Reading FC Match Report: 2018/2019 Season - Championship


READING 2 STOKE 2

Reading: M McNulty (42), M Barrow (90)
Stoke: B Afobe (48), T Ince (69)

A last minute equaliser from Mo Barrow gave Reading a well-deserved point against an in form and very strong City side. Having taken the lead just before half time courtesy of Mark McNulty's first goal for Reading, the Royals lost their way in a disastrous spell after the interval. Sloppy defending provided Afobe with the chance to atone for a missing a sitter early in the game by leveling the scores. A spectacular volley from Ince gave the visitors the lead and they looked likely to push on and win the game comfortably. The introduction of Meite, Baldock and Barrow revitalised a flagging Royals attack. They came close to finding the equaliser on a couple of occasions before Meite set up Barrow for fine finish with very little stoppage time remaining. I think most Reading fans would have settled for a point before what looked to be a very difficult fixture.

Changes were made to the team which had performed so well earlier in the week at Leeds. O'Shea, Moore and Kelly were ruled out through injury and illness giving yet more selection headaches for Paul Clement. In spite of the adjustments Reading started the game well. There was a sharpness about their passing and movement which had Stoke backpedalling for the first twenty minutes. Good crosses were delivered from both flanks but the absence of a striker to take advantage meant they were wasted. However in that spell the best chances fell to Stoke. Allen retrieved a deep cross and clipped the ball back onto Afobe’s head who missed horribly from close range. Clucas blasted over and Afobe had a shot saved when he should have done better. Worryingly an outnumbered Gunter was getting the run around on the left of Reading’s defence although City did not take full advantage of the situation. Rhinomota was having a telling impact on the game and with half time approaching, his confidence, pace, and awareness of space took him past the full back on the right and his deflected cross was headed in at the far post by a determined McNulty. Reading went in at half time with the lead.

That well-earned lead lasted a mere three minutes into the second half. Clucas prodded a harmless looking ball over the Reading defence. Afobe started his run while Ilori and Blackett pondered over a course of action before setting off too late to nullify the danger. Afobe must have been surprised how much time and space he had been given to place his finish past Jaakkola. Things just went from bad to worse and it took a very good challenge from Blackett to prevent a second City goal after Ilori and casually given the ball away on the edge of the box. Stoke were all over Reading. Allen curled a shot just wide and Jaakkola had to a very good save from a powerful long range effort. Stoke took the lead with just over twenty minutes left to play. There was no apparent danger as the ball ran away from goal pursued by Blackett and Yiadom. McClean however had other ideas and knocked a delicate cross back into the middle of the penalty area. It fell nicely for Ince to volley in ferociously in off the underside of the crossbar. It was great strike and looked to be the goal that would finish Reading off.

Shrewd substitutions by Paul Clement however turned the tide in Reading’s favour. Off went Swift, McNulty and Loader to be replaced by Barrow, Baldock and Meite. The stage was set for a Reading comeback. Revived by the changes the chances came. Meite’s excellent touch enabled him to take a long ball down and slide a ball into Baldock at the near post which he just failed to reach. Barrow lashed a good chance wide. Rhinomota found Meite with a great through ball and Butland showed his goalkeeping class by coming smartly off his line to save well from the Reading striker. With the five minutes of stoppage time running out, the referee (who had a dreadful game) failed to penalise two blatant fouls on the halfway line, the first by Reading the second by Stoke. Play continued and Reading attacked through Yiadom down the right. Yiadom picked out Meite in the box with a precise pass. Meite’s first touch again was excellent as he held off the defender before delivering a superbly weighted pass to Barrow lurking on the left. Barrow’s strike was instant and composed finding the bottom corner giving Butland no chance.

In spite of the tiresome negative comments from the Radio Berkshire commentary team before, during, and after the game Reading seem to be slowly improving. That improvement has as yet to be reflected in points and their league position but certain aspects of recent performances are encouraging. There was a confidence and flow about Reading’s play in the first half of today’s game and the team showed a bit of character to come back late in the game to earn a valuable point. Rhinomota’s emergence as a force in midfield and Meite’s all round ability give the attack a cutting edge. Jaakkola is establishing himself as very good ‘keeper. McNulty is showing glimpses of his potential as a striker. Yes, there remains a frustrating recurring vulnerability in defence but, in my opinion, sufficient evidence to suggest Paul Clement has the ability to lift this group of players in to the safety of mid table.

John Wells

This Championship game took place 13 days ago in the 2018/2019 season.