Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - Championship
READING 2 ROTHERHAM 1
Reading: L Grabban (66), J Swift (79)
Rotherham: T Adeyemi (19)
The abysmal away record of already relegated Rotherham suggested this would be a routine home win for the Royals but they were sluggish from the start, and after going behind when Al Habsi spilled the ball from a header to Adeyemi in the nineteenth minute they struggled to break down their lowly opponents. Once again Jaap Stam confounded everyone with his team selection resting Mendes and leaving Kelly on the bench with Grabban after both had starred in a fine away win at Villa two days earlier. The introduction of Kelly at half time brought the missing spark in midfield and allowed Williams, who had fine game, to push forward; and with Meite’s right wing berth taken by McCleary normal service was resumed. The stubborn visitors finally succumbed to a brilliant volley from substitute Grabban and an outstanding team goal finished off by Swift. It was vital win but really should have been more comfortable.
Rotherham, although having nothing but pride to play for, were prepared use dubious tactics to unsettle the Royals. Vaulks found his way into the referee’s book as early as the seventeenth minute having clearly targeted Williams from the start with a couple of ugly challenges. Williams, who was justified in taking it personally, was himself lucky to avoid a yellow for his reaction to the second foul. Having unexpectedly taken the lead, blatant time-wasting went unchallenged by referee Kavanagh. Players feigned injury to hold up play and United ‘keeper O’Donnell delayed his goal kicks with a little ritual of scuffing the turf before placing the ball and knocking imaginary mud off his boots on the post. Reading created chances but were unable to convert them. McCleary sliced open the United defence to find Gunter but nobody could make the vital contact to his ball which skimmed across the six yard box. Meite had a shot blocked by O’Donnell from a tight angle and Swift, under pressure, could not quite tuck away a shot which came back off O’Donnell. But overall it was a case of United trying to slow the game down and Reading being slow to build attacks.
Decisively Jaap Stam replaced Meite with Kelly at half time and his presence, combined with McCleary playing much more effectively wide on the right and Williams driving further forward, gave Reading a better balance. Reading forced a remarkable nine corners in a fifteen minute spell and it seemed only a matter of time before the equaliser would come. It arrived in the most spectacular fashion when Grabban came on and within a minute volleyed a good cross from McCleary with such power and accuracy O’Donnell was rooted to the spot as it flew into the net from the just inside the box. More time-wasting followed but Reading got the second goal they deserved with a superb move. Williams held the ball until Gunter started his run before sliding the perfect ball into his path. Gunter timed his run and ball across the six yard box to perfection leaving Swift a tap in at the far post. Swift had looked out of sorts for most of the game but came to life at the right time. The goal bore the hallmark of everything Jaap Stam has been trying to achieve this season. It was the sort of pass Williams would not have seen last season never mind deliver.
It was never likely that United would come back although they did at least try to break out of their own half in the final stages. The game was won and Grabban indulged in a spot of showboating which the home fans enjoyed, and referee had the nerve to reprimand Reading for time wasting, neither really mattered. It was an altogether more impressive display in the second half. McCleary and Gunter completely unhinged the United defence with some excellent passing movement and crosses and the finishing was clinical – eventually! A wider margin of victory would not have flattered Reading. To cap it all, aided by other results going their way, the Royals moved up into third place with three games left to play and a six point cushion above sixth placed Leeds.
This Championship game took place 340 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.