Federici 6; Gunter 5, Morrison 6, Gorkss 6, Shorey 7; McCleary 6 (Kebe 6), Leigertwood 4, Tabb 5, McAnuff 6; Roberts 6 (Le Fondre), Hunt 5 (Pogrebnyak 6)
A clean sheet was perhaps the only positive to come out of this game as Reading still couldn't find that first win of the season. Norwich had only scored more than one goal once in the League so far this campaign and they never looked like adding to that tally, despite their recent good form. But a lack of spark and quality up front meant the Royals couldn't nick a goal to secure all three points.
The first half was a tepid affair, with both sides not willing to commit too many men forward for fear of being caught on the break. Long shots were the only real chances on goal for either side. Garath McCleary hit one sweetly from about 25 yards which John Ruddy could only parry before a Norwich defender hacked clear. At the other end Bradley Johnson tried to repeat McCleary's feat but only succeeded in finding the top rows of the North Stand. Kaspars Gorkss came close from a Nicky Shorey corner, but his header drifted harmlessly wide. Grant Holt was being shepherded well by Sean Morrison and Gorkss, and perhaps the highlight of the first half was seeing his incredulent reaction when every decision went against him. Nil-nil at half time and this was looking like the Reading of last season, who seemed to be drawing every game 0-0 at the break.
In the second 45, not much changed. A distinct lack of quality and commitment to sending men forward meant the Royals rarely troubled the Canaries goal, whilst Norwich themselves were much more content to counter-attack at pace against the retreating Reading defence - but for the most part, the numbers back denied them. A nice move from Norwich saw Wes Hoolahan drill miles wide from just outside the box, whilst Mikele Leigertwood, having a particularly poor game, saw the headlines and tried a 30-yard thunderbolt which barely made it out for a goal kick.
McDermott sensed a change of impetus was needed and brought on Jimmy Kebe and Pavel Pogrebnyak. The former made an instant impact, weaving his way through the Norwich defence before being crudely felled. Nicky Shorey could only fire his 28-yard free kick straight into the wall. Jobi McAnuff, quite quiet up to this point, drifted inside and fired in a curler which John Ruddy had to see over the bar. And Kebe, getting lots of success wide on the right, floated over a cross which hit the bar before being cleared. Sean Morrison came closest, diverting a header just wide from a corner. Norwich were fashioning chances of their own on the break though, mainly from the left wing. Grant Holt headed one chance over the bar whilst another went straight into the arms of Adam Federici. Snodgrass got on the end of another cross but again couldn't test Federici between the sticks.
The last ten minutes were as lifeless as the first 45, as Reading didn't throw bodies forward and Norwich kept men back to attempt counter-attacks. The Canaries were content to waste time and take their 0-0 draw, whilst the Royals couldn't muster any more attempts on target - only an attempted volley from substitute Adam Le Fondre which he miscued. 0-0 it ended - for the first time in 47 matches for Reading. The Canaries, meanwhile, kept their first away clean sheet for 39 Premier League games - and the Royals never genuinely looked like keeping that record going for one more week.
This was mind-numbing to watch. Percentage football down the wings, which was pretty easily dealt with by the Norwich back 4. Leigertwood had a dire game, misplacing passes and losing possession far too easily, meaning we totally surrendered the middle of the park and instead had to look long and wide. Ten corners and only two reached a Reading head - in reality, this was our only chance of scoring as the front four otherwise looked bereft of quality and confidence. Noel Hunt in particular looked lost on a Premier League pitch - he was caught offside far too often and his first touch is non-existent.
Some have questioned McDermott's substitutions but I think he got it spot on. Roberts doesn't even contest aerial duels, instead preferring to back in and hope the defenders make mistakes. Pogrebnyak, normally so unsuccessful in the air, won his fair share of headers but Roberts prefers to keep possession in his own way, rather than running onto flicks. And Jimmy Kebe was the right call at the right time - Garath McCleary had somewhat faded out of the game and Kebe injected life into the attack. I do question his decision-making though - twice at QPR and again once today he could have squared for a teammate but instead took the shot on himself from a tight angle.
Let's end with the positives. A clean sheet, the first of the season, less than 2 weeks after that confidence-shattering capitulation at home to Arsenal. Nicky Shorey gets my man of the match vote today - he looked assured and calm, made few mistakes and looks one of the only players in the team who feel like they belong in the top flight. Chris Gunter is yet to fully win me over; much of Norwich's attacking play was focussed down his flank, so they clearly marked him out as a weak point. Federici couldn't have asked for an easier first game back between the sticks as he had no saves of note to make, whilst Morrison and Gorkss once again looked dominant in the air. When a pacier front one/two come to town, we'll see how they cope then.
But the main frustrating point is that Norwich were there for the taking. No clean sheets in 38 away PL games, and they kept their first today against a Reading attack that looked one-dimensional and unconfident. Whether it's personnel or tactics, something went badly wrong today as we more than dealt with the Canaries in defence. But a lack of cutting edge - a lack of spark, of nous, of quality - meant Royals fans went home disappointed.