April 30, 2011
So how did we do? We drew 0-0 at the Ricoh Arena to secure a fourth trip to the second tier play-offs.
The Team? Federici, Griffin, Harte, Khizinishvili, Mills, Leigertwood, Karacan, Antonio (Howard 61), McAnuff, Hunt (Robson-Kanu 77), Long.
MOTM: The returning Adam Ferderici made some great saves in goal, while notable mentions for the hard working Long and Leigertwood.
So we've made it into the end of season promotion lottery! congratulations to the players and staff for achieving what looked a remote possibility back in February, if you want to find out how we got over the line, there's details after the jump.
Nearly 3,000 Loyal Royals made the trip up to the Midlands for our final away game of the season and saw the Royals secure a top six place with a gritty draw against a decent Coventry side. As is tradition the day was also inflatables day and all manor of things were bouncing around the away end, from crocodiles, monkeys and beach balls to even the odd inflatable penis! the atmosphere was fantastic and helped make up for a general lack of entertainment on the pitch.
Brian McDermott sprung a surprise when naming his starting lineup, as Adam Federici replaced Alex McCarthy in goal and Michail Antonio replaced Hal Robson-Kanu on the wing. Post match Brian explained that he wanted Adam's experience for these final big games and to be honest I agree with his decision. In saying that you have to feel for Alex McCarthy who hadn't done a lot wrong and had earned plenty of plaudits along the way. One of our contributors did a nice piece on the goalkeeping situation a few weeks ago that looked at this very possibility so give it a read if you can.
The inclusion of Antonio was less of a surprise given how poor Robson-Kanu looked against Leeds and Sheffield United and it was nice to see the former Southampton loanee given a chance to stake his claim.
The match itself started in lively fashion with the Sky Blues carving out a couple of half chances before Shane Long had a great chance to put us ahead, only to fire high and wide from inside the penalty area. Noel Hunt also tested Coventry's rookie keeper Quirke, but he got down well at his right hand post to make the save. After that point the game fizzled out a bit, with a fierce wind and a big pitch not helping the flow of the game. Reading were certainly better then the last 70 minutes against the Blades last Monday but this wasn't quite the reaction we were hoping for, as passes still went astray, men weren't closed down and Matt Mills still hasn't learned how to play a short pass....
I'll have to resist going on a full blown rant about Matt Mills in this piece because today summed up all the reasons why (at least to me) he's never really been taken in by Reading fans. Yesterday his temperament was questionable and his distribution was just plain horrid. My own preferences for a centre back pairing have already been aired on this site and I'm hoping I'm wrong with regard to Matt, but I've got a nasty feeling he might end up costing us in the play-offs. Yesterday our captain just couldn't make a pass and made a horrible tackle in the second half that earned him a booking and gave Coventry a free-kick in a very dangerous position when there was plenty of cover arriving. I certainly can't question his commitment, effort, passion or potential, but something doesn't sit right with me at the moment... anyway I promised I wouldn't rant too much....
In the second half our bad habits again resurfaced. Leigertwood, Karacan and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu all could have put people through on goal but failed to make the right pass, or play the pass well enough to set things up. We changed things up with not just Robson-Kanu coming on but also Brian Howard. Howard did make a decent impression when he came on, the former Barnsley man had plenty of energy and seemed comfortable both on the ball or making a pass. Going forward it's easy to envision a scenario where McDermott puts him in the team as part of a five man midfield.
Also on the positive side of things, at the other end Federici was impressive. The Aussie keeper made a string of saves thoughout the game to help ease any fears we may have had about rustiness.
As for our opposition, well Marlon King was given plenty of stick by the travelling fans and he was clearly Coventry's biggest threat, hitting the post and looking capable of running rings around a sluggish Griffin or fellow full-back Harte. Harte in particular looked utterly unable to cope with direct running at him, in the final five minutes he had a 10 yard headstart on his man but still lost the race comfortably. If we're taking on Swansea (as it seems almost certain that we will) it's frightening to think what the pace of Dyer and Sinclair may do to our defence... but I suppose that's a worry for two weeks time.
All in all, a draw was probably a fair result and you can never be too unhappy with a point away at a place like Coventry. If you'd told me 2 months ago that we'd wrap up a play-off place with a game to go I would have openly laughed at you and it's important we keep our recent achievements in mind when looking at the slightly disappointing Easter period.
Just one game left in the league season and it sees Derby come to the Madejski on Saturday. The game will be Robbie Savage's last in professional football, so it should be a good laugh (maybe he'll go in goal again..) In all likelihood we'll be finishing in 5th position, meaning for the first time we'll have a play-off semi-final first leg at home. Considering the way the last 4 campaigns have gone, I'm happy to try something new!