Reading: Federici, Harte, Gorkks, Pearce, Cummings, Robson-Kanu, Karacan, Tabb, Kebe (Antonio), Church (Le Fondre), Hunt
A big first win of 2012 for the Royals on Saturday in front of the TV cameras. Nick Houlton takes the reigns of the match report today and a reminder that we're always happy to take your views on the games here, just email firstname.lastname@example.org
It didn't dawn on me until Sunday morning how important that win was. An after game, rash reflection on the victory was that it was another hard-fought three points but in fact it was as vital as it could possibly get. Not only did the win propel us back up to 5th but it gave the club and fans a first big lift in 2012.
Our next two games are at home so there is now no excuses as to why we shouldn't make it nine from out of a possible nine. Hull are a good side but we can't use that as an excuse if we don't win. The table is tight right now and we could quite easily drop down into the bottom half with a couple of bad results so the win at Vicarage Road came at just the right time.
For me, the boys had the better of the game and deserved the three points. After a comfortable first 30 minutes it seemed as if we would take the lead at any moment but after a lack of concentration and a very high line, the defence opened up. Kaspars Gorkss reacted slow, Alex Pearce was playing kiss chase with his man and Ian Harte was nowhere to be seen as Watford broke through our back line. It led to poor old Shaun Cummings scoring his first goal in Reading FC colours, sadly in the wrong end.
It was a rare blip though and credit is due to our defence who looked fairly solid throughout. Gorkss and Pearce had another fine game together and Harte, who you normally expect to make at least one mistake per game, looked assured.
Adam Federici, who's looked outstanding this season, didn't have too much to do but when tested stood tall and did his job. I saw a stat on Friday that read "40%- Reading have conceded the highest percentage of goals from set pieces in the Championship. Misreading" That was courtesy of OptaJoe and it's spot on. Each set piece scares me, every time we try to defend one we struggle. Despite having Pearce and Gorkss there, I could see it against Ipswich and was surprised we didn't concede one then and it looked dodgy at times again on Saturday too. This needs to be worked on as it's a silly way to concede and can cost us points.
The midfield worked their socks off. Hal Robson-Kanu started the game innocuously and while there were calls for him to be sent off, I would say a booking was a fair decision.... though that's maybe slightly bias of me. The winger grew into the game though and was probably our best player over the 90. His cross for Jimmy Kebe's goal was pure class and an attackers dream, he certainly showed glimpses of his quality and if he maintains this type of form then there is no reason as to why we should miss Kebe if he does leave the club.
That being said, Kebe looked dangerous from the off and had Carl Dickinson in his sights. His pace was again threatening and he looked lively, the Malian magician taking his goal very well and played as if he's content on staying, though we shall see. In all honesty, if he goes he will be a big loss, he's a difference maker on his day and we can't afford to lose that spark. However losing him on a free like Steve Sidwell would be an equally bitter pill to swallow. I'm 50-50 on the matter so I just hope he signs a new contract!
Jay Tabb had a very good game considering he was dire against Stevenage. Tabby got around the pitch and tried a few, audacious to say the least, long efforts as well as nice passes such as the one through to Noel Hunt. Jem Karacan is the real deal in my opinion and puts in great performances with fantastic energy and constant pressuring of the opposition. Mikele Leigertwood is also not the same without him, for my money Karacan carries Ledge through the games (harsh, I know) and he covers every blade of grass. The Turkish U21 is going places but hopefully with us.
I know Simon Church gets stick but his work rate is forever improving and he puts a shift in week in and week out. He can score the odd speculative effort but more often than not he tends to poach goals, sometimes late winners. I was surprised Hunt stayed on as he looked knackered and clearly wasn't fully fit as he was cramping early in the second half. He's different to Adam Le Fondre and Church, has slightly better movement and a spring in his step. His leap is rather good too considering he's not the tallest, he worked his socks off again and his hassling forced Watford under pressure.
What a difference substitutes make though as Alfie demonstrated his class with his finish. He doesn't get as many chances as he may have been used too in League Two but when he does get the he puts them away. A more confusing substitution was bringing on Michail Antonio to help defend the lead, though he also ended up doing well. Antonio looked bright when given the chance against Stevenage and again did a job this weekend, holding the ball up brilliantly in the corner as Reading ran down the clock for the last two minutes. I've never seen hold up play like it for so long.
One thing that bugged me was as to why Alfie got booked for his celebration, Le Fondre said it was for celebrating with the crowd though to me it was a disgraceful decision that the ref just got wrong. It put a dampener on what was otherwise a , rare, fine refereeing display. Alfie cheekily tweeted that the ref should pay the fine on Sunday.
The performance was alright but generally we failed to create scoring opportunities and nearly paid the price. It is apparent that we need another lead striker, proven and perhaps expensive but I think the current crop and Karl Sheppard can get by if given the right service. A creative midfielder to partner Karacan is key and could be the difference between midtable, the play-offs or in even an ambitious automatic push. We have Brian Howard here but he's almost certainly leaving during the window. If he stays and we fail to strengthen then it may be worth giving him another crack of the whip.
Anyway, another fine away win that sets us up nicely for two home games. The performance was good but we lacked creativity. There is still time in the window to strengthen and hopefully we will or it could be a long season ahead, as if it isn't long and nerve wracking enough already....