News and Views

Clarke Seeks Further Redemption At Forest

27 November 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Reading will be looking to follow up their nervous victory over Bolton Wanderers last weekend with more points at they travel to Nottingham Forest tomorrow for their Championship fixture. It had been a traumatic time for Reading on and off the pitch, and the 2-1 win over Bolton was barely enough to settle things down. The Royals were on the back of five games without a win that had seen them drop from 2nd to 8th in the table before Steve Clarke looked set to join Fulham. Clarke was practically already named as Fulham boss until his move broke down after he failed to negotiate the deal he wanted to take him to London. Presumably Fulham couldn't stump up enough cash and Clarke was forced to return to Reading with his tail between his legs and continue in charge of the Royals.

The result was a very subdued Madjeski Stadium and a very average performance by Reading. We probably came across Bolton at just the right time with Wanderers seriously struggling at the wrong end of the table with just one win to their name all season. If we'd come up against decent opposition it would have been a defeat and post-match discussion about what a shame it was that Clarke didn't complete his move. Clarke still has it all to do to win back Reading fans. Those fans still expect promotion this season after such big changes in the summer and Clarke's backing from our Thai owners.

Nottingham Forest are another team in the wrong half of the table but have already picked up six more points than Bolton and should provide a much tougher test. They were beaten by a resurgent Brentford last weekend but were 1-0 home winners over Derby before that. That was preceeded with eight games without a win as their reasonable form left them. Reading will probably need to improve to get anything at Forest but it remains a good opportunity for Clarke to continue his redemption.

Clarke sent Stacey out on loan to Barnet, and Novakovich out to Cheltenham this week, in a clear indication that he has no big plans to introduce any fringe players into the squad. With a number of players out on loan, who might have hoped to feature in the first team this season, it's clear that Clarke is sticking to his plan with his choice of players. Clarke usually can't resist tinkering with the side, but with no new injury concerns, and players yet to complete their full returns from injury, we're likely to see a similar line-up to last weekend this time around.

Last season was a total write off for Reading in games involved against Nottingham Forest. In August 2014 Reading sunk to 19th place in a very early Championship table with a 0-4 thrashing away from home. The reverse tie wasn't any better either. In February Reading were again heading the wrong direction, down the league, and three second half goals from the visitors were enough to send Reading fans out of the Madejski Stadium early after a 0-3 defeat.

Bolton Win: A Step In The Right Direction

22 November 2015
By Alex Bower

"The result was good in the context of our season. We're desperate to stay in and around the upper levels of the league and challenge for promotion."
- Reading Manager Steve Clarke

"The goals we conceded, we just gave them to Reading. They didn't have to work hard for either goal. The first one was schoolboy stuff from our point of view."
- Bolton Manager Neil Lennon

The build-up to the Saturday's game against Bolton was less than ideal for Reading and its fans but the subsequent 2-1 victory was a step in a right direction following Steve Clarke's antics over the past week. Playing against a side that find themselves languishing at the bottom of the Championship, fans would have been expecting a rampant display from the home side. Ultimately, however, it was goals from Lucas Piazon and Danny Williams that won the Royals all three points despite a late Liam Feeney penalty ramping up the stress levels around the Madejski Stadium.

Based on Clarke's comments about the squad's status in the lead up to the game, many would have been expecting the likes of Garath McCleary, Michael Hector and Matej Vydra in particular to miss out on a place in the squad. Clarke fooled us all, however, with the latter taking his place on the bench and McCleary and Hector forming part of the starting eleven. Captain Paul McShane also returned to the starting lineup, together with Danny Williams and Lucas Piazon.

Despite being on opposite ends of the table, it was Bolton who looked the better of the two sides early on. Ali Al Habsi, who has attracted a fair amount of flak during his time at the club, was Reading's saviour on numerous occasions during the first fifteen minutes and ultimately was probably to thank for Reading's victory. Attempts from Shola Ameobi, Mark Davies and Darren Pratley were all expertly tipped away by the Omani international who kept the home side in the game early on.

With Reading gradually edging their way into the game, it was Lucas Piazon who gave the home side the lead. In almost typical fashion, Piazon had struggled to get into the game and more often than not had easily been edged off the ball. The Brazilian benefited from a lucky ricochet and managed to toe poke the ball past Bolton keeper Ben Amos and into the net. It was a lead that Reading didn't deserve and a goal that Bolton would have been saddened to concede, but it was a goal that was welcomed with open arms by the home supporters.

One player who was having a good game, however, was Garath McCleary. The Jamaican's runs down the right wing were looking increasingly threatening and a lot of Reading's play going forward was going through him. Another player who was having an even better game was Danny Williams, who popped up to score Reading's second of the game.

With ten minutes left to go in the half, Orlando Sa played in Williams who ran at the defence before rifling a shot past Amos into the bottom right corner. It was very nearly three before half time when McCleary found Piazon at the far post but his header only found the side netting. Reading were 2-0 up at half time and looked good value for their lead despite the early threat from Bolton.

Despite Reading starting the second half on top, it was Bolton who had the first chance with a Shola Ameobi header cannoning off the crossbar. With twenty-five minutes of the game remaining, Bolton opted to make a double substitution with Clayton and Madine replacing Spearing and Ameobi. Clarke responded with a substitution of his own with Jordan Obita coming on in place of Lucas Piazon.

