Reading: Federici, Harte, Gorkks, Pearce, Cummings, McAnuff, Leigertwood, Karacan (Robson-Kanu), Kebe, Church (Le Fondre), Hunt
Attendance: 23, 655
Judging by the texts to Radio Berkshire and the posts on HobNob yesterday you'd think Reading were falling headfirst into a relegation battle with no hope for the future and needing 10-15 new players to make anything of themselves in this division. Thankfully despite a rather drab and uninspiring 3-1 defeat at fourth placed Cardiff, Reading are still in 5th place and well positioned to make a play-off run.
Below the line I'll recap a bad day at the office as Reading start 2012 with a whimper.
Maybe it's something about Chris Foy that brings out the worst in Reading. He's overseen some of our most dire displays of the past decade or so, including the 2-0 defeat at home to Fulham that went a long way to sealing Premier League relegation, a 3-0 thumping at Stoke in 2003 a 2-1 home defeat by Chesterfield back in 1999 as well as my own worst memory as a travelling Royal, a 3-1 defeat at Leeds in 2005.
Yesterday was another Reading horror show for Mr Foy to add to his CV and a ninth straight game in which we've failed to win under the Premier League man's officiating. I might as well get my referee moaning out of the way early and quickly by saying that Foy didn't have a great game, missing a hand ball for the first and certainly raising question marks by not blowing for a foul against Federici for the second. That being said, neither decision can excuse a poor Reading display and Brian's right to not come out and blast the officiating or blame it for the result. Instead, the refereeing was just another problem on a day when nothing seemed to go right for Reading, a team who looked to have run out of steam following a string of good performances lately.
Team wise an injured Andy Griffin was replaced by Ian Harte while Noel Hunt was picked over Adam Le Fondre up front. However, neither man did much to stake a claim for the shirt on a regular basis though in their defence, neither did any of the other 9 men who started or the two men who came off the bench.
The start of the game mirrored our last trip to the Cardiff City Stadium, with both sides shadow boxing their way through the opening 15 minutes but where-as on that glorious night in May a cock-up from Stephen Bywater gifted us a lead to change the game, it was a missed handball and a bit of trickery from Joe Mason that put Reading into a corner they never got out of. Mason's admitted he handled it in the build up but he still had plenty to do before slotting past Federici as Reading conceded their first goal in just under 7 hours of football.
Just six minutes later and Reading were all but out of it, when Aron Gunnarsson appeared to lean into Federici to head home Peter Whittingham's corner. While not a clear cut stonewall foul, you've certainly seen them given more times than not and Reading will count themselves unlucky to not get the decision on this occasion.
The third goal will be one the defence will want to forget as Whittingham played the ball through the legs of Leigertwood, and right between Pearce and Gorkks to put Miller through, with the former Wolves striker poking the ball past Fedders and into the back of the net.
Reading are getting to used to going 3-0 down inside the first half to Welsh opposition but like that day at Wembley they did make a fist of coming back into the game, first with McAnuff driving home after a great ball from Kebe and then following that up with a bright start to the second half that saw them have the majority of the possession and force a string of corners. Sadly just like that day at Wembley, Reading ran out of steam and even the introduction of Robson-Kanu and Le Fondre couldn't provide a spark. In fact it was Cardiff who seemed the more likely to score the next goal as only a couple of great saves by Federici saved Reading from a first 3 goal defeat since April 2010.
After the game Brian and the players both admitted they weren't good enough on the day and if there was a game we were going to lose over Christmas you'd probably have picked this one. Fortunately we have a full week off now to let the players recover ahead of a home tie in the cup with Stevenage and another week before we make the short trip to Watford in the Championship. Such a rest could be crucial and with Brian admitting he's looking to get a couple of players in, we could well be seeing a changed team at Vicarage Road in two weeks time.
It's obviously disappointing to lose to a play-off rival and annoying to end the festive period with a defeat but lets not forget the four wins and four clean sheets that came before it or the fact that we're still just eight points behind the leaders with just under half the season to go. Even the best teams have an off day in this league and it's no shame to be beaten at the ground of a team who've been in the promotion race for the last 3 or 4 years.
Onwards we march as Stevenage come to the Madejski in the third round of the cup. Our form in the cups have helped drive our league success of the last 2 years so lets hope for more of the same.