A Bournemouth victory was the expected result prior to the game, especially with many assuming that Reading would name a much changed team. With a near full-strength team put out by the Reading manager and having matched Bournemouth in every department, however, the Royals deserved to come away with at least a point. Instead, the Cherries managed to scrape a 1-0 victory despite a nervy late spell of pressure from Reading. Bournemouth have now secured their place in the play-offs, with their sights now set on the title and automatic promotion. Reading, meanwhile, are still not guaranteed to avoid relegation but are edging ever closer to safety.
Clarke was expected to make several changes to his side leading up to the cup game at the weekend against Arsenal but only opted with the one. Pavel Pogrebnyak was taken out of the squad and Jordan Obita returned to the starting lineup after his absence from the last game having accumulated nine yellow cards. Following the criticism Clarke got for fielding a weaker team against Watford, the Reading manager chose to honour the title chase this time out by putting out a stronger side. The absence of Pogrebnyak did mean a reshuffle, with Jamie Mackie playing up front on his own, Jordan Obita in left midfield and a central midfield three of Hal Robson-Kanu, Nathaniel Chalobah and Jem Karacan. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe named an unchanged team following their victory last time out against Brighton, with Matt Ritchie deemed fit enough to keep his place despite a shin injury.
The game started sweetly for the Cherries, with their top scorer Callum Wilson finding the net after only four minutes in slightly lucky circumstances. Andrew Surman’s shot found the upright before rebounding into Wilson’s path, who had time to control the ball before putting it in the net. It was the best possible start for the visitors, who were expected to go on and get a few more before the game was through. Bournemouth continued to string passes together for the first period of the half, with Reading struggling to make any impact on the game. With Mackie often pulling out wide to receive the ball, and with four defenders to cope with, it was often difficult for the Royals to make any leeway in the final third if given a chance.
“We deserved at least a draw, we were competitive, but sometimes football is like that.”– Reading Assistant Manager Kevin Keen
Reading did however slowly claw their way back into the game, with a Mackie volley being stopped emphatically by Artur Boruc in the Bournemouth goal after eighteen minutes. Michael Hector also saw a header blocked by Andrew Surman before Obita sliced his follow up shot wide. The Royals could have been 2-0 down before the break if a Yann Kermorgant header had found its target, but luckily for Reading the ball looped just past the far post. Reading were on top for the latter part of the first half, but once again they were not clinical with their chances.
Neither side threatened at the beginning of the second half, but as time went on the away side were looking the more threatening once more. Ritchie produced the best effort, seeing a curling shot from the corner of the box just going over the top of the bar. Steve Cook also saw his volley from the edge of the area collected by Adam Federici in the Reading goal, after Reading failed to effectively deal with a Ritchie corner.
Hector and Wilson, who were both booked early in the game for a flare-up, were to clash again late on in the game. Both went for a ball with Wilson stooping to head the ball, and Hector choosing to boot it away. Hector was emphatically accused of a high boot by the Bournemouth players and fans in the away end, but it was clear to referee Keith Stroud and his two assistants that the Reading defender had in fact got the ball. Alex Pearce did not escape a booking and was booked for dissent.
As the game came to a close, Reading were constantly on the attack and looked the more likely to score. In what were a nervy fifteen minutes for the away fans, Robson-Kanu had the first chance but his shot went horribly wide. Substitute Yakubu also had a great chance to score, if only he managed to hit the ball. Bournemouth defended resolutely, dropping deeper as the final whistle approached, and Reading simply could not force the ball home despite some stellar encouragement from the home fans.
“We showed a terrific mentality to our defending. We put our bodies on the line, we were very brave. You need all those hallmarks, it can’t always be about the football that we play.”– AFC Bournemouth Manager Eddie Howe
The result left Reading fans once again commenting on the lack of a clinical striker, with the Royals struggling in that area. Despite the lack of goals up front, there were some fantastic performances from a number of Reading players. Michael Hector was once again outstanding, and is becoming one of Reading’s key players. When looking at how he comparitively struggled at the beginning of the season, it is great to see how far he has come and how he continues to improve. Man of the Match Nathan Ake continued to impress during his loan spell with the side, looking like he is enjoying his current role at left-back. Fans will be hoping that Clarke will be able to secure his services for next season, along with his Chelsea counterpart Chalobah.
One player that Reading fans were disappointed with was Robson-Kanu, who received an underwhelming ovation following his substitution after eighty minutes. As Reading’s top-scorer in the FA Cup, the Welshman will be looking to prove people wrong if chosen by Clarke on Saturday by finding the net once more.
With only a matter of days to go until Reading take on Arsenal in the FA Cup Semi-Final, the Royals would have hoped to be going into it with a better run of form. Arsenal, meanwhile, are unbeaten in eight league games in a row and are currently second in the Premiership. The statistics are certainly against the Royals, but in the FA Cup anything can happen and Reading will be hoping they can be the giant-killers this time around.