Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - Championship
READING 2 CARDIFF 1
Reading: J Swift (42), Y Kermorgant (60)
Cardiff: J Ralls (pen 45)
Yann Kermorgant's superbly struck free-kick was a worthy winner in a match which hung in the balance until the very end. Having taken the lead through Swift just before half time, the Royals were pegged back when a rare spell of pressure from City produced a penalty in first half stoppage time which Ralls converted. Reading regained the lead on sixty minutes through Kermorgant's strike and then withstood the footballing equivalent of The Blitz as City launched an incessant aerial bombardment from corners and long throw-ins. In spite of City’s considerable physical presence in the box, with McShane, Moore, and Kermorgant on duty, Al Habsi's goal was well protected and Reading saw out the final phase of the game to claim another valuable three points.
As expected City initially sat deep and allowed Reading to play across midfield and dominate possession. There were a few raised eyebrows at Jaap Stam’s decision to start without a recognised left back preferring to switch Gunter to the left and play McCleary as a wing back on the right. With City playing so deep Reading looked comfortable with only McShane, Moore and Van den Berg at the back. McCleary got forward to good effect and created an excellent chance beating the City full back and crossing low to the feet of Williams who inexplicably attempted to control the ball instead of burying it and the chance was lost. In a rare excursion into Reading’s half Ralls hit the post after Reading failed to clear the ball with poor defensive headers. Swift hit a bad patch and gave the ball away repeatedly which relieved the pressure on the City defence. Fortunately Reading were so dominant it made little difference to the pattern of play. As half time approached Van den Berg had to be replaced by Blackett due to a hamstring injury which will certainly keep him out for a while. Just when it seemed Reading would have nothing to show from their first half dominance McCleary, playing with a lot of freedom, popped up to produce an outstanding improvised pass to create the opening goal. Williams drove forward and lashed a long range strike which McGregor could only parry. As the ball ran away from goal McCleary wrong-footed the entire City defence instinctively backheeling the ball into the path of Swift who obliged by sliding the ball into the net from close range.
That should have been enough to give Reading the advantage at half time. City may have lacked creativity but they were dangerous form set pieces. On half time Kermorgant was caught on the ball and conceded a free-kick in a clumsy attempt to regain possession. Failing to clear the ball resulted in Morrison being fouled by Moore as he went for the ball in front of goal. Ralls beat Al Habsi with the spot kick but only just as the ball slipped under the Reading 'keeper's dive.
At the start of the second half City, aided by some sloppy play from Reading, had more of the ball. Reading briefly seemed to lose their shape in midfield. Swift was not having his usual impact and Stam wisely replaced him with Evans. On the hour Kermorgant was fouled on the edge of the box and exacted full retribution demonstrating typically good technique with a bending strike which curled inside the post giving McGregor no chance. Reading were now in full flow. Kermorgant took the ball round the ‘keeper but wide of goal and it was disappointing to see there was no-one waiting in the middle to benefit from his efforts. McCleary lead a breakaway but as he tends to in such situations spent so long weighing up his options he lost the ball. The game had opened up and when Kelly handled outside the box it took a good save from Al Habsi to keep out Hoilett’s free kick. Reading proceeded to show the other show the other side of their game seeing the game out with some uncompromising defensive play leaving the energetic Kelly up front on his own to chase lost causes. Ultimately City had little to offer other than high balls into the box and Reading were in no mood to let that bother them.
City today work well organised, and unusually for a Warnock side, well disciplined. Warnock himself was uncharacteristically composed restricting himself to just one major tantrum. Today however belonged to Reading. Moore and McShane were in excellent form again, winning all the fifty-fifty challenges and using the ball well going forward. Kelly has become a crucial player in midfield. He was outstanding again today because he sees things a fraction earlier than everyone else. That ability, combined with his sharp acceleration and eye for a pass makes him very hard to pin down and to play against. Above all Reading have learned under Jaap Stam how to win games. Surely the paly-offs are in his thought now even if he refuses to talk about it.
This Championship game took place 150 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.