Federici 8; Connolly 7, Pearce 7, Gorkss 7, Harte 7; Kebe 8 (Cywka), Karacan 7, Leigertwood 6 (Tabb), Mills 6; Roberts 7, Hunt 6 (Church 5)
After a two-week break owing to the Doncaster match falling foul of the weather last weekend, Reading finally got down to business in February. With the transfer window having drawn to a close, it was finally time to see if the Royals’ January transfer business could help guide the team to a playoff place come May. Jason Roberts retained his place up front for the visit of Coventry, who had lost all five of their last away games. Another new signing, Matthew Connolly, made his debut at right back, whilst Joseph Mills played in front of Ian Harte at left wing.
As ever, Reading came out of the blocks looking for an early goal to settle the nerves. The first twenty minutes were scrappy, however, with both teams breaking up each other’s possession with ease. Noel Hunt managed a shot at Murphy which he dealt with comfortably, then Deegan hit a 20 yard volley just wide of Federici’s right post. Jimmy Kebe was looking back to his best with some trademark mazy runs, and an early dribble led to a cross which couldn’t find the strikers in the box. But after 25 minutes Kebe found the net. Roberts neatly controlled a ball forward, backheeled to Kebe on the corner of the box, and he deftly chipped the ball over Murphy’s arm into the corner of the net. But the Royals were nearly masters of their own downfall five minutes later, as Connolly underhit a backpass to Federici and Platt stole in – he couldn’t find a teammate though, and the danger was cleared. Overcoming this minor scare, Reading started to turn the screw in the run up to half time. Noel Hunt could only head straight at Murphy from Harte’s floating cross, but another delivery from the Irishman two minutes before the break was converted. Connolly arrived at the back post to nod Harte’s corner home, but only via Jason Roberts’ outstretched boot. As any good striker would, Roberts claimed the goal but there was no underestimating Connolly’s contribution.
Coventry came out a team transformed in the second half and started to strangle back control of the match from Reading. Dexpite their possession, Reading still managed to fashion a couple of chances early on – Roberts ran at the defence and was brought down, but no penalty was given. He then blasted over after a Noel Hunt flick on. However, the Sky Blues were to come closest to getting the next goal. Alex Nimely, who had looked lively all game, found himself one-on-one with Federici but the Australian’s outstretched arm denied the striker. Connolly made up for his earlier error by producing a last-minute tackle to deny him again, whilst he had another shot from 20 yards fly over the bar. Gary McSheffery produced the best effort, with a long range shot, but once again Federici was equal to it, palming over from 25 yards. Then, a moment no professional wants to experience. A contender for miss of the season. Not for Coventry, but for Simon Church, on as a sub for Noel Hunt. From a cross into the box he somehow contrived to hit the ball over the bar from no more than 5 yards. As he tried to figure out just how he missed an open goal, Nimely was trying to grab a goal back for his side, and only another stop from Federici would deny him. The striker hit a piledriver from 20 yards which Federici had to react quickly to turn around the post. The late additions of Jay Tabb and Tomasz Cywka killed time and momentum, and the two sides couldn’t fashion any more chances, as the game turned full circle and resumed its scrappy style. The final whistle came, and Reading had avoided a potential banana skin to record another win, another clean sheet and another 3 points to continue the promotion push.
Adam Federici was the hero of this match as he produced a series of excellent saves to keep his clean sheet intact. The debate between Reading fans about Federici and McCarthy will continue, but the Aussie is showing why he deserves the number one shirt at the moment. His save from Nimely one-on-one was world class, and came at an important time of the game. The defence looked less solid than in previous weeks, but still managed to keep Coventry at bay, thanks in no small part to the excellent Gorkss-Pearce partnership. Connolly looked solid at right-back, whilst Harte and Mills’ left wing exploits were effective defensively. But in attack, Mills looked like a fish out of water as he rarely took on his man or delivered the cross. On the other wing, however, Kebe looked like a man ready to guide his side to greater things after signing a new contract. He was direct and fast, and his goal a just reward for his efforts. Roberts grabbed the other, though how much he knew about it is up for debate! But his work rate and ability to hold the ball up are exactly what the team needs to go forward and challenge at the top. Two wins on the bounce, nine wins in twelve, best form in the Championship – the Zingarevich revolution is gaining momentum…