“Vydra’s made an unbelievable tackle late in the game. He gave the ball away, ran after it, made that unbelievable tackle and then gave a terrific pass to Garath. In a way, that tackle has been a match-winner for us. I’m delighted for Matej and the whole group. It’s all about belief and confidence. But the win will give us that little bit extra confidence. To get it so late, it’s a big, big win.”
Reading Manager Brian McDermott
“It was disappointing to concede their goal. At the time, we were the team that were looking for three points. I thought that we were the team in the ascendancy.”
Bristol City Manager Steve Cotterill
Reading’s top goalscorer Nick Blackman won all three points at the death on Saturday as the Royals secured victory against relegation candidates Bristol City. The Berkshire club won with relative ease earlier in the season with Nick Blackman and Garath McCleary getting on the scoresheet for their 2-0 victory that day at Ashton Gate. Despite Reading’s recent form it was certainly a winnable game for the home side but they definitely made life difficult for themselves.
Brian McDermott made five changes to his side going into the game, demonstrating the wealth of options he has at his disposal. Jonathan Bond was a little unlucky to lose his spot in the starting line-up as he was replaced by Ali Al-Habsi in goal. Jake Cooper came in for the suspended Michael Hector while Andrew Taylor made his return from injury to take his place in the back four. Up front, Orlando Sa and Matej Vydra were both chosen to lead the Reading attack with Stephen Quinn pushed up field into the left midfield position. It was the same front four that played in Reading’s emphatic 5-1 victory against Ipswich and consequently spirits were high going into the game.
Ultimately, however, it was a largely uneventful game with Reading at times struggling to make an impact. This being said, copious chances fell to Vydra in the first half in particular but he was unable to convert the clear cut chances. Quinn provided the kind of ball that the Reading striker has been crying out for this season but, despite slicing open the defense, Vydra could only hit it wide of goal. The Czech then went on to blast an Oliver Norwood cross over at the far post and hit another straight at Bristol keeper Frank Fielding. A confident striker could have had at least a brace in the first half alone but Vydra may be feeling the pressure in front of goal.
Reading continued to threaten with Norwood coming close from a free kick but his curled effort went just wide of the right hand post. Despite Reading being far superior in creating chances in the first half, they were not able to make any of them count- subsequently heading in at half-time level. Ring any bells? The only concern for the home side was the injury to Paul McShane at the half-hour mark, but the return of Anton Ferdinand after injury was a welcome introduction.
As the second-half got under way, Bristol gradually began to get a foot hold on the game with Reading at times struggling to keep hold of the ball. Central midfield pairing Oliver Norwood and Danny Williams were at times sitting so deep that when the Royals had an opportunity to push forward the strike-force found themselves somewhat isolated. When Reading did find themselves in an attacking position, Bristol more often than not defended in numbers and made life difficult for the home side.
The Robins had their own opportunities to score in the second half. Elliott Bennett, currently on loan from Norwich, was allowed to run at the Reading defence down the right wing before thrashing his effort from outside the box comfortably wide of Al-Habsi’s post. Jonathan Kodjia, who seemed to be the only real threat to the Reading defence, managed to chip the ball in the Reading net only to be deemed offside for what seemed the thousandth time in the game.
Reading, however, were getting closer to scoring but at times it seemed inevitable that they were not going to be able to make the breakthrough. The introduction of Garath McCleary for Sa around the hour mark made a real difference, as Blackman was pushed up front and the natural winger was allowed to operate on the right. The Jamaican international found Chris Gunter surprisingly in the Bristol penalty box but his shot come cross could neither find the goal or Vydra at the far post. When the ball later fell to Williams outside the box from a corner, Reading looked like they were finally going to open up the Bristol defence. His shot, however, was blasted over the bar.
With only added time to play, it was the period of the game where Reading had a penchant for letting in late goals. On this occasion, however, it was the home side that were to finally find the back of the net. Despite not being able to score himself, Vydra played a crucial part in the Reading goal having both initially lost the ball but then chasing back to win possession well into his own half. The striker then found McCleary in the centre who set up Blackman out on the right. Allowed to run at the Bristol defence, Blackman cut inside before stroking the ball past Fielding. It was late, it was great and it was a goal celebrated by both the players and the fans as if the Royals had just won the Championship in its entirety.
Ultimately it was the goal that was to seal the game and one that was met angrily by a number of the away support. For the home fans the relief was apparent and it made a change to get all three points despite not being at their best- With Bristol failing to summon a single shot on target, however, they were the more deserving of the two sides.
One person who made an impression was Jake Cooper. The eventual Man of the Match looked shaky a few weeks ago when he made an appearance from the bench against Hull but it was a much improved performance from the youngster this time around. At the back he was largely solid, especially as the game went on, and despite still not being able to make use of any corners Cooper provided more of a threat from set pieces.
Two players also deserving of mentions are Norwood and Williams. The duo are arguably some of the most important players on the pitch for Reading due to the work they do for the team both defensively and going forward. Yes they are both capable of making mistakes, with several wayward passes from Norwood late on and Williams’ occasional lack of temperament, but their absence would be notable. The work-rate of Williams in particular should be an inspiration to his fellow teammates as he does not stop working throughout. The return of Aaron Tshibola will make things interesting over the next few weeks but it will be good to have the option of rotation available to McDermott.
Someone who failed to make an impression, however, was Orlando Sa. Being rewarded with his first start since coming back from injury, the striker seemed very rusty and did not make any real impact at the front. While usually outstanding with his hold up play, more often than not he seemed to stand his ground when the ball was played forward as the Bristol defenders simply rose higher to clear the ball. The striker didn’t seem to put much effort in when chasing the ball down either, with his jog towards the ball appearing far more lacklustre than Vydra’s continuous sprinting. Reading fans know what Sa is capable of but against Bristol his performance was underwhelming.
With Blackman getting back to scoring ways and Huddersfield coming up in the FA Cup, it may be time for McDermott to change things round a little. When McCleary came on and Blackman was moved up front, Reading seemed to be more threatening so perhaps this is the way forward. Blackman continues to show that he either does not really want to play on the wing or just is not a winger and often disappears for large periods of the game when asked play out wide. Fans have been calling for Blackman to play as a striker for weeks now so maybe this is the best time to give it a go and see if he can live up to expectation.
In terms of the Championship, however, things are looking better for McDermott and his Reading side. The victory was the second for McDermott since he took over in December and one that ended a run of a single victory in their last seven games. The performance was by no means inspiring, and at times concerning, but the victory will hopefully do wonders for the players’ confidence. Reading have tougher tests ahead but hopefully this will be the start of a positive run going forward.