again the creator as his cross found the head of Sa in the middle. His headed attempt failed to find the target but the Royals were continuing to knock on the door.

Middlesbrough are a strong side, however, and created opportunities of their own. The best of these fell to Grant Leadbitter but his low drive ultimately missed the post. It was clear that desperation levels were gradually increasing amongst the away side as they appealed for hand ball in the penalty area on every given opportunity. They did have a great opportunity to level the score, however, when substitute Carlos De Pena headed just wide having been found by Emilio Nsue. It was a nervy period for the home fans but Reading were to come away unscathed.

While Middlesbrough were doing their best to even the score, it was the home side that was to score late in the second half and seal the victory. Reading's top scorer Blackman was brought down in the box when he was about to pull the trigger and the referee subsequently awarded the penalty. The man of the moment stepped up and calmly slotted the penalty into the net. It took Blackman to nine goals for the season and the victory took Reading back to third in the table.

Despite having to deal with a Middlesbrough side capable of maintaining large periods of possession, Reading were not overly threatened by the away side. It was a great performance once again from the team as a whole with strong performances throughout. The early goal certainly helped, giving the home side something to protect, and this meant the team had to sit back and counter when given the chance. Players like Blackman subsequently had few opportunities to make an impact offensively but stepped up at the crucial moment.

Defensively, Michael Hector and Paul McShane were outstanding once again while Oliver Norwood and Danny Williams did not stop working in the centre of midfield. One person that also deserves a mention is Hal Robson-Kanu. As previously mentioned he has come under much criticism but his performance against Middlesbrough was amongst his best. Fans will always like it when a player works hard and Robson-Kanu continuously chased down the ball. Maybe he has realised that he will have to work in order to stay in the team, but either way he is beginning to perform in the manner he does for his country.

If there was a weakness for Reading it would have been Lucas Piazon. Following his strong performance against Burnley I would not have expected to be saying such things but he was a fair way off his best. The Chelsea youngster struggled to hold onto the ball and was eased aside on numerous occasions. Right up until the moment he was taken off, he struggled to get into the game and he was the clear weakness amongst a strong Reading side.

Overall, however, it was a great day at the office for Reading despite the continued inconsistency of decisions made by referee Keith Stroud. The Royals have narrowed the gap to the Championship leaders Brighton to only four points and go into the International break as one of the early candidates for promotion. It is still early days but you can safely say that optimism is high amongst everyone associated with the club. With Charlton and Rotherham up next, you feel that their run can also go on for a little while yet.

Top Of The Table Clash As Middlesbrough Visit

02 October 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

As if from nowhere, Reading suddenly find themselves involved in a top of the table Championship clash as Middlesbrough visit the Madejski Stadium tomorrow. Reading find themselves in third place - our highest position since relegation from the Premier League - ahead of what should prove to be an interesting match against opposition that expect to be serious promotion contenders this season. The Royals top of a group of six teams with 15 points and are five points behind the visitors. Middlesbrough are the form team in the Championship and come to Reading after a run of five straight wins. They've scored thirteen goals in those five fixtures and conceded just three, and will be expecting to collect at least a point in Reading.

Reading have put together two away victories in the league but will be looking to improve from our last home league performance - the 0-1 defeat to Derby County. Reading looked well set for victory in that game with Derby - until Orlando Sa received his marching orders just before the break. Reading failed to build on being the better side once they were down to ten men and the single goal was enough for Reading's only league defeat since the opening day of the season. The Royals have won two league matches either side of that Derby defeat and will be looking to build on that form. Orlando Sa will be back in the squad, after completing his three match suspension, but a recall to the starting eleven is certainly not guaranteed. Before his red card against Derby Sa hit a hat-trick against Ipswich, but since then Reading haven't suffered too much without him.

Orlando Sa grabbed the headlines for his hat-trick one match and his sending off the next, but since then Nick Blackman continues to win everyone over. It will be Blackman's name that is first on Steve Clarke's team sheet. Blackman has scored seven goals in seven matches in all competitions. It is only the Derby defeat in which he has failed to score in the last seven games. Last week Blackman put Reading on their way to victory at Burnley with an early goal before Piazon made it 2-0 to effectively seal the win, despite a late Burnley goal. Clarke remains spoilt for choice, with effective players waiting for their chance on the bench.

The depth of the squad will allow Clarke to rest Stephen Quinn and Matej Vydra who are both returning from injury. Clarke is unlikely to risk an early starting return for either of those players when his side continues to look so convincing without them. Anton Ferdinand is also expected to miss out again - but that won't give Clarke any real headache as he can continue with the centre back pairing of McShane and Hector.

