Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - Championship
READING 1 FULHAM 0
Reading: Y Kermorgant (49, pen)
On a truly memorable evening at the Madejski Stadium Reading rose to the occasion to overcome favourites Fulham and progress to within touching distance of the Premier League. Yann Kermorgant’s forty-ninth minute penalty gave Reading a deserved lead setting up an almost unbearably tense second half as a talented Fulham side threw everything at Reading in search of an equaliser which never came. Ultimately it was a magnificent disciplined defensive display which secured their place in the Championship Play-Off Final. At the final whistle jubilant home fans swarmed all over the pitch in spite of futile attempt by stewards to keep them in their seats. They were not going to be denied their moment of celebration, and rightly so because they too had been magnificent throughout.
Reading started on the front foot. Composed in possession and quick to deny Fulham time and space to build any momentum. Kermorgant almost gave Reading the lead on twelve minutes when he spun and stuck a low shot back across goal but was denied by a brilliant save from the unsighted Bettinelli. Fulham weathered the early Reading pressure in the opening fifteen minute and began to create promising attacks. Fredericks was given ample opportunities to run at the Reading defence from deep positions and it took a smart save from Al Habsi to keep out his low strike from inside the box. Ten minutes later a penetrative run from Fredericks was halted by a foul from Blackett. The resulting free kick was struck well by Cairney producing a very good save from Al Habsi who had to pop up instantly to block Aluko’s powerful and accurate strike from the rebound. Two crucial saves coming at time when Fulham were beginning threaten. Reading continued to put Fulham under pressure and Grabban might have done better with the half chance which fell to him as half time approached. There was still little between the sides at half time.
Reading started the second half as brightly as they had started the first. A brilliant sweeping move emerging from Reading playing out of a tight situation deep in their own half and ended with a pin point Kermorgant cross which Grabban headed on target but didn’t really test Bettinelli. Reading went ahead from penalty conceded by Kalas who handled under pressure from Kermorgant. Having missed several penalties this season Reading fans were relieved to see in-form Kermorgant step to take the kick. The Frenchman held his nerve and struck it low past Bettinelli. The stadium erupted and the game exploded into life. Reading almost increased their lead a minute later when a slick move presented Grabban with a chance which he hit well but saw his effort saved. Stung into action Fulham moved up several gears. There have been days when Reading have collapsed in spectacular fashion this season but that was clearly not going to happen today. In fact Reading briefly looked as if they might have lost their composure as Kermorgant and Moore were booked in quick succession for halting Fulham attacks with what can only be termed ‘professional’ fouls.
With Fulham throwing caution to the wind Reading began to hit them on the break and Swift missed a glorious chance to extend the lead but somehow manged to fluff a chance which required a tap in at the far post. In his defence the ball came at him quickly but he really should have tucked it away. Fulham came closest to scoring thirteen minutes from the end when the ball was cut back to McDonald who hammered the ball goalwards from inside the box. Somehow Al Habsi managed to get a hand to it to send it skimming over the bar. Reading were under siege but heroic performances from Kermorgant, Ilori, Van den Berg, Moore, Williams and Evans to foil Fulham’s inventive attempts to open up the defence. Perhaps unfair to single out individuals when players like Grabban and McCleary performed their defensive duties as effectively as any of the recognised defenders. They worked as unit and came through the sternest of tests. That does not just happen, it is a consequence of hours of work in training finally coming to fruition.
One thing we have come to expect this season is that you never know what to expect from Jaap Stam. I was surprised to see Blackett come off and even more surprised to see his replacement McCleary, drop into a right wing back role to allow Gunter to go across to nullify the ever increasing threat presented by Fredericks marauding down the Fulham’s right flank. With Kermorgant winning so many crucial defensive headers I was alarmed to see him replaced by Mendes. With the news breaking about the new (and very wealthy) Chinese owners taking over the club to back such an outstanding and talented manager, Reading fans can start to dream of Premier League Football and maybe even staying there. But let’s not get too carried away there is still one very big game to come.
This Championship game took place 130 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.