Reading 3-3 Watford: Top entertainment ends with a bitter taste

Charlie Crowhurst

This is what the Championship is all about ladies and gentlemen. While I'd have been happy to have seen us retain our Premier League status I can't deny the value for money that days like today provide as two promotion favourites Reading and Watford, fought out a 3-3 draw. Despite the entertainment on offer and plenty of positives, it's still hard not to feel gutted after seeing Reading twice throw away a two-goal lead. We recap today's action at the Madejski Stadium

Reading: McCarthy, Bridge, Pearce, Morrison, Gunter, Karacan (McCleary), Guthrie, Drenthe (Williams), McAnuff (Robson-Kanu), Blackman, Le Fondre

Pre-game the talk was of Jimmy Kebe possibly making the bench but in the end there was no place for the Malian winger, as Nigel Adkins made just one chance from the 1-1 draw at Bolton with Adam Le Fondre coming into the side at the expense of Garath McCleary who'll probably feel a little hard done by after a good start to the campaign. There was also a spot on the bench for Adrian Mariappa, with the former Watford captain coming in for Kaspars Gorkss, who'd completed 90 minutes for Latvia in midweek.

Let's start on the positive side of things. For 45 minutes Reading were breathtaking and were playing about as well as we've seen since Steve Coppell's side stormed to the title with 106 points seven long years ago. It was a first half full of energy, drive and genuine quality and made Watford look anything but one of the pre-season promotion favourites. Drenthe was full of trickery, drawing plenty of fouls, the full-backs both looked impressive, Jem Karacan was everywhere and Danny Guthrie was pinging the ball around brilliantly from just in front of the back four

The goal to open the scoring will probably be up there in the goal of the season voting as Adam Le Fondre volleyed home after Watford 'keeper Manuel Almunia could only punch Jem Karacan's cross to the edge of the area. Le Fondre's left-footed shot screamed through a crowded area to give Reading the lead.

From there it was all Reading and Le Fondre could and probably should have made it 2-0 midway through the half when he raced through 1-on-1 with Almunia, only to see his initial effort saved and the rebound also kept out in a crowded box.

At that point I probably wasn't alone in thinking 'I hope we don't live to regret that' and Watford did get a sniff  or two of an equaliser before half-time, first when a cross-come-shot was almost deflected in by Alex Pearce and more threateningly  when a corner was flicked on at the near post, only to be saved just a yard or so off his line by Chris Gunter.

Fortunately for the home fans Reading gave themselves some much welcomed breathing room just before the break when a free-kick routine straight off the training ground led to Jem Karacan scoring his first of the campaign. With the ball some five to ten yards outside the box, Danny Guthrie chipped the ball into the far post where Alex Pearce's header hit Almunia and in the resulting scramble the ball rebounded off Karacan and into the net.

After a half-time interval that included a rather confusing digital switchover and the usual Golden Gamble etc, you'd have expected Watford to burst out the traps but in truth neither side could get into any kind of rhythm for the first 10 to 15 minutes but the fact that Reading were failing to control the game just let Watford back into things and after a couple of near misses that included a great stop by McCarthy and a goal line clearance from Sean Morrison, Marco Faraoni cut Reading's lead in half. Faraoni was able to ghost in at the near post from a corner, totally losing his man to power a header past the stranded McCarthy.

That woke the 3,000 or so Watford fans up and you began to fear the worst, particularly when we were facing last year's leading goalscorers in the Championship and a team who'd hit five in the second half against Bournemouth last weekend and just minutes after the goal it took a fantastic save by McCarthy to keep us in front.

Adkins responded by bringing on Danny Williams for the tiring Drenthe and the American made an immediate impact by sending a cross from the left into the path of Le Fondre who got the ball back across the box. Blackman went for goal but shot to the feet of Karacan who scored his second of the afternoon and what you had to feel would be the key goal to kill it off.

Hal Robson-Kanu soon came on but despite Nick Blackman looking fairly lost, the Welsh international replaced captain Jobi McAnuff.

Then out of nowhere Watford were given a lifeline. Diego Fabbrini wriggled past a couple of tackles down the Reading left and was caught by Danny Guthrie inside the area. At first Fabbrini's theatrical and very much exaggerated fall gave the impression that the referee was going to book the Watford forward for a dive but after a signal from the linesman a penalty was given instead and up stepped Troy Deeney to make it 3-2. I don't think Fabbrini will be particularly proud of his reaction but after the game Guthrie had few complaints and in truth Watford should probably have had a second penalty minutes later when Gunter seemed to bring down a Watford forward in the box, only for the appeals to be waved away.

Le Fondre had another chance to extend the lead and McCleary replaced the shattered Karacan as Reading tried to hang on but just into injury time their resistance was broken when a long-range drive from Lewis McGugan took a wicked deflection and span to around the penalty spot where Fabbrini was on hand to slam the ball past McCarthy.

The final whistle was greeted with jubilation by the travelling Watford fans but as far as Reading are concerned it'll feel very much like two points lost rather than a point one.

In terms of individual performances you can read more in our player ratings but generally it was a good Reading performance which was let down by a couple of moments of naivety which you sadly can't get away with when facing a team with as much quality as Watford.

Speaking of our visitors and it's easy to see why they came to within 90 minutes of the Premier League last season. They've got strength in depth and credit to Gianfranco Zola for making two changes before the 60 minute mark to help drag his side back into the game. I'd still argue that Reading just about shaded the 90 minutes but Watford are a very strong team and I'd be very surprised if they're not in the hunt for automatic promotion come the end of the season. Credit as well to the more than 3,000 Watford fans who made the trip down. They were quiet for long spells but really helped drive their team back into the game at 2-1 and 3-2. The only negative was a couple of mindless individuals getting chucked out and the always rather stupid and in my eyes, pointless, decision to let off a few rather pathetic yellow flares.

If Reading can reproduce the form of the first 45 minutes than they'll be very much in the mix for the top two come May but they'll have to learn from the mistakes of the second very quickly if they want to keep pace in what's looking like a very  strong league this season.

The decision to keep Blackman on will be one that Reading fans will probably be looking at throughout the week but despite the relatively poor performance of the former Sheffield United man, he was a part of a great first 45 and you can't lay the blame for the goals at the feet of the forward who tried his best but just didn't quite have the quality.

If Pog's not going to be used than Reading really could do with another forward player to just give them an extra edge in this league. I certainly think we'll contend with the group we have now but it's asking a lot from Blackman to step up so quickly.

A fit Jason Roberts and Jimmy Kebe could well give us the spark we need to really grind teams into the dirt but there's no escaping the fact that Reading should have closed this one out. Still, you have to hope that the hurt from this serves as a lesson for this young group and at the end of the day it's three matches unbeaten in three tricky games so far.

Next up is a trip to Blackpool and hopefully a first away win of the campaign.

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