Reading FC Match Report: 2017/2018 Season - Championship
READING 1 QPR 0
Reading: S Aluko (13)
A brilliant solo goal from Sone Aluko, two superb saves from Vito Mannone and a magnificent 'backs to the wall' team defensive effort, gave the Royals a long-awaited victory and three points to ease their relegation fears. New manager Paul Clement had an immediate impact as Reading produced a battling performance worthy of three points. His team selection was fully justified, not least of which the recall of Vito Mannone, who in my opinion had not deserved to be dropped in the first place. It was pulsating game which had both sets of fans on the edge of their seats throughout. It has to be said Rangers played some excellent football, but in spite of dominating the game overall could not find the finish their approach play deserved. In a manic final ten minutes Reading were reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Kermorgant, conceded a penalty, which was saved by Mannone, and finally hung on for five minutes of stoppage time to send their fans home happy for the first time in long while.
Paul Clement's game plan was evident from his team selection. Blackett’s recall to left back would have raised a few eyebrows, to join Gunter’ Ilori and Moore in a back four. With Kelly apparently unavailable, Van den Berg and Edwards were given the task of playing in front of the back four. Martin was allocated the unenviable lone striker role which exposed his limitations against a very solid Rangers back four. With Swift tucked in behind Martin and Aluko and Barrow out wide, everyone was clear about the job they were expected to do. It was clear there was a significant change of approach especially at the back where few risks were taken and the ball was played forward early. Reading started on the front foot and took an early lead when Aluko spun and left his marker trailing in his wake just inside the Rangers half and ran at the visitors back four. As the defence back-pedalled Aluko made room for the shot and rifled the ball into the top right corner from just outside the box for what turned out to be a superb winning goal.
Rangers came back strongly and carved out several opportunities with some slick passing and movement requiring some exceptional last ditch defending which came from all of the back four and midfield. There were mistakes but few missed tackles and Reading rode there luck at times. Rangers wasted good chances, notably Conor Washington snatched at a half chance and pulled his shot wide and Wszolek blasted over when given time and space in the box just before half time. Reading looked to hit Rangers on the break but the visitors defence dealt well the threat of Barrow on. Onuha lacked a bit of pace but his positional sense enabled him to snuff out danger effectively.
The second half was pretty much one way traffic as Rangers laid siege on the Reading goal. Ilori and Blackett have been on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism recently but relived of the burden of the expectation of playing intricate passing out of defence appeared to revel in the simplification of their defensive duties. Steve Sidwell once said of Steve Coppell he did give not lengthy team talks but had a quiet word with everyone individually so that everyone knew what they were expected to do when they set foot on the pitch. Clement’s approach appears to have the same effect. As the half progressed pressure mounted on the Royals defence but they stood firm. Tackles and blocks came thick and fast as Rangers threw everything at them in search of an equaliser. The referee had a poor game, lenient in the extreme towards some robust challenges by Rangers and a somewhat harsh red card for Kermorgant which cranked up the pressure to an uncomfortable level on Reading. Paul Smyth thought he had finally breached the stoic Reading defence with a powerful strike from the edge of the box but was foiled with an outstanding fingertip save from Mannone. Edwards had run himself into the ground so fatigue probably played a part in a lazy lunge which caught Wszolek in the box and provided Rangers with an opportunity to level from the spot. Smith stepped up and struck the penalty well but Mannone matched it with an excellent save which had the home crowd on their feet celebrating as if they had scored. The save seemed to knock the stuffing out of Rangers and Reading comfortably played out the remaining stoppage time for a memorable first home win in the league since November.
If there was ever an instance of ‘new manager syndrome’ this was it. Paul Clement can take a lot of credit for this performance which may well prove to be the turning point in Reading’s season. It was a game and a result which brought the Madejski Stadium back to life. Rangers too deserve praise for making it such an entertaining game and respect for their professionalism. It may have gone unnoticed by some but I saw at least three Rangers players go over and shake Mannone’s hand after the final whistle in acknowledgement of his match winning display in the final stages of the game which they probably felt they deserved at least to draw.
This Championship game took place 144 days ago in the 2017/2018 season.