Reading FC Match Report: 2012/2013 Season - Premier League


STOKE 2 READING 1

Reading: A Mariappa (83 mins).
Stoke: R Huth (67 mins), C Jerome (81 mins).

The curse of ‘The Manager of the Month’ is the footballing equivalent of discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb. No sooner had McDermott won that poisoned chalice of an accolade for our upsurge in fortunes during January, the next fixture was absolutely bound to end in defeat. And although no-one would ever accuse our manager of getting too big for his boots, clearly something affected his head at Stoke as a couple of puzzling tactical changes went some way towards the impressive run of late being curtailed in the face of some naive defending from a Reading side who would argue they deserved better from the game.

The now familiar 4-5-1 line up saw one change from the excellent performance which dispatched Sunderland the previous weekend. Garath McCleary, patchy though his form wearing the hoops has been, will consider himself unfortunate to be dropped for Nick Blackman who made his full debut at the Britannia Stadium. It was a puzzling decision, perhaps McDermott wanted to make the most of Blackman’s extra height against the Stoke aerial bombardment but in real terms Blackman struggled to make any sort of creative impact on the Reading left and his debut can only be remembered as a failure. Despite the change, Reading started brightly enough but it was Stoke with the first opportunity; a corner flashed across the Reading box. It took the home side more than half an hour of a poor first half to work Federici; firstly Shawcross’s inelegant slice towards goal from a corner was shoved over the bar from Federici and he followed that up before half time with an impressive stop after the otherwise utterly ineffectual Crouch had been allowed time to tee-up a half volley. This second chance came as a result of sloppy defending from Harte who allowed Kightly in. It was a poor afternoon for Harte who looked every day of his 35 years in being given a good chasing by the pacy Stoke wingers and unfortunately his set pieces on the day were generally abysmal.

Reading created little in terms of quality chances in that opening period and did not test Begovic enough all afternoon, but the shape was good and Akpan was pulling strings in midfield to give our wide men plenty of the ball. Reading were well in the game and looking comfortable until halfway through the second half where Walters was allowed to spin in the area and his crashing effort went behind for a corner off Mariappa’s ankle. Whelan swept a deep corner into the far post and with Reading napping the outstanding player on the park Robert Huth climbed high above Kelly to crash a header home off the underside of the bar. Conceding goals as a result of a corner has become an unwelcome and regular occurrence in our season and this is a desperately poor way of conceding a goal when you consider the wealth of attacking riches most if not all of our opponents in the Premier League posses these days. When you manage to prevent a side from scoring from open play but then concede from a set piece then you may just as well not bother turning up. Reading certainly didn’t bother turning up for this corner and we were behind at a venue which has seen the visiting side triumph only once this season.

Prior to the opener goal, Stoke were able to bring on some attacking quality in Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome. At one down, McDermott introduced the willing-if-not-always-able Noel Hunt, and therein lies the crux of our struggle when a midtable sides options look infinitely more impressive than ours. Hunt replaced Pogrebnyak, a curious move when chasing a goal given our direct style of play. With ALF having been introduced 10 minutes or so earlier, we now had two sub-six footers up against a giant Stoke backline led by the unsubtle Huth. The substitution compounded a frustrating afternoon for Pog as his final touch of the ball was to allow a Kebe pass from a 3-on-1 counter attack to roll past him to an impossible angle when McCleary was better placed. It was rather brain-dead football from Kebe and ultimately cost us a point as with Stoke’s next attack a familiar long ball was dealt with sloppily by Mariappa who headed the ball up into the air where it was collected by Jerome, who turned Pearce and smashed a fine strike past Federici who needn’t have bothered moving. A superb finish – who in the Reading team would you back to score a goal like that? – but given Stoke are famed for a successfully direct approach it was astonishing poor and naive play from us to allow the half chance.

Mariappa himself summed up the never-say-die attitude so familiar under McDermott which has been rediscovered in the last month by reacting first to a Hart corner which – for once, on this particular day – was on the money and crashing a near post header through Begovic just when we looked to be out of the game. Stoke had failed to win in six outings prior to this game and their nerves were evident as Reading dominated those closing stages looking for a familiar late significant goal. There were promptings and half-openings but Stoke were not to be caught short as they were for our own set-piece goal and ultimately our best opportunity seem to come in injury when ALF went down in the penalty box as if he’d been shot by a sniper. Time froze for a second, referee Oliver looked disinterested and ALF threw his hands up into the air. Moments later it was full time and as McDermott stormed off face like thunder via saluting the travelling support you wondered whether we’d been done an injustice. On seeing the replay, there was no such miscarriage and ALF had done himself no favours in his theatrics despite McDermott’s ludicrous post match protestations.

This was a missed opportunity to take a point from an out-of-form side who are admittedly strong on their own patch. If you want to get a result at Stoke you need to deal with set pieces and their long diagonal balls. For their two goals we failed in doing that, which should be more of a disappointment to McDermott than some spurious penalty claim. With the next four home games against sides around us in the table, these fixtures will take on monumental importance if we cannot improve on our meagre tally of five league points away from home by gifting our opposition goals with elementary errors as we did at the Britannia.
Neil Maskell

This Premier League game took place 1841 days ago in the 2012/2013 season.