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Reading 3 Watford 3 (17/08/2013) 18/08/2013

Posted 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.


1. Ben Smith - 18/08/2013

Great analysis as usual. Has any one else heard the rumour that Man are considering lending us Ashley Young for 2 months to help improve his fitness / confidence after a difficult season? Good if true, heard it from two usually trustworthy guys close to the club.

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2013

Ha. Not heard that one. That’ll keep me grinning for a day or two, even if it’s nonsense.

2. Keith Hannigan - 18/08/2013

Good write up of you 1001st match. Two personnel questions, one short term, one long:

1. Do you start Fabrinni against Forrest and, if so, who for? Forestieri has worked hard and played well in every League game so far. Would it be prudent or fair to replace him? Alternatively, do you dare to start with Iriney on the bench and go with the attacking formation Zola used in the second half, with Fabrinni playing in front of Abdi/McGugan and behind the two forwards? That would be fun but would leave the back three really exposed. I don’t think Zola will do it.

2. On the subject of the back three, you can’t really say that it’s sorted yet, can you? Angella has been generally excellent although there were moments yesterday when he was outpaced. Neither Casetti nor Ekstrand have inspired confidence yet. Doyley, of course, but . . . So, the question is, when Reading comes to the Vic in January, assuming that all our defenders are more or less healthy and develop as you hope they do, who do you want starting at the back? For me, perhaps engaging more in wishing than realism, it’s Angella, Belkalem and Hoban.

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2013

I think you have to start Fabbrini against Forest. Starting without Iriney would be bold, particularly with the McGugan factor… you need him to be particularly disciplined without Iriney behind him and I wonder if that can be assumed against his old club. Forestieri for me, assuming that Deeney’s head’s in the right place.

Saying Cassetti and Ekstrand haven’t inspired confidence is harsh, particularly on Ekstrand who played a half yesterday and looked as if he picked up a knock early on. I have some sympathy with your ideal formation though… Belkalem is already the best player in the world in my head, and Hoban’s pace would certainly be useful on the left as cover for Anya.

3. Dorset Hornet - 18/08/2013

Matt, I too share your dislike of Reading and really not sure why. They seem to have no class, their supporters have the baying fury of a newly promoted side with none of the humility of last year’s failure. I was two seats away from our right hand boundary and after we pulled it back it felt like a win. I’m 50 and went all sweary! What’s that all about when you arrive at an away ground and they’re playing your videos; seems weird and unwanted. OK for Brighton to do it but not Reading!

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2013

normally I’d approve of that sort of thing. but you can’t bring yourself to trust Reading.

4. Tim Turner - 18/08/2013

I think your last point is the crucial one. This time last season, our ambition clearly outstripped our abilities, and it took a couple of months for the results to come.

This year, even though some of the new imports are clearly still coming to terms with English football, we’ve started with two wins and a battling draw away at a team that is likely to be there or thereabouts at the sharp end of the season. Once this team starts gelling, we’re going to scare the bejasus out of a lot of teams in this division.

5. Roger Smith - 18/08/2013

Surely Fabbrini must start on Sunday, but for whom? How was Faraoni defensively? According to 3CR, the Reading ploy was to play quick ball wide, before our wing backs could get back. This created space in the middle by drawing the back three out of position.

I’d be more comfortable with Pudil on the left and Anya on the right, with Fabbrini sitting in behind Deeney and Acuña.

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2013

Faraoni isn’t someone I’d contemplate leaving out. Anya gets much more exposed defensively and asks a lot of whoever’s on the left of the three, but offers so much going forward that you have to forgive him that. For me the solution is to be much snappier and sharper in possession such that the attacking threat offered by Faraoni and Anya is more significant than the weak point of the formation. That wasn’t the case for much of yesterday.

I like Pudil, but he’s very much the backup of the wingbacks now for me. He’s very fit, but gets caught frequently and makes bad decisions when he is.

6. hornetboy84 - 18/08/2013

never been able to detest reading – its palarse and qprse all the way for me since 1980 .. no obvious reason either.

0n thunk 5 – the obvious threat we are missing is vydra is it not ?
.. or we have to be looking to get more of a “3 ” up front more quickly – so \i would like to see Fessi play wide left to add that threat if Fabrini and Deeney start against Forest.

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2013

I think we miss other team’s fear of Vydra’s pace in particular, which stopped opponents from defending a high line and committing forward even when he wasn’t scoring goals.

4-3-3 with Fabbrini floating behind sounds fun, but you’d still want to accommodate Anya which would be difficult in that formation – not much pace in the side otherwise. If you want Fabbrini AND Fessi AND Deeney then you probably play as we did for much of the second half with Fabbrini in the advanced midfield position.

Andy73 - 19/08/2013

It was certainly “love at first sight” for me with Fabbrini! What a sublime and intelligent player – constantly searching out the ball and linking the play, having invariably skipped past the first challenge. In four ‘part’ games (including that competitive Granada game) he’s scored two and won two pens, so there’s end product too.

Yes, Vydra’s pace frightened defenders, but with Fabbrini in the mix we have more variety to our attacking threat… Bournemouth played a high line, Reading sat deep… it didn’t matter when we attack with real purpose and trust in our ability to retain possession in tight spaces.

For Forest, I’d start with Deeney and Acuna up top with Fabb as the floater. Fessi coming on probably for Acuna, with Iriney and Battocchio as second half sub options to lock-out any potential Forest comeback!

