A view from the back of the coach - Forest Away
Rarely does football get the heart racing to a point where your exhaustion is cancelled out by the sheer adrenaline generated from a fantastic, battling and spirited win. Yesterday, in the sunshine and intense heat of the Forest Ground, was an exception. The 9th of April 2011 will certainly go down as one of the best games of football that many of the 1,428 Reading away fans will have ever seen.
Of course it's not the first 4-3 that Royals fans have seen this year. However the 4-3 win yesterday has very few similarities to the 4-3 against Doncaster Rovers back at the Madejski on the 30th October. That day we battled back from 3-1 down at halftime to win it in the last minute. Also on that day Kacaran and Church got our second and fourth goals respectively, something that also happened yesterday, but that fact and the scoreline are where the similarities end. Against Doncaster we were very disjointed, were extremely porous in defence and were reliant on one favourable referring decision to get us back into the game. Looking back we were very inconsistent generall, but those games sowed the seeds of our current good run.
The last time I travelled to Forest, it was the start of the 08/09 Championship campaign to watch drab 0-0 draw after we'd been relegated from the Premiership on the last day of the previous season. There were some thoughts going into yesterday that we would see a similar result, how wrong those were!
But unlike that game, yesterday our spirits were high, the sun was shining and Reading had won five league wins on the spin, a sixth was most certainly possible. Forest were on a horrendous run of form, having gone eight games without a win, so our hosts were certainly there for the taking. The mood on the coach going to the game was certainly upbeat, plenty of fans had confidence that we could dust off Forest and become only the second team to beat them at home this season. Despite our confidence, we all knew that a result at the City Ground would never be guaranteed - after all we hadn’t beaten Forest in our last six attempts. Like the spirited (and relegation threatened), Preston North End side that visited the Mad Stad last week, Forest were always going to be dangerous.
Forest were like a wounded animal, who'd be trying to reverse the form of the last eight games and this point was emphasised by Forest skipper Paul McKenna, who said in his programme notes “It’s stating the obvious but we need to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible and I can’t thinks of any better time to do it than this afternoon at the expense of Reading.” He made a valid point, but then he'd been making the same comments for the last four games, since they lost at home to Hull.
A comment from Brian McDermott gave my confidence the biggest boost before the game yesterday. Brian was asked about the celebrations after Hal Robson-Kanu's winner against Preston. After the Welshman had scored, despite having just been taken off, both Jobi McAnuff and Brian Howard sprinted down the line to congratulate him. Brian said that such celebrations “really emphasised it (our team spirit) to me. Brian and Jobi are experienced players, but there was no disappointment about coming off, they know we're trying to do everything we can to get the points. It's no indication of performance, it's about trying to win. People were sprinting down the line, after the game we had such camaraderie, you don't get that at a lot of clubs.” To me, that answer showed just how together and close knit this squad is.
As I mentioned earlier, the seeds of that team spirit were sown around the Doncaster match back in October and since the turn of the year have really born fruit. Even our FA Cup Quarter-Final defeat against Manchester City helped, because, despite losing 1-0, the determination and spirit of the squad was evident to the 2,800 that travelled up to Eastlands. That feeling extends to the players relationship with the supporters, and it's a bond not seen between many teams and their supporters in the age of the “multi-million” pound footballer. Every single player and member of staff came off the bench at the end of that game to applaud and thank the fans, a show of terrific respect.
So fast forward to yesterday's game and with a packed away end the atmosphere was palpable as soon as the teams were announced. It showed the measure of our manager that instead of sticking with the 4-5-1 that had won the last two games, he was seemed intent on winning the game by opting to pick a 4-4-2 formation. The fit again Leigertwood came back into midfield to partner Karacan, and Manset was given his first start up alongside Shane Long, who himself has been electric since Christmas.
It was with a familiar scorer that Reading took the lead in the 18th minute. Ian Harte was signed on the final day of the transfer window way back in August for a meagre 50k from lowly League One club Carlisle, after an illustrious career with Leeds, Sunderland and Levante. At this stage of his career you would have been forgiven for thinking he was merely signed to provide cover for a position (LB), where we had just signed Marcus Williams from Scunthorpe in the summer. However Harte quickly found a place in the starting eleven and since then has scored 9 goals, mostly through belting free-kicks and really settled well at full back, despite his inherent lack of pace. At 33 he is one of the oldest in the squad, but that didn’t stop him picking up the Championship March Player of the Month award, and his 9th goal for Reading yesterday.
Harte has already scored some great free-kicks for us this season but for me, this was the best of them. Lining up on the left hand side Lee Camp and most of the watching fans would have been excused for thinking he’d go near post but not a chance. Instead Harte curled a beauty into the far top corner over the despairing Camp and cue elation from the Reading fans and players alike.
