“You come to a place full of confidence after a big home win and we had to be at our best to control the attacking threat. We had to be patient as playing against ten men isn’t easy.”- Derby Manager Paul Clement
“I’m devastated with the result tonight, because we’ve been on a really good run. And when your run ends, you want it to end in the right way. It didn’t end in the right way tonight. We made a mistake, we went down to ten men and it’s cost us dearly.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
Following their heroic performance on Friday evening against Ipswich, Reading were going to be brought back down to earth at some point. Royals fans will be disappointed how soon this came about, however, as they saw their side suffer a narrow 1-0 defeat against Derby on Tuesday evening. Orlando Sa, who was the star of the show for all the right reasons only a few days ago, was the stand-out this time around for all the wrong reasons. His first-half red card arguably cost Reading the game and the repercussions of his actions will soon be seen in games to come.
Steve Clarke named a relatively unchanged side from the one that defeated Ipswich 5-1 on Friday evening, with Michael Hector coming in for Anton Ferdinand being the only change to be made. Derby, meanwhile, made three changes to their side who beat Preston North End with Scott Carson, Craig Forsyth and Jeff Hendrick coming in for Lee Grant, Stephen Warnock and Chris Baird.
Full of confidence, Reading were the brighter of the two sides from the off. Derby were defending deep which, however, made life incredibly difficult for the home side. Reading fans were in full voice for large parts of the first half and the players reciprocated in part. Nick Blackman had the first of Reading’s opportunities when his shot from thirty yards out was pushed wide by goalkeeper Carson. Stephen Quinn was next with his effort only being dragged wide and Oliver Norwood, looking to replicate his goal from Friday, saw his powerful attempt from distance being turned around the post. Down the other end, Jacob Butterfield had the best opportunity to score but some impressive last ditch defending from Michael Hector and Paul McShane kept the ball away from the Reading net.
It was an off the ball incident just before half-time, however, that was to overshadow the evening’s events. As I did not have a good view of the incident myself it is difficult to comment, but apparently Orlando Sa was awarded a straight red card for moving his head towards Jason Shackell, who received a yellow card for his part. Throughout the first-half it was clear that Sa was getting increasingly aggravated due to both the provocations of the Derby players towards him and the lack of support from his fellow Reading players when looking to pressure the opposition. Frustration can make you do stupid things and clearly it got the better of the striker on this occasion. With Reading having to play against an already compact Derby side from here on in with just ten men, the task was a difficult one to say the least.
Knowing that they would have the advantage in the second half, Derby started the brighter of the two sides in the second half. It was almost as if Clarke had resigned himself to holding out for a draw and little was happening on an attacking basis for the home side. Cyrus Christie had one effort for the Rams which curled just wide of the top corner before Blackman once again threatened Carson’s goal from the right on the hour.
The almost inevitable goal came in the sixty-ninth minute when Tom Ince worked the ball round the Reading defenders and toed the ball past an outstretched Jonathan Bond. If one was being critical, Bond could probably have done better with the effort but Derby were able to pull the defence open in a way the home side were unable to in the first half.
Reading were not giving up without a fight but despite the dogged determination from everyone out on the pitch, the chances just weren’t going their way. Norwood had another effort from distance that went wide, while Blackman’s set piece went flying over the bar. Blackman in particular was looking tired towards the end, having to play as a winger and striker simultaneously due to the sending off, and Reading were somewhat over-reliant upon him to create the spark.
Craig Forsyth came close to making it two for Derby when his effort from the left hand side narrowly went over the bar. The best chance of the half for Reading to equalise fell to Hal Robson-Kanu, on for Stephen Quinn. The ball fell to the Wales international in the box but his header from the centre of the box went over the bar. His international colleague Chris Gunter had another opportunity to score when Garath McCleary, on in place of Tshibola, chipped a ball into his path only for it to be volleyed over the goal.
It was a frustrating day for a Reading side that, based on their first half performance, were fully capable of beating a strong Derby side. Derby were happy to sit behind the ball for large periods and frustrate their opposition without overly threatening at the other end. Only when Sa was sent off did they start to attack the home side more and really look dangerous. It was clear that the Rams had done their homework; Blackman was always man marked by at least two or three defenders from early on and Sa was also being continuously got at in order, I assume, to rile him.
Having not conceded until the sixty-ninth minute, however, there was a chance for Clarke and his Reading side to grab the game by the horns and push for the opening goal in the second half. Instead the home side seemed to sit back and take on the pressure while not offering any real counter attacking threat when they won the ball back.
One moment I had a real problem with was the substitution of Matej Vydra for Danny Williams in the sixty-third minute. Admittedly Vydra was struggling to penetrate the Derby defence as the sole striker, but Williams was the wrong player to bring on at this point and said it all about what Clarke wanted from the game. Vydra was taken off, Blackman was moved up front and Williams was put on the wing. Having seen Williams play on the wing already, we know it is not his best position. Despite having speedy, natural wingers such as McCleary, who was to come on seventeen minutes later, Lucas Piazon and Ola John all on the bench, Clarke instead opted to have the defensive central midfielder playing there. It is clear that Clarke wanted to hold on for the draw and only chase it once it had already gone.
The re-introduction of Michael Hector was also somewhat hit and miss. Towards the end of the game Hector made some particularly impressive contributions; his turn under pressure from Darren Bent late in the second half was one of them. The new Chelsea man was, however, largely rusty and the return of the hoof and hope loopy balls was not a welcome sight at the Madejski. It is possibly worth mentioning that when Anton Ferdinand has been absent, Reading have lost. Either that is just coincidence or it shows how much of a key figure he is for the Royals at the moment.
Despite the result, the performance from the Reading side was generally commendable. Sa’s rush of blood to the head definitely cost the side, but the work rate from the other players to make up for his absence after that point was brilliant. Reading did, however, have seven corners and failed to make use of most of them. Had they been able to create a chance from any of them then it would have been a completely different story. Ultimately, the side certainly showed a great spirit but in the end they just ran out of steam. Had they been encouraged to try and push a little more early on in the second half for the goal I feel they could have found one. Alas it was not meant to be.
Reading will now have a few days to recover before their next Championship game away to Bristol City. For many, Clarke’s problem with squad rotation and giving the players necessary game time was a problem- a problem that has now somewhat been helped by Sa’s stupidity and subsequent three match ban. It will be interesting to see if he opts with Blackman and Vydra up front, with one of the wingers being brought in, or whether he chooses to make wholesale changes against a comparatively weaker side. Regardless of team selection, the Reading side will be hoping to bounce back immediately with all three points at the weekend.