Robson-Kanu Sees Off Battling Millers In 1-0 Victory

Hal Rotherham

“It was an ugly 1-0 win, but we’ll take that. A bit of quality has won it. But that win is as important as Saturday’s.”– Reading Manager Brian McDermott

“We have shot ourselves in the foot. We have given ourselves a chance of getting results in the games, we are just lacking a bit of quality.”– Rotherham Manager Neil Warnock

After Saturday’s emphatic victory against Premiership side West Brom in the FA Cup, the focus returned on Tuesday evening to Reading’s disappointing Championship form. Next up for the Royals were a Rotherham side who, while languishing in the relegation positions, managed to earn a draw in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

Reading manager Brian McDermott made a couple of changes going into the game. With Matej Vydra nursing a slight hamstring injury, Yann Kermorgant led the front line and Ola John was finally gifted the start that the fans had been calling for.

The early worry was McDermott’s tactical decision in terms of formation. From past experience, Reading playing a 4-5-1 formation fails to make an impact nine times out of ten. Playing the formation against West Brom at the weekend worked, but playing it against a side struggling at the bottom of the Championship while playing at home was a concern. For a large portion of the game, those fears were pretty much confirmed.

The first half was a messy affair, to put it lightly, with Rotherham players determined to give up possession, defend deep and get themselves booked. It was a busy day for referee Kevin Johnson, handing out five yellow cards to Rotherham players in the first half alone, and looking to get involved in many of Reading’s attacks himself.

Unfortunately it was Rotherham’s antics that largely overshadowed the opening period of the game, with little real quality on show in the footballing department. On one brief occasion, the Millers were able to challenge Ali Al-Habsi in the Reading goal with the goalkeeper diving well to keep out a Richard Wood header. While it was Rotherham’s only real chance in the game, Al-Habsi made a vital save at an important time in the game. Rotherham also had a penalty shout controversially waved away with referee Johnson booking Richie Smallwood instead for diving.

Reading, meanwhile, were struggling to make any real breakthrough with the long balls into Kermorgant failing to make any impact. The Reading striker did have a great opportunity to open the score when Hal Robson-Kanu made a break down the right before picking out Kermorgant in the centre but his volleyed effort was fired wide. The Frenchman clearly has the ability, as shown by his time at previous clubs, but it seems that he is not quite up to speed since signing for the Royals. Other opportunities fell to John, who managed to break through the Rotherham defence, and Quinn but both failed to make an impact on the scoreline.

The second half was not much better, though Rotherham had comparatively calmed down a bit. The Millers were increasingly relying on the long throw to try and create anything resembling a chance to score while Reading were continuing to struggle with the single striker. John was trying his best to create chances down the wing, and at times did well to beat his man, but often had little to aim at in the middle.

The turning point came when McDermott finally brought on a second striker in the form of Deniss Rakels in place of midfielder Oliver Norwood. Changing now to a 4-4-2 formation, with Michael Hector and Stephen Quinn occupying the central midfield positions, Reading were able to almost instantly reap the benefits.

Rakels immediately offered more of an attacking threat than Reading were able to muster throughout the game. Playing a ball into the centre, Kermorgant dispossessed a dithering Paul Green on the edge of the box and simultaneously picked out an awaiting Robson-Kanu. The Welshman then curled the ball beautifully into the bottom corner of Lee Camp’s net. It was the decisive moment of a poor game, summed up perfectly by BBC Radio Berkshire’s Tim Dellor as a “jewel in a cow pat of a game.”

The performance was nowhere near the levels of Saturday’s FA Cup game, but Reading did enough to win a game that on too many occasions would have slipped past them. The Millers lacked quality in all areas of the pitch and subsequently anything other than a victory for the home side would have been hard to take. The Royals were previously without a win in the Championship in six games so putting a halt to that run and to relegation fears were major plus points.

In what was an ugly game, there were many comparatively lacklustre performances from the Reading players particularly in the first half. Hal Robson-Kanu and Michael Hector were two that did however grow into the game and put in impressive performances once again. A player that particularly stood out was Ola John who for large parts of the game looked like Reading’s sole attacking threat. Deniss Rakels also continued to look lively when he came on, but needs to work on staying onside.

With bottom placed Charlton coming up next for Reading, the Royals will be confident of continuing their winning run on Saturday. The concern, however, is that Reading have not won away from home since September when they beat Burnley 2-1. Having reached the FA Cup Quarter Final and getting back to winning ways at home, there will be no better opportunity to resolve away form than on Saturday. As long as McDermott does not repeat the negative tactics displayed at home on Tuesday then you would feel that Reading have to be the favourites.

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