Soon Mathieu Manset had a guilt edged chance to increase the lead, heading over from 3 yards when it would probably have been easier to score, but he’s can be forgiven for making such mistakes as such a raw talent. But as the half wore on Forest came more into the game, and were awarded a very dubious penalty. Harte failed to deal with a throw, the ball was played to McGugan who turned Leigertwood, who was about 6 inches inside the Reading penalty area, before going down with the slightest touch. Kris Boyd despatched the penalty, and it was all square, Boyd giving it the big one to the Reading fans as he wheeled away in celebration. So it was 1-1 at halftime and Reading were arguably very unlucky to go in level.
The second half started with another effort from Manset, a back post header headed back across goal flying just over. However it was a minute later when the Reading defence gifted Earnshaw that yard of space, that a player such as he craves, to rifle the ball in across McCarthy and via the far post into the back of the net, giving Forest a 2-1 lead.
At that point Forest fans must have been thinking their luck had changed, I was certainly sceptical that we’d get a win. But this is Reading you have to remember, and a mere three minutes, the ever impressive Karacan, scored a beauty of a header from a Harte corner to make it 2-2, a goal very reminiscent of Gunnarsson’s equaliser against Manchester United at Old Trafford back in 2008.
What ensued was the first inkling that something special was about to happen, the celebration may not have looked much at first viewing, but when you see it, every player, bar McCarthy, was involved, and the smile’s on the players faces were out of pure joy. eight minutes later, you’d have been forgiven if you’d had a heart attack. After a McAnuff corner was cleared to the back post, Ingimarsson, excellently controlled the ball, and passed to Zurab Khizinishvili. Zurab was only denied a first Royals goal by Forest keeper Lee Camp. With an “ohhh!” many in the away end thought the chance had gone, only to see Jimmy Kebe, standing on the back post to poke the ball home. 3-2 Reading. Cue ecstasy amongst the away fans! The reaction of Kebe was nothing short of astonishing, ripping his shirt off and running to the corner flag, shouting his head off, and 9 other Reading players hot on his heels. He received the obligatory yellow card of course, but neither he nor the fans could care considering his very un-Kebe-like outburst of passion. By this point my voice was close disappearing, did I care, no!
With 61 minutes gone we looked to be able to see the game out, Forest brought on Adebola and Tyson and Reading themselves brought on Robson-Kanu for the booked Kebe, who received a fantastic standing ovation, and the out of sorts Church came on for a clearly tiring Manset. A few chances came both teams way, but it looked like three points for Reading. That was until a crazy last 9 minutes.....
With 85 minutes played, Forest had what looked like a stonewall penalty appeal turned down after McAnuff appeared to slip and go through the back of Adebola. To the derision of the Forest fans, and delight of us in the away end, a penalty wasn’t given. Two minutes later however Forest were given their second penalty of the afternoon. This time Chris Gunter cut into the penalty area from the right, ghosting past Hal who followed with Gunter going down with minimal contact. McGugan took it, and scored, 3-3 with three minutes of normal time remaining. At this point It would have been fair to say that a draw was the likely result, I certainly though we’d blown the two points.
But, as I’ve relayed throughout this piece, there’s a spirit, an energy, a togetherness, a dogged determination amongst the current Reading players, that is better, in my opinion, than even that of the 106 squad. With a minute out of the four minutes of added time gone, Griffin took a quick free-kick on the halfway line up to Karacan in the right wing position, he played the ball into the middle, where Church (via Luke Chambers) bundled the ball in. 4-3 Reading. Cue absolute pandemonium amongst the travelling fans and cue absolute bedlam from the away dugout. Never away from home (in my time as a Reading fan) has there been such a reaction to what would be the winning goal. For Church it was magic, goalless in 22 games, for us it was what dreams are made of!
With a minute left we were given a penalty for a handball by Gunter, despite Long missing it nothing could stop the scenes the ensued at the final whistle. Delirium from both the fans and the players, each one exhausted, but elated. For the fans, exhaustion from the heat and the constant drama was replaced with the sheer adrenaline of the win.
Not one fan left before the final whistle. Not one fan left until every single player and member of the coaching staff were off the pitch. The final cheer and ovation was for the mastermind behind our imperious rise up the table. Brian McDermott. The honest, down to earth, brilliant tactician who, without, we may well have been lingering near the base of the Championship table.
Yesterday was a day that no one will forget in a hurry. Yesterday was the day, that without a shadow of a doubt, Reading showed they are the closest, most determined squad of players in the Championship, and with McDermott at the helm, no one will doubt that we have a serious chance this season.
Come on URZ!