Reading FC Match Report: 2012/2013 Season - Premier League
LIVERPOOL 1 READING 0
Liverpool: Raheem Sterling (29 mins).
Anfield is a landmark ground for Brian McDermott. It was at Liverpool's famous old ground in January 2010 where he secured his first ever victory as Reading manager, a cup upset which went some way towards securing the job on a full time basis. It was an astonishing - and deserved - result in the context on the respective league positions of the clubs and was the first sign of a upturn in fortunes to come under a new, gutsy regime. Something aproaching three years of almost relentless success has followed for McDermott, but the circumstances surrounding this return visit to this particular part of L4 were now rather similar to that famous night 34 months ago. Back in 2010, Reading were in the midst of a poor, winless run in the league and sat entrenched in the relegation zone. The manager duly approached the 2010 cup fixture in much the same way as this Premier League fixture, opting to play one up front in order to presumably frustrate the opposition in order to keep his side in the game for as long as possible and hope to reap some reward from the match in the closing stages. In 2010 we had the hard-running, physicality of Long and the creativity of Sigurdsson in support. It is hard to argue that the 4-5-1 system particularly suits Pavel Pogrebnyak's game and it is worth noting that this latest defeat is the third such loss this season with such a system employed. If it aint fixed, change it Brian.
Ludicrously, with his side hanging on in the first half and on the front foot for most of the second, the change we were crying out for came with fewer than twenty minutes to play. ALF was finally introduced to the fray.....replacing Pogrebnyak. Astonishing decision. Pogrebnyak is a fine physical specimen but he does not have any of the pace which that lone striker role demands, a role that Shane Long was able to play with such effect in the past. ALF was utterly anonymous during those closing stages and the change which really should have happened came five wasted minutes later when the willing-if-not-particularly-able Guthrie - who to be fair had a much improved second half after a dismal first 45 - was withdrawn in favour of Roberts who finally won some of the aerial balls that ALF and to a lesser extent Pogrebnyak were unable to make full use of. If we are going to score the goals to stay in this league the manager needs to be bolder.
And McDermott was fortunate that his side were in a position to be very much in the game in that second half. Because the first half showing was lousy. Leigertwood ponderous in midfield once again, Guthrie giving the ball away as if it was going out of fashion, Karacan withdrawn early through injury having to chase yet another carelessly conceded loose ball and the wingers largely anonymous. Raheem Sterling was giving Cummings a familiar chasing on the left flank and it was the teenager who threatened most with Suarez otherwise engaged in his usual tiresome theatrics which resulted in him using almost half the interval to limp back down the tunnel following an innocuous looking challenge on the far touchline. Remarkably there was a Lazarus-esque recovery when the second half began, by which time Reading were 1-0 down. A ball played down the right chanel this time had first Mariappa and Cummings trailing in his wake - worryingly similar to the first goal conceded at Loftus Road in the recent cup tie - and the finish past McCarthy was excellent. With Suarez - momentarily, between the acting auditions - and Johnson also threatening you could argue that a one goal deficit hugely flattered Reading at the break.
To their credit, we gave it a good go second half and if the performance level remains that of the second 45 minutes then the fans will stay behind the players because our deficiencies are obvious and numerous. On this particular afternoon though, we played as we do best in the second half, getting on the toes of the opposition and attempting to use our pace on the break when we have broken up possession. Garath McCleary looks a raw prospect who will only learn and improve, and improve he must on his clear cut opening ten minutes into a second half where certainly Reading grew into the game. Charging through, clear of the Liverpool defence he was caught in two minds as to whether to chip the advancing Jones or slide the ball past the 'keeper. Ultimately the effort was tame and easily saved by the legs of Jones. McAnuff, attempting to drive proceedings from the middle of the park and showing good leadership having switched to a central role after the loss of Karacan, also tested Jones and McCleary again should have done better when cutting in and slicing wide. Reading were at last getting into good wide positions and a desperate block denied Kebe an opportunity of smashing a loose ball towards goal after a left side cross saw Jones utterly stranded. Gorkss failed to make clean contact with his head from one of a series of Reading freekicks awarded in and around the box as Liverpool and their supporters - who had not seen a home Premier League win prior to the arrival of the ever-generous Reading - grew nervous.
There were enough half chances for Reading to have taken a point from this game. Brendan Rodgers, deluded as ever, pointed to 19 chances on goal for his team and it is true that the home side's finishing was poor with Suarez guilty of wasting a hatrick-full of chances on the counter attack with hopeless ballooned efforts whilst McCarthy put in another excellent performance with a string of useful saves. But Reading have to learn to put teams to the sword. They are not being well beaten on their travels by any means and the effort and application is there in spades. McDermott's conservative approach should mean that we are rarely embarassed by opposition with infinitely greater resources. But to give ourselves a chance of picking up enough points to stay in with a shout then we need to give Pogrebnyak more support and not leave him isolated. And we need to show more composure to take these half chances when they are presented to us.
There is clearly no disgrace in Reading losing by the odd goal at Anfield, but the choice is a stark one. Stay around for a season collecting autographs in a damage limitation exercise or engineer more creativity in the performance and take the game to the opposition and give this thing a damn good go. Hard luck stories and 'well-playeds' are not going to reap us any tangible benefit short of pride. November sees us come up against teams around us at the bottom of the league on our travels and going 4-5-1 in those games simply won't be good enough. There is a chance with the forthcoming more generous run of games to make ourselves competitive in this league and to finally get into the swing of the things we do best. I sincerely hope and expect to be writing these match reports in the near future on the back of some positive results. But I suppose failing that there is always the cups, eh Brian?
This Premier League game took place 2160 days ago in the 2012/2013 season.