Reading FC Match Report: 2017/2018 Season - FA Cup


Reading: J Bodvarsson (32), J Bodvarsson (44), J Bodvarsson (64)
Stevenage: --

Reading eased their way into the Fourth Round of the F. A. Cup courtesy of a Jon Dadi Bodvarsson hat-trick to end the sequence of eight games without a win. Having a survived a jittery opening spell in which Stevenage might easily have scored a couple of goals, Reading finally settled down to play some good football; and having taken the lead with a Bodvarsson volley, never really looked in danger of losing their grip on the game. Stevenage managed to create sufficient chances to get back into the game but their finishing lacked the quality required to breach the Royals defence.

It was not the strongest side Reading could field as Jaap Stam held back some key players to keep them fit a fresh for a much tougher assignment on Saturday at home to Brentford, and for a while it looked as if it might backfire. In a confusing opening both sides remarkably were allowed to play in blue and white which was confusing for players, spectators and officials. Ultimately it must be seen as an error of judgement by the referee to allow the game to begin with such an obvious colour clash although I find it hard to believe Stevenage could make such an obviously inappropriate choice of colours. That issue, and the unfamiliar combination of personnel, resulted in a very shaky opening for the Royals.

Stevenage had the ball in the net from a Martin free kick on the left after a rash challenge by Bacuna but the goal was ruled out presumably due to an offside decision. It was a lucky escape for Reading. Reading had Jaakkola to thank for keeping the scores level with a superb save from a close range header. Stevenage full back Martin was causing all kinds of problems for Reading with the quality of his dead ball delivery form the left wing. There was a worrying lack of cohesion about Reading’s play and their passing was tentative, slow, and predominantly sideways or backwards. Stevenage had what looked like a good case for claiming a penalty for an untidy challenge form behind in the box. Referee Robinson was not interested. Reading were on the back foot until Gunter put a ball into the box for Bodvarsson to calmly volley home to give Reading a lead which had not looked on the cards. The goal settled Reading down and knocked Stevenage out of their stride. Reading also had a good shout for a penalty ignored by a lenient referee. Gunter’s eagerness to get forward paid off again just before the interval when he ran on to a pass inside the full back to deliver a gem of a cross which Bodvarsson, under pressure, headed with considerable control and accuracy past King into the net off the post. It was a goal which underlined the gulf in class between the two sides.

Reading came out for the second half in bright orange shirts and took the game by the scruff of the neck pinging passes around with precision and purpose. Stevenage barely touched the ball for five minutes. When they did break forward they found Blackett and Ilori in an uncompromising mood. Ilori produced one superbly timed saving tackle. For all Reading’s possession Stevenage still made chances and it took some sharp defending and woeful finishing to prevent them from getting back into the game. Pett missed the target with a close range header when it looked easier to score on fifty–two minutes. Of course as the visitors pushed forward the gaps at the back appeared and Gunter took full advantage completing his hat trick of assists with another superbly timed run and early (and telling) ball in to the box for Bodvarsson to slide home for his deserved hat-trick. I am convinced Gunter has improved as player under Jaap Stam. He would not have been able to get forward with such impact before this season – certainly not with his ‘wrong’ foot. The third goal knocked the stuffing out of Stevenage and Reading could enjoy the rare pleasure of stroking the ball about whilst sitting on a three goal lead.

A win is always good for morale, and whilst nobody will be getting carried away over this convincing success over lower league opposition Reading must be given credit for the quality of their attacking play and standing up to the physical approach of Stevenage. Kelly in particular was singled out for some rough treatment. There were some notable performances which will give Jaap Stam some food for thought when he selects his team for the next game. In particular Ilori looked very sharp and passed the ball well and Bodvarsson apart from finishing well worked incredibly hard, making runs, holding the ball up and closing players down. After the game Stam would not, as expected, give anything thing away about his team for Saturday although he hinted that some players have enhanced their chances of making the starting eleven.

John Wells

This FA Cup game took place 638 days ago in the 2017/2018 season.