With Andrew Taylor taking the left back position, it would seem that Clarke may have been experimenting with Obita by pushing him into midfield. This move nearly came off, as Obita's cross into the area looked dangerous but ultimately came to nothing. Nick Blackman then came close to making it three when his scuffed volley almost wrong-footed Amos but the ball was turned over the bar.

Reading were two goals to the good and had the potential to add more to the scoreline. That was until Clarke made the decision to bring on Jake Cooper for Garath McCleary with ten minutes to go. It was a substitution that made zero sense when at home, in the lead and against a bottom of the table side who were struggling to score goals. Playing with a back line of five players, with Oliver Norwood sitting just in front, Reading went overwhelmingly defensive and the negative tactics were inviting unnecessary pressure.

No sooner had the game restarted after Cooper's substitution, Bolton were awarded a penalty when Darren Pratley tripped over Norwood's leg in the box. Al Habsi managed to get a hand to the subsequent attempt from Feeney but couldn't keep it out the Reading net.

With only a single goal in it, Bolton were happy to throw the kitchen sink at the home side. Reading had very little options on the break and looked to hold the ball in the corner when they could. Despite Jose Casado having the closest attempt for the away side, Reading held on until the final whistle to secure the full three points and return to winning ways.

While fans will have been happy with all three points the way in which the victory was achieved, and nearly thrown away, will have been a concern. Clarke said that his decision to bring on Cooper late on was to counter the direct approach being employed by Bolton but in doing so conceded any advantage Reading had before that. Obita ended up playing in a central midfield role, a position that he is not effective in, and all width that McCleary in particular was making use of had gone. Defensively, Reading also lost all shape with the central defenders somewhat understandably getting in each other's way. It was a negative formation that the home side hadn't played in at any point so far this season and one that hopefully will not be rearing its ugly head again.

It was nowhere near Reading's best performance this season but the victory was necessary and welcomed based on recent events off the pitch. Going into next Saturday's game at Nottingham Forest, Clarke will be hoping to put talk of his actions further behind him and continue Reading's winning ways- Maybe then fans might be in a more forgiving mood. I fear, however, that the damage has already been done.

Al Habsi Saves Earn Reading Win

21 November 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Three excellent saves by 'keeper Al Habsi in the opening phase of the game prevented struggling Bolton from taking an early lead as Reading made a tentative start to a game they were expected to win comfortably. The visitors could consider themselves unlucky to fall behind after twenty-eight minutes when Piazon charged down a panicky clearance by Bolton defender Gouano and steered the ball past the onrushing Amos into an unguarded net.

It was just what the Royals needed to settle their nerves and six minutes later they added a second and crucial goal. Williams driving on from midfield ignored the sensible option of slipping a pass to an unmarked Blackman to his right and drilled a superb strike past Amos into the bottom right corner of the net. Read More...

Focus Returns To League As Reading Face Bolton

20 November 2015
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Reading return to Championship League action this weekend as Bolton Wanderers visit the Madejski Stadium. With the gap in domestic football for Reading, Steve Clarke did his best to keep us entertained this week with his Fulham flirtations. Clarke emerged as a favourite for the job early in the week, was then not expected to join only for bookmakers to stop taking bets on Wednesday evening. Clarke was then expected to be revealed as the new manager on Thursday, only to perform a spectacular u-turn and turn the job down after negotiations fell through. Clarke claims Reading was the best options for him and said: "It's been a strange week but I know I've made the right decision". So Clarke is staying, for now at least, and his next task is to focus on getting the team back to winning ways against Bolton.

Bolton are second to bottom in the table with just a single win to their name all season. Away from home they've picked up a miserable two points from eight matches. If ever there was perfect opportunity for Clarke to try and earn back some respect then this is surely it. However, another side to the story is Bolton have conceeded just two goals in their last three games. Two of those games have been 0-0 draws (including a 0-0 draw at Preston). So despite Bolton's position, finding the back of the net comes with no guarantees. Nick Blackman is due a goal after his stunning run of form came to an end four games ago - he has failed to score since as Reading have struggled. Reading of course did climb all the way up to second before their recent collapse in form, and now find themselves four points out of the top six and a huge 10 outside the top two. A victory is needed to keep Reading in touch with the play-offs positions.

Clarke put together a strong squad over the summer, with plenty of depth, but has had injury issues in recent weeks that has seen changes in the starting eleven game to game. He has lost the services of Hal Robson Kanu and Stephen Quinn until probably the end of the year. McCleary and Hector are both doubtful for Saturday afer coming back from International duty with Jamaica with minor injuries. Vydra is also unlikely to play due to problems with his knee, which could give players who have had limited match time a chance to make an impression. The good news is Paul McShane appears set to return in the centre of defence for Reading and his straight swap for Hector should bring some stability missing in recent weeks.

Last season points were shared with Bolton. A 0-0 home draw was followed by a 1-1 final score on the road when Mackie scored a late equaliser to salvage a point. The season before Reading were huge 7-1 winners over Bolton at home on a day when every shot somehow found itself in the Bolton net. It's hard to imagine a repeat of that right now, but with recent activity both on and off the pitch this match is shaping up to be the most interesting of the season so far. Support and anger towards Clarke could be well split, but anything other than a Reading win will cause him severe discomfort and he may well wish he'd accepted Fulham's offer.