The pre-match odds show that anything could happen between these two teams that both have big expectations for the season. Reading are very narrow favourites for victory at 6/4. The draw is 9/4, while a Middlesbrough win is 7/4. However, the best bet has to be Nick Blackman for first goalscorer at 11/2.

Reading and Middlesbrough - Head to head record (since August 1994)
Games Between Reading and Middlesbrough 19
Reading Wins 7
Middlesbrough Wins 7
Draws 5
Reading Goals 20
Middlesbrough Goals 23
Average Goals Per Game 2.26

Royals Go Third With Fourth Consecutive Away Win

26 September 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Reading's resurgence continued at Burnley this afternoon as a 2-1 victory saw the Royals leap-frog the home side into third place in the Championship. Reading's new position is the highest we've been in the football pyramid since our relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2012/2013 season. It may be very early in the season to be looking at the table seriously, but Reading's climb up the table appears to be on solid foundations, with a deep and talented squad.

Reading were without key players for the trip to Turf Moor. Vydra and Quinn were ruled out with minor injuries. Add to that missing list the suspended Orlando Sa and the injured Anton Ferdinand, and it can be argued that Reading won away at one of the Championship's better sides without a first choice squad. This was an impressive away victory and our fourth consecutive away win in all competitions.

The absence of Quinn allowed Piazon to step into the side for a start. With Vydra side-lined, Hal Robson-Kanu was back into the starting eleven for a league fixture and also completed a rare full ninety minutes for the Royals. Of course, no player sums up Reading's change in fortunes, and change from bland uninteresting performances to displays of excitement and promise, more than Nick Blackman. Blackman is the surprise package in not only Reading's season so far, but perhaps the entire Championship. He extended his run of form after just five minutes when he banged in his sixth league goal, and eighth goal of the season in league and cup, to put Reading on their way.

Blackman's goal was the result of the kind of fast tidy passing football we're started to see from Reading this season. Reading put together four or five positive forward passes, were slightly lucky when Burnley failed to clear the ball and then saw Robson-Kanu justify his selection with a lovely touch to set Blackman up for the goal. Blackman was just inside the area and fired the ball across goal and into the far bottom corner. Reading built on their superb start by doubling their lead with only nine minutes played. This time Chris Gunter earned the assist after more impressive build up with a low cross from the right that allowed Piazon to score his first Reading goal from deep inside the Burnley area.

Reading's goalkeepers have suffered recent criticism recently but Bond showed some safe hands to hold a reasonable Burnley effort and retain Reading's lead at the break. However, Burnley appeared to have a late change to salvage a point in the second half when a long high cross was met at the far post and put in between Bond and the post on 67 minutes. Both sides then had chances to increase their score with both goalkeepers relying on the last man on the line to prevent efforts down each end. Reading then held on without major problems for another deserved three points that sets up the season up very nicely.

Reading Travel To Third Placed Burnley

25 September 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Reading have a tough visit to third placed Burnley this weekend as they attempt to put League Cup defeat behind them and push on with the League campaign. Expectation at Reading is suddenly very high, and the 1-2 home defeat to Everton on Tuesday night has done nothing to stem the excitement at the club. Reading are currently sixth in the early Championship table and will be hunting for their third away league win of the new season.

The new signings have combined well already with the remainder of last season's squad to give a squad full of depth and clear potential. Out of the "old" players, Nick Blackman has transformed himself and has already scored 7 goals this season - including six in the last six fixtures. Orlando Sa looked to be coming good after hitting four goals but was forced to miss the last two games after his red card in the Derby defeat. The trip to Burnley will see Sa miss out as he completes his three match suspension. Anton Ferdinand is also expected to miss out as he recovers from injury so Michael Hector is expected to continue on duty in the centre of defence.

Steve Clarke made a number of changes in midweek for the League Cup game but is expected to shuffle things around again, and back towards his side that won 2-0 at Bristol City in our last league outing. That will mean that McShane will find himself back in defence with Hector. In-form players Tshibola and Norwood will continue league duty in midfield. With Sa missing, McCleary should start again with Vydra and Blackman up-front.

The last time Reading and Burnley met was in the 2013/2014 Championship Season. We were beaten 1-2 at Turf Moor and secured a point return from the two games with a 2-2 draw at the Madejski. That 2-2 draw meant that Reading missed out on the play-offs in dramatic fashion on the final day of the season. Out of Reading's three goals against Burnley that season two were own goals with Garath McCleary scoring in the home fixture. Before that season Reading had the upper hand with a run of five straight wins.

Reading and Burnley - Head to head record (since August 1994)
Games Between Reading and Burnley 26
Reading Wins 12
Burnley Wins 6
Draws 8
Reading Goals 37
Burnley Goals 26
Average Goals Per Game 2.42