MATCH REPORT: 2006/2007 Season

23 December 2006: FA PREMIER LEAGUE
Reading: -
Everton: Johnson (14 mins), McFadden (47 mins).
Half Time: 0-1
Attendance: 23,053

Pos Team P Pts GD
8 Everton 19 27 +4
9 READING 19 26 -5
10 A Villa 19 25 +0
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Sidwell, Harper, Hunt (Oster 70), Doyle (Long 85), Ki-Hyeon (Lita 54). Subs Not Used: Federici, Gunnarsson.
Everton: Howard, Neville, Yobo, Naysmith, Lescott, Osman, Carsley, Davies, Arteta, Johnson, McFadden (Beattie 76). Subs Not Used: Wright, Weir, Van der Meyde, Vaughan.
Reading: -
Everton: -
Ref: S Tanner (Somerset).
Reading's second straight home defeat saw Everton move above them in the league table as Reading dropped to ninth at the half way point in the season. Unfortunately that very healthy position is likely to be further eroded as Reading travel to second placed Chelsea and leaders Manchester United over the Christmas period. After last week's disappointing defeat we were hoping to bounce back, but the poor second half performance against Blackburn was followed by another poor fifty minutes from the Royals. Everton dominated the first half to take a one goal lead in at the break, and quickly followed it up with a second goal after half time to seal the win. Reading looked a transformed side when Lita came off the bench with 54 minutes on the clock, but despite some good football and plenty of effort from Reading, they failed to find the goal that would have got them back into the game.

Things might have been different today. By full time we had had more than our fair share of the game and produced plenty of chances - but were left counting missed opportunities. Perhaps Everton had let us play after scoring their second - and they defended well as Reading threw everything at them in the second half - but I felt we'd deserved a goal if not more. Just before half time it looked like we'd won a penalty after Seol was clearly taken down on the edge of the area as he cut into the box. However, it had already gone very wrong a long time before we attempted to fight back and we were probably already beaten before that penalty appeal was waved away. The first half we managed just two efforts on goal from memory with a Sonko header neading a save. All the action was down the other end with Hahnemann needing to make saves right from the start from the lively Johnson up front for the visitors.

Everton's first goal came just before the quarter of an hour mark. They were given plenty of time down the right and the eventual cross saw Johnson given an equal amount of time inside the Reading area to turn and loop the ball into the top of the net. It looked like it had taken a deflection - but even so Marcus was well beaten as the ball crashed into the root of the net. After that it looked like a question of how many Everton would add. They broke clean through and Sonko needed to make a perfect last ditch tackle as the ball was pushed slightly too far forward. They looked like they had a second when another clean break saw a powerful effort crash against the underside of the crossbar with Hahnemann nowhere close. I wouldn't mind seeing a replay of that one as it looked like it had crossed the line as Everton had strong appeals for a goal. Reading's highlight of the first half was probably seeing Sonko clatter Johnson to the ground and escape a booking. It had no effect on the impressive centre forward when he produced the second goal after the break - winning the ball and setting up McFadden to seal the points.

Reading desperately needed something to get back into the game - and it came in the form of Lita who replaced the disappointing Seol. Seol looked off the pace again and was failing to chance the ball in situations where he had a chance of winning some vital posession. Lita changed all that, running after everything and causing continuous problems for the Everton defence. He quickly got in a low shot, after cutting into the box, that needed Howard to make his first real save of the half. All of sudden the chances were coming. An excellent move started from Little on the right saw the ball delivered across goal and Lita was there again to cut the ball back. Harper looked favourite to bury it but blasted it over the crossbar from close range. We won a succession of corners - but most failed to find targets. With each wasted opportunity Everton were creeping closer to victory. Sidwell had another low shot in the last ten minutes as Reading continued hunting for a goal - but when that bought another save the away fans at last realised they were home and dry and came to life themselves.

If we'd played like we had in the last thirty minutes for the whole game we'd have taken at least a point. But we only started playing when it was already over. Seol had an excellent start to the season but there are big question marks hanging over his selection when Lita can turn the game like he did. Coppell may have more options when Kitson and Convey return from injury - but his biggest problem remains the massive level of fan expectation he's set. Reading fans went away disappointed and complaining - but we're ninth in the Premiership half way through our first ever season in the top flight after the best season in our history. Plenty of reasons to celebrate this Christmas regardless of what happens at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.

Following report by John Wells:
The outcomes of football matches are defined by key moments. Today there were four such moments, three of which were the product of Reading's ineptitude. Poor refereeing provided the other. Everton probably deserved their win because they played better football but Reading should and could have taken a point from this game.

