“We were trying to win the game late on but we take the point, we go up the table one more place, we’re unbeaten again and that’s about the gist of it.”– Reading Manager Brian McDermott
“We are suffering in this competition by making mistakes. We need to be more solid and Reading pushed us hard during the last 15 minutes.”– Fulham Manager Slavisa Jokanovic
After the 4-2 away defeat against Fulham earlier in the season, Reading had something to prove on Saturday. Having let a lead slip at Craven Cottage, however, it was a repeat performance for the Royals as a clumsy penalty cost them the win. After taking the lead through Moussa Dembele, Fulham were soon behind thanks to a Hal Robson-Kanu brace. A second-half Ross McCormack penalty, however, was enough to earn Fulham a point.
Brian McDermott made a single enforced change going into the game, with Paul McShane out through injury and Anton Ferdinand coming in to the starting eleven. As a result, the Reading manager opted with five in midfield and Yann Kermorgant up front as the target man.
It was Fulham who started the brighter of the two sides and it took only a matter of minutes for them to take the lead. Moussa Dembele was a thorn in Reading’s side for the duration, and it was him that was on hand to stroke the ball in following a corner. McCormack’s corner picked out Michael Madl at the far post who headed it into Dembele’s path. It was defensively poor from Reading and they were made to pay for their errors early on.
Reading were somewhat lucky not to be 2-0 down when a long range Tom Cairney shot was parried into the path of an awaiting Fulham player. Kermorgant was on hand, however, to win the ball fairly according to referee Simon Hooper. With twenty minutes of the game gone, the home side were to even the score thanks to some poor defending from Fulham.
After initially winning the ball, Robson-Kanu played a nice one two with Kermorgant. The Welshman was first to the return and an ill advised push from defender Fernando Amorebieta earned the home side a penalty. It was the midfielder who took the penalty himself and he casually stroked the ball into Andy Lonergan’s net with ease.
Reading were to take the lead just before the break, thanks to some neat play from the impressive Ola John. After winning the ball back out on the left, Michael Hector found John on the edge of the box. Allowed to run into the area, John’s inch perfect chipped cross found Robson-Kanu in the centre whose diving header handed Reading the 2-1 lead.
The Welshman was impressive for the home side in the first half, but an achilles injury meant that he needed to be replaced by Garath McCleary at half time. This was arguably a turning point for the Royals as the Welshman was definitely one of their strongest players in the opening period.
Despite the enforced change, Reading had the first opportunity to increase their lead and put the game beyond doubt. Oliver Norwood found Kermorgant in space and after some nice touches his effort across goal narrowly went wide of the post. While the home side started the half well, it was the away side who were to get the next goal.
After witnessing the defensive error at the other end of the pitch in the first half, centre-back Jake Cooper was to commit his own to hand Fulham a lifeline. It was clumsy from the Reading defender as he unnecessarily felled Ryan Fredericks in the area. Up stepped McCormack, who drilled the ball into Al-Habsi’s net to level the score.
With the majority of the half left still to play, Reading had ample opportunity to take the lead again but squandered all opportunities. Deniss Rakels was once again brought into the fray, in place of Stephen Quinn, and McDermott switched to two up front. The issue was that the Reading players were simply not moving the ball fast enough when Fulham were there for the taking, subsequently letting them off the hook.
John found himself at the centre of all Reading’s attacking play, whether that was out on the left wing or more centrally. Picking the ball up in the middle, the midfielder’s effort from outside the box forced a save from the Fulham goalkeeper and Kermorgant could not make the most of the rebound. John then found himself out on the left wing and after some nicely executed tricks picked out Cooper in the centre unmarked. Despite having a clear height advantage and being central to the goal, the defender could only head wide.
After being found by Norwood in the area, Rakels had a shout for a penalty after feeling a push from Madl but was deemed to have gone to ground too easily. While this decision was borderline, going to ground was a theme of Rakels day with the striker spending far too much time on the floor. While he has impressed in recent games with his speed and his late goal against Charlton, this is an aspect of his game that he will have to eradicate.
If Reading were to make the breakthrough once more it was clear that it was going to come through John if anywhere. The winger was spending an increasing amount of time on the ball and had the beating of his man on the left wing. After rolling the ball past Kacaniklic, John’s effort from a tight angle was on target but could only find the goalkeeper.
Fulham were able to see the game out and despite being willed on by the home crowd, Reading could not find a third goal to win all three points. As a result this would be a case of two points dropped for the Royals and the play-offs remain out of sight.
In terms of performances, Robson-Kanu, John and Hector were the most impressive once again. Hector in particular was strong in midfield and won a number of crunching 50/50 tackles while John was a consistent threat on the left wing. The Royals will be hoping that Robson-Kanu will be back in time for the FA Cup game against Crystal Palace but will surely miss out on the mid-week fixture against Huddersfield.
After being substituted in two of the last three games and missing out on the captain’s armband this time around in McShane’s absence, Norwood was one that had a poor game. While Hector has stepped up in the central midfield position, Norwood is struggling in recent times and could potentially do with being rested. Al-Habsi, after being voted as the player of the month for February, also had a comparatively poor game with far too many shots being parried back into dangerous positions.
One player that is a concern is McCleary. Since being out through injury, the midfielder has never been quite the same and his threatening runs at defenders have been missing in recent times. While Chris Gunter likes to get forward himself, and it is a requirement of modern full backs, you know that something is wrong when it is Gunter and not McCleary sprinting down the wing into attacking positions.
A brief comment must also be made on McDermott’s tactical decisions. In recent games the manager has liked to play with five in midfield with a single striker. It worked against West Brom and for a certain period against Charlton but the sole striker is more often than not an isolated figure. Reading allowed Charlton to get back into the game before bringing on Rakels to partner Kermorgant and it happened again with Fulham.
While a draw was a disappointing result, it is time to look forward with a number of games on the horizon. Huddersfield is up next on Tuesday evening and then the Royals face Crystal Palace on Friday. A number of changes are expected against Huddersfield with Friday in mind but going into the games on the back of an unbeaten run is a great position to be in for Reading.