Reading: Federici, Mills, Gorkks, Pearce, Cummings (Manset), McAnuff, Karacan, Leigertwood, Kebe, Hunt, Le Fondre (Robson-Kanu)
Ok I know the headlines are cringe-worthy but give me this one pleasure as I have to try and pick apart Saturday's game. It was a match that saw Reading lose their first home game in two months but ironically one in which they produced one of their better displays of the season. Below the jump I'll look back at a day that will at least be remembered fondly by the 4,000 city fans that were in the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
Earlier this week I wrote about the need for Reading fans to stay patient with this side and Saturday was a perfect example of that. There was a lot that was pretty good about a display against one of the best teams in this division. The defence looked solid once again, and the midfield pairing of Leigertwood and Karacan played well against a 5 man midfield that could have easily overrun them. Jimmy Kebe also had his best game since his return from injury, although was stifled by being doubled up on and once again lacked a final product.
Kebe must also shoulder a large portion of the blame for the Cardiff opener just two minutes into the game. Federici has just pulled off a fine double save with the second of them ending up Kebe's way. The Malian then tried to dribble his way out of the area only to get caught 25 yards out by Peter Whittingham who's first time cross-come-shot ended up looping over Federici into the back of the net.
From there Reading actually took control of the game, and for the next 15 minutes or so laid siege to the Cardiff net without creating anything clear cut. There were numerous corners floated in of which only a couple caused any trouble, while Jobi McAnuff managed to stake his claim for worst free-kick of the season with an effort that barely hit the midriff of the wall. In many ways this was a-typical of any home game this season, where Reading dominate the action areas without actually making you think they are going to score. Hunt and Kebe both found themselves semi-through on goal though both were well put off by Cardiff defenders, who as a unit played very well.
There were also a couple of shouts for handball but from my vantage in the East Stand and having not yet seen a replay, I couldn't tell you if the right decisions were made or not. What I could see was a referee who seemed inconstant and unable to let the game flow, the worst incident being when Reading were breaking from an offside given to them, but the ref brought it back to the infringement.
Still the ref couldn't spoil what was one of the more enjoyable games we've seen at the Madejski this season and the atmosphere was easily the best, helped in large part to the 4,000 or so Cardiff fans who packed out the South stand. While Cardiff fans haven't got the best of reputations they were good natured around the ground before kick-off from what I saw and bar 1 incident just before half time they behaved well inside the Madejski as well. As much as it can be frustrating to have your own support so dominated, it did ratchet up the atmosphere in the ground and made you as a fan want to win that bit more.... alas it wasn't to be.
Cardiff came out in the second half the better side but Reading should have been level when Jem Karacan was sent through only to force a fine save from David 'Biggest timewasting goalkeeper since Neil Sullivan' Marshall. Jimmy Kebe also had a goal chalked off for offside while Jobi McAnuff almost scored a copy of his goal in the play-off semi-final only to make a terrible pass to Kebe at the last moment.
Cardiff then seemingly put the game to bed when Hudson nodded in from Whittingham's free-kick and it was proof again that teams with a good set piece will find their way up into the top half of the table and separate themselves from the rest of the play-off hunting pack. Reading's best seasons have always had those players, last season it was Harte, before that Sigurdsson, Hunt, Shorey, Caskey etc. With respect to Mills and McAnuff, neither of them are anything above average in the set piece department and it's hard to see either of them coming close to the 10+ league goals that Sigurdsson and Harte produced in the last two seasons. Credit must still go to Peter Whittingham though, who was probably man of the match and I can't understand why a Premier League club hasn't taken another punt on a man who's been one of the best at this level for the last 3 years and was respectable even as a younger player at Villa.
Reading kept going though, refusing to meekly surrender as they had against Watford the last time they'd gone 2-0 down at the Madejski. Brian changed up the system moving McAnuff into the middle, switching Jem to right back and throwing Manset up front as a sub for Cummings. Manset couldn't repeat his heroics against Millwal but Reading did grab a late goal when Kebe nodded home a Karacan cross at the far post but didn't seriously look like finding a crucial second. The final whistle meant another 3 points dropped and the play-offs seem a tougher challenge by the game.
Individual performance wise it was a day when everyone was a 6 or a 7 with nobody disgracing themselves but nobody standing out. Federici's positioning wasn't amazing for the opener but considering he'd just pulled off a double save you can forgive him in a otherwise good performance. Cummings did OK, while Mills had perhap his best home game of the season. I'm pleased that Mills seems to be growing as a player and proving wrong those such as myself who questioned whether he was quite up to this level yet. I still wonder if he might need to be sacrificed for the passing and set piece skills of Harte but you can't say he needs to be dropped on the basis of his own performances. Pearce and Gorkks were average, Leigertwood and Karacan did what was asked while Kebe tried vainly to spark something. Jobi was as he has been for the last 16 months.. a bit meh, while Hunt and Le Fondre both worked hard but with little to show for their efforts. I do wonder if they're the right partnership at the moment because with the midfield so lacking in creativity we almost need a Shane Long type to pull defenders away and chase down lost causes out wide to make something happen, something that doesn't quite suit either of the men that started up front at the weekend.
So we end the weekend 6 points adrift of the play-offs and 7 clear of the drop zone while remaining in 14th place. After next weekend's trip to Ipswich we have 5 straight games against top half teams so by the time we face Ipswich at the Madejski Stadium on the last day of 2011, we should have a lot better idea of whether we need to look up or down in 2012.