On Reading’s opening home game of the new season, ultimately it was the build-up that was of more interest than the main event. At times it felt as if we had travelled to Reading but been transported to another part of the world.
First there was the Eurovision-esque Reading song together with accompanying music video which I hate to say was actually surprisingly catchy (there is already a love/hate relationship starting there). Then the shareholders made their grand entrance and lined the centre of the pitch as Sasima Srivikorn took centre stage to address the crowd. Sadly her speech was expectedly drowned out by the Leeds’ fans chants but it was nice to see her make the effort nonetheless. It was certainly something Anton Zingarevich would not have considered doing in a million years. As a fond farewell before they departed back to their box, each member came over to different parts of the crowd and threw out signed Reading footballs- a nice touch.
The best bit of all, however, were the pyrotechnics. Yes you read that right, PYROTECHNICS. It was a sight that one expects at concerts or big American Football games on the world stage. But no, here at Reading v Leeds we had pyrotechnics. None of it could be described as a necessity and it is certainly something we don’t see in English football even at the highest level. What can be said, however, is that it certainly helped create an atmosphere in the Madejski (at least for a few minutes). It is a shame, therefore, that the game itself could not live up to its build up.
There were only two changes made by Steve Clarke from the side that faced Colchester during the week. Jonathan Bond came in for Ali Al-Habsi in goal, while Jordan Obita replaced Andrew Taylor in the starting line-up. Uwe Rosler, meanwhile, made six changes to his side after their Capital One Cup defeat to Doncaster Rovers on Thursday.
“My players dug deep to get the result. We had fantastic support from our supporters- they realise the schedule we have and we are desperate to give them something back.”- Leeds Manager, Uwe Rosler
The game was by and large underwhelming with chances very much at a premium, but had a decision in the second minute gone the correct way then things could have been a lot different. Hal Robson-Kanu was in on goal before Leeds Captain Sol Bamba dangerously and wildly hacked the Reading midfielder down. It was a tackle that was ultimately punished with a yellow card, but the Reading players, fans and later even the Leeds’ Manager himself all felt that it was a red card offence. This decision was the first of many that referee Christopher Kavanagh seemed to get wrong on the day and it is hopefully an experience he will learn from for the sakes of those involved in the future games he referees.
Thinking back on the game, it is very difficult to remember any particular chances that stand out (or in fact any chances for either side at all). The game was very stop-start, with fouls not being given one way and then miraculously given to the opposition just a few seconds later. It also seemed as if a lot of effort was being put in by both teams but to no avail. Reading did seem to rely less upon their past “hoof-and-hope” approach, however, with more attempts to pass the ball on the ground a welcome sight.
The predictable issue arose in the final third. Orlando Sa showed some great promise in holding up the ball but there is only so long that you can retain possession on your own against an entire Leeds defence. The Reading striker also found it difficult, more often than not, to win the ball from the impressively bulky Bamba in aerial battles; Something that would not have been an issue for the home side had the card colour been different early on. Due to the lack of wingers in the squad at the moment Sa also often found himself on the wing, subsequently leaving limited options in the box. Until Reading get the likes of Garath McCleary, Tariqe Fosu and Paolo Hurtado in the squad and up to match fitness, you feel it is an area that they will continue to struggle in.
This being said there were a few chances, albeit none that were clear cut. Orlando Sa potentially had the best, with his attempt from the left only finding the side netting. Jordan Obita also had a late chance with a free-kick but his effort was lacking any real pace and was saved fairly comfortably by Marco Silvestri in the Leeds goal.
Leeds had a few chances themselves. Stuart Dallas had a couple of chances in the first half but his early shot was gathered by Jonathan Bond and his latter back-post header flew over the bar. Their best chance, however, fell to Chris Wood whose impressive dipping half-volley also flew just over. In a game where both sides only managed to accumulate four shots on target between them, there was little for Silvestri and Bond to do in either goal.
The match will certainly not be remembered for the quality of football on show but instead for how football can bring people together. It was announced earlier this week that Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan is currently undergoing chemotherapy after having a tumour removed from his bladder. Following a Twitter campaign and the subsequent creation of #21ForDolan, over 20,000 fans rose to their feet on the 21st minute of the game to give him a standing ovation. It was a touching moment and one that will have certainly made people proud of the game they support.
“But the positives are another clean sheet and that the team was solid, and it’s one point more than we had out of these two fixtures last year. I know it’s only a small crumb, but it’s a fact”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
One thing that Reading fans have become adept at is finding the positives in disappointing situations (maybe it is something that Nigel Adkins instilled prior to his departure). Offensively everyone is aware that Reading are currently not up to scratch. Having central-midfielders like Danny Williams operating on the wings isn’t currently working, despite his infallible work rate, but Clarke has little option until he has more players at his disposal.
The area of the pitch that is currently looking impressive, however, is the defence. With the pace of Chris Gunter and Jordan Obita on the flanks, the strength of Paul McShane and a revitalised Anton Ferdinand in the centre and the added option of Michael Hector on the bench, Reading have a defence to be envied. When little is being created at the other end, however, the increased pressure on the back four is not welcomed.
One player that I feel I must highlight, however, is Robson-Kanu. Every fan will be aware of the ever consistent turmoil surrounding the Wales International and I try to remain optimistic that he will be able to demonstrate the form that he is able to summon for his country for Reading, but he is yet to impress. I know it is early in the season and I know that he has just returned from injury, but apart from his early run, he just seemed to become increasingly lethargic on the wing. Offensively he didn’t break with much pace (especially when compared to the zippy Obita) and defensively he struggled to keep up when Leeds countered. As for the foul count, I think the number of free-kicks conceded must have outweighed the number of passes completed.
This being said, it is clear that there is certainly a foundation to build upon. The calibre of players now (and soon) at the club on paper makes for impressive reading. What is yet to be seen, however, is how the group will gel and how effectively they will be able to create chances in the final third as the season goes on. While it is too soon to judge the potential outcome of the season, you can sense that if Clarke is not able to entice a striker by the end of the window the end product will continue to be hard to come by.
All in all, the performance was not overly inspiring but it saw Reading get their first point on the board. The Reading of last season would have probably held on until the final few minutes and then conceded a goal to the dismay of the home crowd. Being able to keep a clean sheet at home is at least progress. Now all the Royals need to do is start scoring goals. Easy enough. Right?…