The visit of Southend saw the introduction of Reading's West Ham connection with Billy Bonds taking his place on the bench as the new Reading coach, and Steve Mautone making his debut inbetween the posts. Bonds was treated to an impressive first half performance from the Royals, which should have seen us at least 20-0 up after 45 minutes. And then a rather suspect second half, during which Southend, despite playing shite, could have grabbed a share of the points. Yep, it was an easy win really, but very disturbing how Southend drew level twice against the run of play with little resistance from the Royals. And what happened in the last fifteen minutes? Suicidal, sit-on-your-lead stuff. But why? 15 minutes is far too long to hang on, even against a poor team like Southend, - we should have been putting the game beyond doubt. Still this Bolton type game (without all the drama) sees Reading climb to 17th in the table (the dizzy heights!!) after three wins from four. And why am I winging? Three home wins from three and our best spell of the season. AND another three goals! Fantastic stuff! Hmmm... anyway....
Reading almost took an early lead with a powerful long range drive on the volley from Gilkes - looking very determined inside the first five minutes. The volley screamed against the crossbar and back into open play for Southend to clear. But straight away you could see Gilkes was up for this, in one of his most impressive seasons for the Royals so far. A Gilkes cross should have seen Archie bury the ball, however he failed to connect properly with the ball in the middle just out from the goal. Morley was next to almost the Royals in front. He came in well from the right and hit the ball well to the right of the diving keeper. However, the keeper got down well to push the ball past the post.
Then, as a sign of what was to come, Southend took the ball down the other end and hit the post with Mautone beaten - their first effort inside the Reading area. And only real effort of the first half.
All the action continued deep inside the Southend half. Meaker started to look dangerous down the right exposing a very weak Southend defence. He cut in well a number of times, but most memorably weaving in and out of 4 hopeless defenders before it all came to nothing. Then at last Reading took a deserved lead from another free kick on the right. Gilkes, determined to make an impact, fired the ball into the wall on the edge of the area. Southend failed to clear and McPherson took full advantage on the left inside the area. The goal had shades of the '66 final with the ball hammering into the base of the crossbar and coming down just over the goaline. Silence from the crowd until the referee signaled the goal and the South Bank began belated celebrations.
Bernal hoisted one onto the roof of the Southend net with a good attempt from the right. Booty limped off to make an early exit, although it didn't look serious, to be replaced by Gooding. Bernal slipped back into defence from his previous midfield role. Then it was half time. 1-0 to the Blue and Whites. A deserved lead.
Despite Reading's dominance it didn't take much of the second half for Southend to put the game level. A quick break, a good cross from the right and a superb header into the bottom right corner of the net, with the defence all at sea. 1-1.
And then the shades of the Bolton game with Reading refusing to let it lie and coming straight back at them. Morley turned goal maker this time as Reading broke forwards. Morley help up two defenders on the right midway into the Southend half, then played the ball low right to left, into the path of Gilkes travelling at Mach 9 - destination Southend goal. He took the ball in his path, shrugged off his marker with ease, and slid the ball under the dive of the Southend keeper. A goal Gilksey had deserved for so long, and remarkably his first of the season. 2-1 to the Royals.
Southend pulled the game level again with amazing ease. Despite playing complete shite for the majority of the game they suddenly made the second half 50-50 with end to end action giving their roughly 300 away fans plenty to cheer about. The equalizer came from the same lanky foreign number 9 - a powerful long shot through a cluster of players.
Thankfully, Reading continued where they left off. Lambert, who had replaced the ineffective but determined Lovell up front, played the ball from the middle of Elm Park to Gilkes on the left. Gilkes outpaced the defender with ease, taking the ball wide, and crossed to Morley waiting on the far post. Morley doesn't miss those this season and drove the ball home for his 20th of the season. 3-2 to the Royals.
At this point the game oozed excitement. Reading were by far the better team and were rightfully on top again. 5 goals - and all good ones. And 15 minutes of the game left. Southend were also starting to get pissed off and picked up three or four bookings including one from a fight over the other side of the pitch. But the last 15 minutes could be completely set aside from the rest of the game and Reading stopped playing and successfully hung onto their lead. It got us the full three points but was incredibly negative play from a team so exciting for the last 75 minutes. A corner on the right demonstrated the tactics well - three blue shirts gathered around the corner and not a single player in the box. I was just waiting for Southend to grab a late break away goal like the two before - but luckily they didn't. Full time and 3-2 to the Royals.
