Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - Championship
READING 0 NEWCASTLE 0
On an evening of outstanding entertainment both teams can feel more than satisfied with their contribution to a game which ended goalless but lacked nothing else. United brought a huge following, as you would expect for a team surely destined for the Premier League next season, and a with good turn out from the home fans contributed to the kind of atmosphere which seems to inspire good football. Having beaten both of the teams immediately below them away from home in the past week or so, United were clearly going to provide the sort of opposition to test the Royals promotion credentials. United did indeed look a very good side, and a string of saves by Al Habsi was required to keep Reading on level terms by half time – not that Reading played badly. In the second half Reading looked the stronger side and came within a whisker of a remarkable victory in the last seconds of stoppage time when McCleary’s strike from the narrowest of angles hit the crossbar. In the end a draw was a fair result.
Once again Jaap Stam confounded many with his team selection leaving Swift, Williams, Popa and Beerens on the bench and bringing in McCleary, Mutch, Grabban and Kelly to the starting eleven. Newcastle started with leading scorer Gayle on the bench but still fielded a very strong starting eleven and looked menacing every time there broke out of their own half. Reading found the energy lacking in some recent games, competing for every ball and passing with greater urgency in attacking situations. Newcastle were hard to break down although Grabban missed an absolute sitter in the first minute heading wide when it looked easier to score. Al Habsi was called into action after seven minutes to scramble away Gouffran’s header. Shelvey demonstrated the quality of United’s squad breaking from midfield to play a one – two with Ritchie on the edge of the box before hitting a superb volley which Al Habsi did well to keep out. Reading’s defence was at full stretch at times and Al Habsi made further saves from Gouffran and Ritchie. Another Ritchie strike hit the inside of the post before ever vigilant McShane cleared the danger with Al Habsi stranded.
Kelly struggled in a very physical battle in midfield and was replaced by Williams at half time which probably also gave the Royals more drive going forward. McCleary had an outstanding second half starting with a sharp turn and fierce strike from outside the box which was deflected wide. Worryingly for Reading fans Moore, a key player in Reading’s success this season, limped off a mere three minutes in to second half. They need not have worried. Blackett moved into a central defence and Obita came in to fill his left back berth extremely effectively. As we have seem before Blackett looked far more comfortable in a more central defensive role. As the half wore on Reading took a stranglehold on the game and United’s substitutions made little difference to the pattern of play. Murphy tested Al Habsi with a well-placed header and McCleary hit another screamer from outside the box which was goal bound until deflected wide for a corner. Both teams were roared on by their fans and they responded well to produce a highly entertaining second half but neither side were in the mood to concede goals.
It was a game full of good play from two teams trying to play good football. Neither team indulged in the sort of negative play, cynical fouls, whingeing about decisions and cheating which seem to blight so many games. It was a match full of good honest endeavour and both teams were a credit to their respective clubs. With the final whistle approaching Williams went on a diagonal run which seemed to be taking him nowhere until he ran out of pitch and then deceived two United defenders in close attendance with a clever back-heeled pass which released McCleary for a run at goal from a wide position. MCleary’s shot from an acute angle brushed the crossbar with Darlow beaten. It would have been a spectacular way to end a fine game but it had been such a great game I don’t think anyone was too upset. It however might have given the thousands of home fans who amazingly left early when the game was so finely balanced and hugely entertaining something to think about. It makes me wonder what it takes to get fans to stay for the whole game, and who knows what a difference it might make to the team if their fans encouraged their to the very end of stoppage time.
Jaap Stam got his selection and tactics right again this evening but crucially Joey Van den Berg, Paul McShane, Al Habsi were at the top of their game throughout. Obita proved what a great full back he can be and McCleary had an absolutely brilliant second half. It was an important point gained for Reading, but the nature of the performance was of even greater significance. They really looked like a team heading for the play-offs tonight.
This Championship game took place 166 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.