Report from P.Jones...
A timely win lifts Reading a bit further away from a relegation spot, but this was a far from assured performance, and Reading were extremely lucky to end up with all the points.
I felt heartened to see Asaba warming up before the match, as Reading have found goals harder to come by since his absence. Before the season, pairing Asaba and Morley up front together would have seemed the obvious choice, but given Martin Williams efforts in recent games, and Asaba and Morley's questionable match fitness, it did seem a bit of a gamble. Morley did play a beautiful ball through the Stockport defence to leave Asaba with only the keeper to beat, but he cannoned it straight at former Reading loanee Nixon. Other than that, there seemed little evidence of understanding between Reading's front men.
Reading started the game appallingly. As so often seems the case when faced with a side of giants, Reading kept hoofing the ball into the air, rather than to try and pass it on the ground. The first twenty minutes were diabolical, but then things settled down a bit. Stockport are a one idea team. Admitedly, it's quite a good idea, but, nevertheless, it's just one idea: win the ball, tear down the flank, and hoof it into Brett Angell. This they did frequently, and their forwards were guilty of some glaring misses, which compounded with some heriocs from Nicky Hammond earnt Reading a clean sheet.
The Reading goal came just before half-time. The ref gave an extremely harsh penalty for handball, and OooTrevor calmly slotted it home. I think that it was a case of a ref giving a slack decision to attone for what they realise was an earlier error, as a Stockport player had blatantly controlled the ball with his hand in the area only ten minutes previously, and this had gone unpunished. Still, one up at half-time, and Reading came out for the second half looking a far better side.
Reading were passing fluently, and creating half chances, but couldn't quite find the break to wrap the tie up. This made for an excruciating last 15 minutes (plus the hours of time the ref added at the end) in which we desperately hung on as Stockport bombarded Nicky Hammond's goal. It was good to see Ray Houghton come off the bench and shout at everyone to do their job properly when it looked as if Reading might crack. Meaker got to do his party piece, dribbling into the corner flag. The ref wasn't too impressed and added on about another half hour for timewasting. Finally, he blew up, and Elm Park breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Man of the match was definitely Nicky Hammond. Otherwise, this was a fairly lacklustre Reading performance. It was heartening to see Reading win while not necessarily being at their best. It's all very well having the moral victory of playing the better football, but no points are handed out for that at the moment, and we really need to accumulate a few more points right now. The next two fixtures- Huddersfield and Ipswich- should provide a good opportunity to pick up some more points before we hit a nasty run of fixtures in December.