“I didn’t say anything to the players because after a game like that sometimes it’s better to say nothing and reflect calmly on the game when you have a better frame of mind.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
“We needed to get a win and we did.”- Fulham Manager Kit Symons
To say that Reading threw away three points on Saturday afternoon would be putting it lightly. The side were up 2-0 early in the second half, but three goals in a poor six minute spell saw Reading throw away the victory in a game that ultimately ended 4-2. The Royals were the better of the two sides throughout the first-half but ultimately could not make their superiority count.
With nearly 4000 away fans in attendance, optimism was high prior to kick-off. Steve Clarke made two changes to the team with Matej Vydra returning to the starting line-up in place of Garath McCleary and Jordan Obita came in for Andrew Taylor. Top scorer Nick Blackman was forced to play out wide with three strikers being played all at once.
The game started in typical fashion for this season, with Reading dominating the ball and keeping possession. After an early effort from Fulham, the Royals were passing the ball in and around the box nicely and in the twelfth minute they found their breakthrough. A smart Reading move involving Orlando Sa, Vydra and Lucas Piazon saw the latter through on goal before passing the ball into the back of Joe Lewis’ net.
Reading continued the half in the same fashion and looked as if they would walk away with all three points, even at such an early stage of the game. Blackman came close to increasing his tally for the season even further but his powerful effort was directly at the keeper. At times Reading could have been accused of trying to do too much with the ball, especially around the penalty area, and it was this that may have been their undoing.
As the first-half came to a close, Fulham began to push forward more and work their way back into the game. Reading defended well, however, and went into half-time 1-0. 1-0 is always a dangerous scoreline and everyone knew that another goal would be needed in the second half. Fulham continued to press upon the restart but a Sa breakaway gave Reading the cushion they were after.
The Reading striker picked up the ball inside the Fulham half and ran at their defence. Working himself some space on the right, Sa fired his shot across goal and gave Reading a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, the cushion did not last long with Ross McCormack reducing the deficit only a minute later. The ball came into him in the box before he flicked it up, turned and volleyed it past a diving Ali Al-Habsi.
Unfortunately for Reading, this was the beginning of a very poor spell of defending. The equaliser came two minutes later through Moussa Dembele who was allowed a simple tap in in front of goal. A string of defensive errors from Michael Hector, Paul McShane and Jordan Obita made it all too easy for the home side, with Christenssen being allowed too much space and time on the right to pick out an awaiting Dembele.
The misery continued for away fans as substitute Alexander Kacaniklic scored Fulham’s third goal of the day, just two minutes after the equaliser. Reading were caught on the counter, with McShane caught well out of position, and an easy through ball saw Kacaniklic through on goal where he simply slotted it past Al-Habsi. The defence lost all shape and was easily sliced open. These are not phrases that have come to be associated with Reading’s back four in recent games and it subsequently came as a shock to fans to see them fall apart in such spectacular fashion.
Having maintained possession so easily in the first half, the Reading of the second half was unrecognisable. Other than a Sa header off the line, the Royals were struggling to hold onto the ball let alone create a goal-scoring opportunity. To add insult to injury, the away side were to concede a fourth of the afternoon with Dembele getting his second. A clearance from Lewis found McShane who simply returned the ball to Dembele. An easy one two with McCormack saw the striker in on goal and he passed the ball past Al-Habsi.
It is difficult to see why the Reading defence fell apart in such a spectacular manner, especially when considering the strength of the back four in recent games. The away side practically stepped aside to let Fulham through on goal and Al-Habsi cannot really be held accountable. Clarke did opt to field three strikers from the beginning which was a tactic that worked well when his side were 2-0 up. At that point Reading should have shut up shop and seen the game out but instead collapsed. It is a worry to see the defence look so fragile against a team like Fulham but it should give the side a wake up call. The choice not to introduce McCleary at any point of the game was also a strange decision.
On a positive note, early on Reading were looking strong in possession. The addition of Vydra in particular caused Fulham problems and the quality of his passing in particular was great to see. The goals also showed that Reading do not simply have to rely upon Blackman to win games. The Royals will be hoping to bounce back from their first league defeat since September, but face league leaders Brighton in their next fixture. It will be tough but the Reading squad has a quality about it that can do exactly that.