Reading FC Match Report: 2017/2018 Season - Championship
READING 1 NORWICH 2
Reading: L Moore (13)
Norwich: J Maddison (10), C Jerome (52)
Reading's dismal start to the season continued today with another home defeat against an in-form City who chalked up their fourth successive away win. In a tight game neither goalkeeper had much to do. All three goals came from set pieces with City's winner coming after some extremely poor making from Tyler Blackett allowed Jerome to head past Manone unmarked at the far post. Reading fell behind after ten minutes to a superbly struck free-kick by Maddison. Their lead lasted only three minutes, the Reading equaliser coming from a determined header by Moore getting on the end of an Aluko free-kick floated invitingly to the far post. Jerome's winner came early in the second half and Reading struggled to find any rhythm and rarely threatened to find a second equaliser as Norwich controlled the game well to maintain their lead and secure the points. Reading worryingly slipped further down the table into twentieth place.
Jaap Stam persisted with his policy of playing without a recognised striker in his starting eleven and although Beerens, McCleary and Alkuo flitted around up front they made little impression on a Norwich defence which looked far prom impregnable. Reading started sluggishly struggling to get out of their own half and soon fell behind to Maddison’s free kick. The Royals reacted well and Moore levelled within three minutes. As the half progressed Reading began to put together some promising attacks with some slick passing and movement. However they almost fell behind again on twenty-two minutes when Klose dropped a pass behind McShane and Jerome timed his run perfectly to get on the end of it. Fortunately for Reading the City striker rolled the ball against the post and the ball was cleared. McCleary should have given Reading the lead when having muscled his way past Husband lifted the ball over Gunn only to see his attempt drift just the wrong side of the post.
The second half started badly for the Royals and Jerome was given a free header to score at the far post which raised questions about Reading’s defending generally form set pieces being the second goal conceded from a corner in two games. Remarkably the cross was allowed to bounce across the goalmouth, Jerome lost Blackett far too easily and I was surprised to see Manone beaten by so easily by the header given his position and height at which the ball entered the net. With just under forty minutes left there was ample time for Reading to come back but their attacks were disjointed as passes went astray and the build-up was too slow. It is indicative of the most significant weakness in the team that it was Gunter of all people who came closest to finding the net with a rasping drive which skimmed the crossbar. It was clearly going to need something different make the breakthrough but it was a mystery why Stam delayed the introduction of Bodvarsson (sixty-eighth minute) and Barrow (seventy-second minute) for so long. When he did get on Barrow had to go searching for the ball as his team mates found it difficult to get the ball to him. Bodvarsson again impressed with his ability to compete for the ball and unsettle opposing central defenders.
Reading huffed and puffed, but long before the end were resorting to hoofing the ball forward hopefully which was never going to worry City too much and made nonsense of all the attempts at careful possession football which had gone before. The only incident of note in stoppage time was an ugly challenge and unnecessary on Gunter by Watkins which was fully deserving of a red card. Gunter should be given credit for immediately getting up and hopping away from the ‘tackle’.
Jaap Stam made reference to the need to play it long when pressed by opponents and yet with Kermorgant injured and Bodvarsson warming the bench there was nobody playing in forward positions who looked either willing or able to compete for the ball in the air. This shortcoming could not have been more clearly underlined by the performance of City’s Jerome who was probably the difference between the teams winning virtually every ball played up to him in the air and securing the victory with a far post header. Surely it must be worth giving Bodvarsson a start in the next match. Apart from his willingness to compete for the ball his touch looks good enough to hold the ball up and bring others into the game further up the pitch. A greater concern is the number of players who do not have the confidence, vision, or touch to control the ball and pass it effectively when under pressure. There are few teams in the Championship who will stand off and allow you time and space to play your football. There are a lot of very good players in the squad but some may have to be replaced if Reading are going to produce the kind of performance Stam is aiming for. However the manger has to work with the players he has available and I am convinced Stam is very professional in the way he is working with his squad.
Credit needs to be given to the Reading fans who are finding this season so frustrating after last season’s success for not turning on their team or their manager. The drop in attendance hopefully is at least partially due to the option of watching the game live on Sky. It was also good to hear the Berkshire Radio commentary team keeping positive about the team's potential. It is going to be a long hard season but negativity is self-fulfilling.
This Championship game took place 175 days ago in the 2017/2018 season.