Reading FC Match Report: 2012/2013 Season - Premier League


Reading: --
West Brom: Lukaku (71 mins).

It’s not all glitz and glamour in the Premier League. A visit to The Hawthorns, tucked away amongst the scrap yards and derelict factories of the Black Country, is enough to bring the most starry-eyed down to earth. And it is with a huge ‘bump’ that Reading have landed bottom of the pile after only 4 games of the season, the first time we have propped up the rest of the pack in any league since the Bullivant/Burns relegation of 15 years ago. Ponderous in defence, off the pace in midfield and toothless up front; the writing looks to be on the wall for this Reading side in much the same way that the ‘class of 97’ seemed to be dead men walking right from the opening salvos of our final season at Elm Park.

In the bleak West Midlands, West Brom and Reading served up a quite forgettable first half. Garath McLeary manufactured his own half-chance with an overhead effort which barely caused Foster to break sweat on a sunny day. Indeed, Foster would hardly get his gloves dirty for the rest of the afternoon, such was the shot-shy nature of Reading’s display. At the other end, McCarthy retained his place in goal and made a good low save to keep out the excellent James Morrison. The young ‘keeper put in a good display throughout the game, repeating the trick by denying the Baggies play-maker with a stunning stop early in the second half. Federici is currently out of favour/injured depending on who you choose to believe and provided McCarthy continues to perform competently then the Aussie can sit sulking on the bench or in the stands.

That early half chance apart, McLeary utterly failed to impose himself on the game in the first half and with captain marvel McAnuff failing to function effectively on the other flank, Reading resorted to long balls pumped up to Pogrebnyak and his estranged strike-partner Le Fondre who linked up with all the understanding of a divorced couple. Rather than using ALF’s mobility to play off the shoulder of the last man and anticipate the rare occasions on which Pogrebnyak managed to win the ball in the air or hold it up effectively, Reading’s game plan seemed to consist of getting it forward and away from danger as quickly as possible and feeding off the scraps. Even more frustratingly, with Reading 1 down in the closing stages and with Noel Hunt having replaced the ineffective Russian, the use of the long ball became even more prevalent to two sub-six footers up front.

The best chance of a drab first half came when Olsson’s header came back off a post at a corner following a desperate Gunter clearance when the Albion debutant was played in behind our weezing back four. Thankfully, proceedings livened up somewhat in the second half. ALF found himself surging clear of the Albion back line and was only denied by a suspiciously high-looking boot. Reading were at last looking a lot more likely and a Shorey freekick was floated just wide of Foster’s far post. The set piece delivery on the day was barely good enough and you feel that the quality of our free kicks and corners will be crucial to our chances of staying in the Premier League.

It is the sign of a struggling team when you concede following your best period of the game. Chris Gunter failed to deal with the attentions of Shane Long following a deep cross into the box and the bits-and-pieces were mopped up by Lukaku who had room to manoeuvre and strike the ball through three sluggish pairs of Reading legs and under the unsighted McCarthy. Reading were willing if not particularly able to get back into the game in those last 20 minutes and a decent cross from the improved McLeary was headed over narrowly by Robson-Kanu at the far stick. It would be easy to say ‘if only Pogrebnyak had still be on the pitch’ when that chance came and went, but given the leaden-footed display by our big summer signing it is doubtful that he would have been in the right place at the right time in any case. McAnuff had a couple of half-hearted penalty shouts but no-one, least of all referee Foy, was listening to his bleating.

And so we failed to score for the first time this season and lost for the 8th time in 9 league visits to a graveyard ground for us. But frankly if we continue to perform like this then every visiting ground will be a difficult venue for us. Our success in the Championship was based around closing teams down quickly in midfield and getting the ball wide. But we’re back in the Big Time now and players so effective last season look off the pace and overwhelmed already. Sure, we started last season in similarly poor form but it is a hell of a lot easier to shake yourself out of a rut in the Championship when the quality of opposition isn’t as clinical as the likes of Jermain Defoe and Romelu Lukaku.

Reading need to get back to what they are best at; getting in the face of the opposition and using their pace down the flanks to create chances. Kebe’s imminent return will make a difference. But we need to be a lot more sophisticated in what we do in possession. Guthrie makes a difference with some rare ability and composure on the ball but with a crop of forward players unable to fashion a good attempt at goal from a half chance such as Lukaku did then we will be struggling to score goals until at least January. And perhaps beyond.
Man of the match: McCarthy.
Neil Maskell

This Premier League game took place 2840 days ago in the 2012/2013 season.