“The result was good in the context of our season. We’re desperate to stay in and around the upper levels of the league and challenge for promotion.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
“The goals we conceded, we just gave them to Reading. They didn’t have to work hard for either goal. The first one was schoolboy stuff from our point of view.”- Bolton Manager Neil Lennon
The build-up to the Saturday’s game against Bolton was less than ideal for Reading and its fans but the subsequent 2-1 victory was a step in a right direction following Steve Clarke’s antics over the past week. Playing against a side that find themselves languishing at the bottom of the Championship, fans would have been expecting a rampant display from the home side. Ultimately, however, it was goals from Lucas Piazon and Danny Williams that won the Royals all three points despite a late Liam Feeney penalty ramping up the stress levels around the Madejski Stadium.
Based on Clarke’s comments about the squad’s status in the lead up to the game, many would have been expecting the likes of Garath McCleary, Michael Hector and Matej Vydra in particular to miss out on a place in the squad. Clarke fooled us all, however, with the latter taking his place on the bench and McCleary and Hector forming part of the starting eleven. Captain Paul McShane also returned to the starting lineup, together with Danny Williams and Lucas Piazon.
Despite being on opposite ends of the table, it was Bolton who looked the better of the two sides early on. Ali Al Habsi, who has attracted a fair amount of flak during his time at the club, was Reading’s saviour on numerous occasions during the first fifteen minutes and ultimately was probably to thank for Reading’s victory. Attempts from Shola Ameobi, Mark Davies and Darren Pratley were all expertly tipped away by the Omani international who kept the home side in the game early on.
With Reading gradually edging their way into the game, it was Lucas Piazon who gave the home side the lead. In almost typical fashion, Piazon had struggled to get into the game and more often than not had easily been edged off the ball. The Brazilian benefited from a lucky ricochet and managed to toe poke the ball past Bolton keeper Ben Amos and into the net. It was a lead that Reading didn’t deserve and a goal that Bolton would have been saddened to concede, but it was a goal that was welcomed with open arms by the home supporters.
One player who was having a good game, however, was Garath McCleary. The Jamaican’s runs down the right wing were looking increasingly threatening and a lot of Reading’s play going forward was going through him. Another player who was having an even better game was Danny Williams, who popped up to score Reading’s second of the game.
With ten minutes left to go in the half, Orlando Sa played in Williams who ran at the defence before rifling a shot past Amos into the bottom right corner. It was very nearly three before half time when McCleary found Piazon at the far post but his header only found the side netting. Reading were 2-0 up at half time and looked good value for their lead despite the early threat from Bolton.
Despite Reading starting the second half on top, it was Bolton who had the first chance with a Shola Ameobi header cannoning off the crossbar. With twenty-five minutes of the game remaining, Bolton opted to make a double substitution with Clayton and Madine replacing Spearing and Ameobi. Clarke responded with a substitution of his own with Jordan Obita coming on in place of Lucas Piazon.
With Andrew Taylor taking the left back position, it would seem that Clarke may have been experimenting with Obita by pushing him into midfield. This move nearly came off, as Obita’s cross into the area looked dangerous but ultimately came to nothing. Nick Blackman then came close to making it three when his scuffed volley almost wrong-footed Amos but the ball was turned over the bar.
Reading were two goals to the good and had the potential to add more to the scoreline. That was until Clarke made the decision to bring on Jake Cooper for Garath McCleary with ten minutes to go. It was a substitution that made zero sense when at home, in the lead and against a bottom of the table side who were struggling to score goals. Playing with a back line of five players, with Oliver Norwood sitting just in front, Reading went overwhelmingly defensive and the negative tactics were inviting unnecessary pressure.
No sooner had the game restarted after Cooper’s substitution, Bolton were awarded a penalty when Darren Pratley tripped over Norwood’s leg in the box. Al Habsi managed to get a hand to the subsequent attempt from Feeney but couldn’t keep it out the Reading net.
With only a single goal in it, Bolton were happy to throw the kitchen sink at the home side. Reading had very little options on the break and looked to hold the ball in the corner when they could. Despite Jose Casado having the closest attempt for the away side, Reading held on until the final whistle to secure the full three points and return to winning ways.
While fans will have been happy with all three points the way in which the victory was achieved, and nearly thrown away, will have been a concern. Clarke said that his decision to bring on Cooper late on was to counter the direct approach being employed by Bolton but in doing so conceded any advantage Reading had before that. Obita ended up playing in a central midfield role, a position that he is not effective in, and all width that McCleary in particular was making use of had gone. Defensively, Reading also lost all shape with the central defenders somewhat understandably getting in each others way. It was a negative formation that the home side hadn’t played in at any point so far this season and one that hopefully will not be rearing its ugly head again.
It was nowhere near Reading’s best performance this season but the victory was necessary and welcomed based on recent events off the pitch. Going into next Saturday’s game at Nottingham Forest, Clarke will be hoping to put talk of his actions further behind him and continue Reading’s winning ways- Maybe then fans might be in a more forgiving mood. I fear, however, that the damage has already been done.