Great games from Gilkes and Bernal once again. Mautone couldn't be faulted for the two goals and made an important catch in the dying minutes of the game. He looked OK. Morley is doing exactly what we need of him. He's slow as anything but keeps sticking them away. Caskey was improved again. Bodin also had a far better game with some intelligent balls and winning the odd tackle, but could be faulted for his marking. Man of the match goes to Gilksey.
And this next report from Gary Deards:
A very impressive display from the Royals (even taking into account the suicidal tendancy not to kill team off when playing well). We should have been 4 or 5 up in the first half when we murdered Southend (their defence was very suspect all game).
Even when we threw away the lead twice, we still looked like scoring and our heads didn't go down when they kept equalising as they would have done earlier in the season. GILKSEY WAS BRILLIANT (and played like he did 10 years ago) and has deserved a goal for the last few weeks. His reaction to scoring and laying on the winner was like watching a 17 year old on his debut.
CASKEY had another good game (although I am not too sure of the new bearded look!). My comments to the list earlier about Cas playing better when Gooding is out of the side were echoed by a number of other people at yesterday's game. However, when Micky came on after 20 minutes for Martin Booty it didn't seem to effect Cas too much (there was one occassion when both Cas and Gooding chased the same Southend midfielder back but at least it showed that Cas is now prepared to track back). I though that his workrate as well as passing has improved dramatically over the last few games and we are finally beginning to see why we paid #700k for him.
BODIN still looks a bit suspect but the rest of the defence played fairly well and the loan goalie MAUTONE looks competent enough and came for crosses (when was the last time a Reading keeper did that) and made a number of other fine saves. MORLEY is turning into a bit of a wonder and for the first time since GOD (Trevor Senior) we seem to have found a goal poacher. The MEAKS also had another good game although he ran out of puff late on (but not enough to not have a go at the Southend number 8 who ran his studs down his anke and then spark a mass brawl - all good stuff!!). LAMBERT came on late and looked "up for it" as well and I still can't we have won 2 games on the trot before May!!
How much of this can we put down to Billy Bonds? Well, both he and Kevin Dillon were involved in the warm up and it seemed as though BB was having a pretty major impact on the substitutions being made. We seem to have begun to pass the ball on the ground again and if GILKSEY can continue in his present form we should not, hopefully, have to stand the tension of another dreaded last 2 game relegation fight.
Does 2 swallows make a summer?
And another report...
Reading pulled further away from the dangerzone as Southend slumped to their eighth straight away defeat but they nearly made a mess of a vital win. Reading were the only side in the game before the break with Michael Gilkes smashing a wonderful volley against the crossbar after ten minutes and team-mate Stuart Lovell sending a similar acrobatic effort over the woodwork 15 minutes later.
Lovell, meeting a Michael Meaker cross at the near post with a first time flick, brought a superb left handed save from Simon Royce after 27 minutes before finally getting the breakthrough. Six minutes later Darren Caskey collected a short free kick on the left and curled the ball into the six yard box where central defender Keith McPherson crashed home a header off the underside of the bar. Two minutes after the break, Reading top scorer Trevor Morley flashed a great header inches over and then Gilkes made a superb 70-yard run down the left, outstripping Andy Harris before bringing another save from Royce as the home side threatened to run away with the victory.
But in the 54th minute sub Julian Hails won the ball on the Southend left before sending Andy Thomson away. He then floated a superb cross to the near post where the giant figure of Jeroen Boere flicked home a header. Reading were in front again on the hour when Morley held the ball up just inside the Southend half before releasing Gilkes, who used his pace to streak away from the defence and slot a low shot past the advancing Royce from the edge of the area.
Reading's loan keeper Steve Mautone saved his twice in the space of 40 seconds with stops from Boere and Leo Roget, but he could do nothing when the giant Dutchman added his second of the match. A free kick from Mike Marsh was knocked down on the edge of the box and Boere spun to crash an unstoppable shot low into the corner from 18 yards. But the Royals were not to be denied as a superb ball from James Lambert found Gilkes lurking on the left and he floated the perfect cross for top scorer Morley to sneak in and side foot home his 20th goal of the season at the far post.