Reading 3 Watford 3 (17/08/2013) 18/08/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- I don’t like Reading. It’s something that’s difficult to explain or put a finger on, but the place riles me and always has. I make limited attempt to justify this position with good reason – football is full of such accidental or arbitrary prejudices, if you don’t have any and claim to be purely objective you’re missing out. But for what it’s worth… too many narky games, too many overlapping histories. A fairly innocuous league cup tie twenty years ago (where Reading fielded one “Neil” Hislop in goal) lead to a snipy conversation with a Reading fan which might be the basis of my position – since then, Lee Nogan getting Gibbo sent off at Elm Park. The Rodgers/Tommy Smith thing. The Attwell goal. Any number of annoying defeats here, although it’s been a reasonably successful away trip in recent years. And a sense of entitlement, a lack of humility from supporters of a side who’ve been built up from a much lower historical base. Our character may be tested in the same way before too long of course, we’ll probably fall short too. Nobody said I had to be even-handed.
This dislike of Reading remains unwavering and untarnished after this one, despite a charm offensive in the concourse echoing those recently observed at Brighton and Leicester. The catering staff are in yellow with “Vicarage Road, WD18″ road signs on their shirts and there’s at least one prominent TV screen showing our cup quarter-final win at Highbury in 1987. I’m not fooled, though. This is Reading, after all. It’s like the bloke next door who plays his music too loud, blocks your drive and dumps his gardening rubbish over your fence offering you a burger from his barbecue. You’d sniff it first.
2- Last week’s bizarre win over Bournemouth left us much to chew over, and the concerns suggested by the first half there were given more weight at the Madejski Stadium. A key distinction was that Reading got an early break – no luck involved here, Almunia’s punch under pressure falling to Le Fondre on the edge of the area whose perfect volley left the stranded keeper helpless. From there the gameplan was clear for Reading – sit back, deny us space to play in, hit us on the break. The loss of Vydra of no great significance here, then… against Bournemouth the lack of searing pace in our attack meant that they were confident enough to defend a high line. Here, Vydra would have been suffocated with everyone else. Possession wasn’t a problem, we had plenty of that and some of it in the final third. We didn’t look terribly like scoring though, whilst Reading when they broke were quick and sharp and looked like hurting us. The second came from a good set-piece… with Drenthe lining up to shoot Guthrie clipped a ball to Pearce at the far post, the big centre half nodding down to the excellent Karacan who converted at the second attempt. Suggestion of handball, appeals from our defenders but whatever… Reading were well worth a two goal lead.
We looked laboured and impotent. Easy to look that way against a team that’s basically stopping you from playing… but bad-tempered too. More sniping between defenders, Angella again a protagonist. Nobody likes being outplayed of course and perhaps we just hadn’t seen this group of players in that position very much… but not a happy camp anyway. Iriney was having little impact on the game, and Deeney in particular was uncharacteristically subdued. Tempting to read things into that which might not be fair or accurate, of course, but still…
3- It’s easy to paint the game as being of two halves. Actually, for the first fifteen minutes or so of the second period we looked perhaps even less likely to get back into the game… possession was suddenly being ceded cheaply as we struggled to up the pace and looked for ambitious passes. A recurring theme under Gianfranco Zola however has been that of continuous improvement; we saw it through much of last season, and within a game he’s proven himself capable of changing the lie of the land to our benefit. It helps to have such quality on the bench of course, and we’ll get to that. But no small credit is due to the manager here for a bold substitution that changed our shape subtly and gave Reading something else to think about. Reading fans will naturally focus on the contrast in their own team’s performance vs earlier in the game, but the R’s didn’t just “lose it”. Much of the game is psychological of course and as things started to run for us belief grew in our camp whilst doubts entered Reading minds on and off the pitch. Everyone who’s watched a football match has seen that before. But something had to start that ball rolling, something had to change the game and give us an edge. Sometimes it’s a lucky break, or a piece of individual skill…
4- …but on this occasion that something was the balletic Diego Fabbrini. Introduced for Iriney he played a floating role… pretty much wherever he wanted to be, but nominally at least just pushing up behind the front two with Abdi and McGugan a little more withdrawn. He took control of the game and got it playing to his tune… but whilst Nathaniel Chalobah would often achieve this last season as a conductor, waving his baton from the back of the midfield, Fabbrini was the Pied Piper, skipping and tripping along in perfect control of where he was and what was going on around him with the Reading rats trailing in his wake. He wasn’t involved in the moves that announced the change in tempo, Anya bursting down the left and clipping in a cross which Deeney got his head to, forcing a stunning reflex save from McCarthy… shortly afterwards, an Abdi corner from the left and another set piece, Faraoni bombing into the near post from a starting position close to the penalty spot to get us back in it. Reading bit back immediately, restoring their two goal margin with twenty minutes to go… but we were beginning to flow like a river around Reading’s increasingly desperate rearguard.
Even at 3-1 the notion that the game was over lasted about 30 seconds… the tremendous Faraoni’s wicked cross nearly found Fabbrini at the far post, poised for a scissor kick until Morrison crashed in to head over his own bar. Fabbrini then won a penalty, an elaborate tumble that had the away end looking sheepish and the home fans apoplectic but to Danny Guthrie’s credit he was to acknowledge the decision as correct later. Deeney pulls it back again. Then Acuña, on for Forestieri and a hurtly fearless thing – if still perhaps a yard off the pace – was clean through. Then he wasn’t, battered by the last man… referee Mike Jones had an erratic afternoon and bottled this one, perhaps influenced by doubt over the previous call. Eventually we got a lucky break that we probably deserved, a deflection falling for both Fabbrini and Doyley, the latter a force for good throughout, as so often… perhaps fortunately the Italian got the crucial, delicate touch.
5- Riproaring stuff again – there’s only been one, albeit crucial game in recent memory that a neutral could describe as “dull”, but as against Bournemouth, the outcome and the finish shouldn’t disguise our shortcomings. As the manager has highlighted, we need to be a lot quicker off the mark… peculiar that we should be starting so slowly when so many games, particularly early last season were characterised by us flying at the opposition like wild dogs. We need to be cuter against teams that can afford to just stop us from playing - albeit the set piece threat was manifest again, and that helps. And we need to either tighten up at the back or have a more obvious threat that scares opponents from committing forward.
Nonetheless… having been dominated for an hour away from home by one of the strongest sides in the division, and having completely failed to click in that period, we came back and earned a point. Guts and single-mindedness then… and when we hum my goodness we are beautiful. Bring on the Forest.