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

Fabbrini looks fabulous – although Abdi’s post-match interview suggests he needs to do some physical work. But difficult to argue that we have more variety without Vydra’s pace. The threat of his pace combined with the ability to pass teams to death when they defended deep to counter that pace was a pretty damn unplayable variety last season.

7. Lanterne Rouge - 19/08/2013

I don’t want to rise to the bait and will admit that Reading fans are quite confident this summer – perhaps overly so – but I am yet to hear the opinion of a single Watford fan who dosn’t think you are going to win the League so you can’t call us arrogant!!! I’m sure Saturday’s even game will have made a few stop and think that it might not be all that much of a cakewalk – although I still think the ‘Orns will win it.

My Dad – a Reading fan – said that Fabbrini looked ludicrously good.

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

Where you’re going wrong, LR, is in assuming that my position needs to be rational or even-handed. It doesn’t, and isn’t.

The comment about Reading fans was reflective of a general feel of the place over several years. You’re quite right that Watford fans are extremely confident, and I think I acknowledged in my piece that we may end up with the same criticisms being justly leveled at us.

One difference is, of course, that we ARE going to win it. 🙂

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

…further, whilst Watford fans are confident I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions that it will be a cakewalk. Context is everything… this is not a team or a fanbase that is used to having teams expected to do well. Arguably not since the Vialli season ten years ago have we been expected to do well in a season, or to be challenging. The knowledge that we will be up there is cause for excitement. Although I think we’ll win it, too.

petebradshaw - 19/08/2013

Sadly the Vialli season is now TWELVE years ago…

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

Sad in some respects. Not in others.

8. Smudger Jnr - 19/08/2013

Just a quick point firstly to point out it wasn’t the ref that called the penalty, it was the Lino forcing his hand. Wouldn’t have given it on his own. And it’s worth remembering that a similar situation had just happend at the other end, Brown lunging in the box without touching the ball or man, but with a leg clearly available to go over, but the opportunity wasn’t taken. I wouldn’t have complained, probably, if that were given, and would have been game over.

On the formation, i think Forrestieri is ideally suited to a forward left in a 4-3-3, with Fabbrini forward right. I think this formation may also suit Murray as one of the forwards. Troy is ideal for the CF in this formation. Iriney, Abdi and McGugan in the mid 3. Totally agree that It would not suit Anya, which would be a real shame, as he’s probably my favourite player at the moment.

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

Don’t think I suggested otherwise re who called the pen. My thinking was that the linesman called the pen, the ref accepted his judgement but perhaps with a doubt in his mind and this influenced his decision two minutes later.

I’d forgotten the Brown incident, although I don’t remember it being in the area. Looked a bad challenge from our distance tho, hearts certainly in mouths. Difficult to compare the incidents tho, Fabbrini’s tumble was elaborate but I don’t think he chose to go over an outstretched limb, it was a clumsy trip as he went past. He was inviting such a challenge of course, but that’s why you commit defenders. So… maybe we were lucky that Brown didn’t connect, but I don’t think that casts any other light on the outcome. We had a strong pen call denied and other “what if” situations too.

Brown was interesting… for the most part he looked strong and confident, and comfortable in possession. On that one occasion however he played a hospital pass into the midfield and lunged in to try to correct his mistake. Concentration might be an issue.

Andy73 - 19/08/2013

I didn’t really celebrate the award of our pen because it looked like a blatant dive (fair play to Guthrie for admitting the trip afterwards). Obviously it was one of those you had to be behind to see the contact and the lino was perfectly placed for that.
So, the ref should trust that his assistant got it right and not be influenced by his “doubt” for the Acuna foul. The obligatory straight-red might have also been a factor in the non-award decision.

Still, given we were something like net -10 for pens last season, +2 so far is an encouraging sign.

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

yup, he bottled it as I suggested above.

9. Harefield Hornet - 19/08/2013

Great credit to the big travelling support in the 2nd half. Reminded me of when were on the rise under GT the first time round but with Luther Blisset sitting just behind me instead of being on the pitch and smoke flares instead of ticket tape!

10. Andrew J - 19/08/2013

Best away noise I can remember was at St Andrews on Easter Monday 1999, on our way to the Prem. Chant of “Elton John’s Taylor Made Army” commenced at the start of the second half, and didn’t stop until our second goal went in some 15 minutes later. Hopefully we will hear something similar at some stage this season.

11. Lanterne Rouge - 19/08/2013

I must admit that the one thing that is giving me the shivers is the endangerement of the Royals’ 106 points record and the way it allows us – correctly or not – to describe ourselves as the best team to ever play at this level. Finishing 8th the following year backs that up although two drab nil nils with the Hornets perhaps don’t!

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

Ha. We’ll worry about Forest on Sunday first, that 106 point record is some way off at the moment.

12. NickB - 19/08/2013

Nobody’s picked up the bait on your Deeney comments, Matt.
Please elaborate; are you saying his agent’s playing silly buggers? If his head’s wrong at this juncture we may as well all give up, because January could be a bloodbath.

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2013

I’ve got no greater insight than anyone else Nick. It just struck me as perhaps significant that he was unusually quiet after a week in which, perhaps for the first time, Prem club have come knocking. It may be pure coincidence of course, just a good marking job by Reading that few others have managed but I find it inconceivable that with his recent record he won’t get offers. Assuming we keep him, I’m less concerned about January… you’d like to think we’ll be at least strongly challenging at that stage and the temptation to leave might be less acute.

13. Lesley-Anne - 20/08/2013

To be fair to Deeney, Matt, I found myself thinking at half time against Bournemouth that he was having a very quiet game!!!!

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