Poor. Disappointing. Frustrating. Unlucky. Just some of the words being used to describe Reading’s draw at home to Cardiff on Saturday afternoon. Prior to kick-off, fans were optimistic that the team would be able to allay relegation fears by taking all three points at the Madejski. For the majority of the game it looked like the Royals would do exactly that. It was, however, not to be as Conor McAlney swept home one of Cardiff’s few chances to snatch victory from Reading’s grasp in added time.
Steve Clarke made two enforced changes to the starting lineup following Reading’s last Championship game against Charlton. Danny Williams and Nathaniel Chalobah were both out through suspension and injury respectively. Hope Akpan was subsequently brought back into the side while Nathan Ake joined him in central midfield, making his Royals debut.
Reading got off to a great start, finding the net after only four minutes. A cross in from the left wing found Garath McCleary in the centre, who headed it down for Pavel Pogrebnyak to finish. It was the Russian’s third goal in two matches, and gave the Royals a fully deserved lead early on.
Cardiff struggled to get any time on the ball, with Reading having plenty of time to pass it between themselves at the back. Despite dominating the possession stats, Reading struggled to increase their lead any further. Some miscommunication between Alex Pearce and Michael Hector at a corner squandered the best chance of a second goal in the first half. Jamie Mackie and McCleary had further chances, but neither could find the target. Going into half-time, Reading were ahead but only by the single goal.
“It’s a game that we should have finished off long before they equalised.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
The second-half started as the first ended, with Reading seemingly on top. Cardiff began to find their way back into the game, with Reading starting to become a little scrappy in possession. Passing the ball around the back four in the first half was not an overwhelming concern, but Cardiff began to pressure the Reading defence more in the second half. Pearce in particular seemed to struggle when the ball was played back to him under pressure, with clearances on several occasions failing to find any target up front. Cardiff came close with a Craig Noone shot being stopped only by an Adam Federici dive.
After the hour mark, Clarke made his first change with new loan signing Kwesi Appiah making his first appearance for the club in place of the in-form Mackie. With Mackie justifiably becoming increasingly incensed by poor refereeing decisions, this was probably the best choice to make. Reading’s best opportunity of the second half fell to the Ghana international when he was found in plenty of space in the box, but only managed to find David Marshall in goal. Michael Hector also failed to score, when his point-blank effort cannoned off the crossbar.
The turning point, arguably, came with the substitution of McCleary in the 74″ minute. McCleary was performing well and had the speed to effectively nullify any threat that Fabio posed to the Reading side. The problem arose when Garath picked up what looked like a knock to his left ankle, which resulted in him having to be substituted. Oliver Norwood was brought on in his place, and Clarke subsequently changed the formation to a 4-5-1 with Appiah taking his place on the right wing. It can safely be said that Reading have failed to make this formation work effectively every time it has been deployed this season, and this did not change in the latter part of this game.
Reading suddenly became very defensive, with Pogrebnyak struggling to hold onto the ball up front with little support. Appiah looked promising when he came on up front, but his shift to the wing meant that Reading were not as effective or threatening up front. Cardiff, subsequently, began to threaten more towards the closing stages of the game. They were to get a late equaliser courtesy of McAlney whose first time finish found the back of the net.
“I thought we grew into the game and we kept going. We stayed in it and it was really worth it when we got that late goal.”- Cardiff Manager Russell Slade
The point sees Reading stay in 19th position in the league, nine points ahead of Millwall in 22nd. The Royals do still have a game in hand over their league rivals, so Reading fans are optimistic that relegation will be avoided as early as possible. With bottom placed Blackpool to come on Tuesday, they will be hoping to go one better than they did today.
Even though the result was disappointing, there were some positive performances from a number of the Reading players. Ake in particular showed moments of promise in his debut game for the side, despite it being fairly compact in the centre of the field. Michael Hector once again impressed at the back, at times even playing as far forward as Reading’s wingers. Jordan Obita also had a great game, both defensively and offensively, with one stunning moment of skill down the left wing late on in the second half being a particular highlight. Despite only featuring as a sub, Appiah looks like a promising talent. Although he missed some great chances, he will hopefully continue to get into scoring positions and become more clinical as he gets more game time.
With the likes of Blackburn, Bournemouth and Arsenal coming up in the next four games, Reading will be keen to take all three points against Blackpool next time out. The Royals will have to be clinical, however, with several wasted chances being their downfall this time out.