The game began brightly with both sides looking to seize the initiative. Everton's passing and movement was impressive but Reading were prepared to commit players forward. As early as the second minute Johnson issued a warning creating an opening for himself but his shot was easily gathered by Hahnemann. Sidwell's physical presence in midfield was keeping Everton at bay. He won three crunching tackles in succession only to squander his hard earned possession with an over hit pass. This was to be the story of his afternoon. Doyle looked to be capable of beating Everton's back four with his pace but the referee was prepared to allow them to use foul means to halt his progress.

The first key moment arrived on fourteen minutes. Arteta found space on the right and crossed to Andy Johnson. It sat open-mouthed at the amount of time and space he was allowed by the Reading defence in the box before he scored with a deflected shot. Reading seemed unable to respond and Everton kept possession well. Hahnemann had to save from a glancing header after Sonko had conceded a free kick by flattening Johnson. Hunt was given a golden opportunity to equalise after twenty minutes. His right-footed shot was on target but lacked any conviction.

After thirty-one minutes Osman sent a long range shot crashing against bar. The ball came down on the line and bounced away. Reading were still in the game. The second crucial incident of the game came just before half time when Seol turned sharply was brought down just inside the area right in front of the referees assistant. It might have been a different game had Reading had been awarded the penalty and gone in level at half time.

The third significant moment came immediately after half time, before Reading could mount a serious challenge to Everton's lead, when more woeful defending gave Everton their crucial second goal. Ingimarsson hesitated as Johnson bore down on him and the Everton man nicked the ball and went on to cut the ball back for McFadden. Sonko and Murty were uncharacteristically sluggish in their attempts to clear the danger and it was two - nil. This time Reading did react and produced their best spell.

Lita came on for a below par Seol and looked lively and determined. He held the ball well and produced a couple of shots which unfortunately didn't really trouble Howard. The fourth big moment arrived with about fifteen minutes remaining. Lita nodded the ball down to Harper in the box. Having scored three goals in as many games recently I was disappointed to see him lash the ball over the bar from about twelve yards. It was a good chance. Had he kept his head Reading would have had the platform to launch a bid to salvage a point from the game. Reading to their credit continued to press but their play became increasingly desperate. Sidwell surged into the Everton penalty area and tested Howard with a powerful strike but at that point it was too late anyway.

The quality of passing from Reading today was not good enough. Possession was conceded far too often with long hopeful punts upfield. The crossing was also poor. Little's corners were floated over when they needed to be driven and the Everton back four dealt with them comfortably. Looking at the bench today it is becoming increasingly obvious new players are needed to enable Coppell to change the pattern of play. The current squad has served them well but it must be strengthened if Reading are to sustain their momentum. The building process must continue carefully because it is important not to damage what has been put together so carefully. Only Shorey looked completely at ease in possession today, and Hunt, for all his industry, is not the quality of player needed to start games in the Premiership. The best we can hope for is a couple of good performances next week. I can't see Chelsea or United surrendering any points at home. Merry Christmas!

Any Reading fan wishing for an early Christmas present had their hopes and dreams ruined by a highly competent effective experienced Premiership team in Everton. This is our world in the Premiership, this is where we have to compete, this is what it is all about. Unlike last week against Blackburn when I felt well peed off after throwing a lead away, we had no complaints yesterday. Yes we played well in the last half hour but by then the damage had been done and from what looked like two home tasty winnable games before Christmas we've emerged with sweet FA. Like the second half against Blackburn the first half against Everton we looked like a pub team yet alone a Premiership team. Where before our defence has been a colossus and handled all that has been thrown at it suddenly it looks very shaky indeed. Shorey appears to have lost all his confidence and can't cross a ball for his life at present. Ingy Iceman had another rare inexplicable loss of concentration in letting Everton in for their second. We all know there are Reading players playing now who are not up to this level and we have done unbelievably well to date in the Premiership but to stay here in mid table luxury the squad must be strengthened. Both Blackburn and Everton "sussed" us out, they passed the ball around us, they never let us settle and they got stuck in, we must learn. We do need additions in January and let's all pray we get two or three quality players to build on what we've achieved to date. I do feel sorry for Doyle toiling away up front, the lad desperately needs support and though Seol started the season like a rocket he's fading badly and must raise his game again. In saying all that, if anybody had said at the start of the season at the half way stage at Christmas we'd be in the top ten and have twenty six points we'd have ripped their arm off. So let's celebrate what we have achieved and look forward to the second half of the season. Two easy away games coming up then two absolutely massive home games in West Ham and Sheff Utd, win those and all will be rosy again, we just have to hold our nerve, and with Sir Steve at the helm, no trouble, none at all.
Happy Christmas to loyal Royals where ever you may be, keep the faith and be proud.
Nick Newbury

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