Reading: McCarthy (6), Harte (4), Gorkss (6), Pearce (7), Gunter (5), McAnuff (5), Leigertwood (6), Karacan (5), Guthrie (5), McCleary (6), Pogrebnyak (6) - Subs: Le Fondre (6), Robson-Kanu (6), Hunt (5)
Remember last year when we played teams like Barnsley and Watford, wasn't that more fun.... oh wait, we lost those games didn't we? So much for that theory.
Much as they have done for the last few season's, Reading continued another slow start to the season with a defeat at the hands of a Tottenham team who were well deserving of all three points.
Going into the game I was optimistic we'd snatch a result but Reading offered too much respect to Andre Villas-Boas side and ultimately weren't good enough to take anything away on a bright Autumn day in Berkshire.
Full report to follow after the jump (warning, may not be suitable for those who are prone to panic)
Despite being well and truly beaten it was still great to actually be at a Premier League game again, nearly a month after Stoke had opened the season at the Madejski. With the sun shining, the main talking point in the build-up was the dropping of Adam Federici who is being given a 'recuperation period' by Brian McDermott, who wants the goalkeeper fully clear of a niggling knee issue before he returns to his squad. In his place came Alex McCarthy, who last saw league action 18 month ago as relegation bound Sheffield Utd took all three points from us.
The decision to start McCarthy looked a great one early on, as the young 'keeper pulled off two great saves as Tottenham made all the early running. Reading managed to get into attacking positions once or twice and could well have had a penalty when Alex Pearce put Kyle Walker under pressure forcing the England full-back to handle the ball as he went to ground. PENALTY! the crowd chanted but it wasn't to be, as referee Howard Webb penalised Pearce for a foul instead. On the replay it's half of one, six a dozen of the other but you can understand the decision.
Then on 17 minutes, Tottenham took the lead. Jobi McAnuff lost the ball out wide midway inside his own half, giving the visitors the chance to push Reading back. After a switch from right to left back to right, Sigurdsson played a perfectly weighted ball behind Harte and McAnuff, giving Lennon space just inside the Reading area, which the winger used to squad the ball back to Defoe who made no mistake 1-0. It was the sort of move that Reading fans had been dreading since promotion, with a combination of smooth passing and a pacy winger cruelly exposed our defensive frailties on the left. Would Nicky Shorey have done much better? Meh, but he couldn't have done much worse....
The rest of the first half saw Tottenham largely in control with McCarthy quickly alternating between hero and zero, making fine saves followed by careless distribution errors that Tottenham failed to punish. McCarthy certainly showed he's got the quality to be a Premier League keeper and you hope that those types of errors will be cut out with more playing time but on the surface, Adam Federici will fancy his chances of snagging a recall when he returns to fitness. That's not to write off McCarthy but he certainly didn't seem a significant upgrade on that performance.
The second half was much better for Reading, who brought Adam Le Fondre on for Jem Karacan and switched to 4-4-2. The change let Reading put more pressure on a Tottenham back four who were given too much time to step out and push the Reading midfielders back in the first 45. Adam Le Fondre certainly looked lively, without creating too many direct chances. Corners and free-kicks followed in abundance over the next 25 minutes but despite a lot of huff and puff, Reading didn't really challenge Brad Friedel.
The second Tottenham goal came with 20 minutes to go and again Ian Harte and Danny Guthrie will be wondering how Walker has been able to get the space to play such a delightful ball into the path of Bale with such ease. Despite being shepparded by two men, the full-back somehow found the time and space to get the ball in and while Bale got slightly lucky after scuffing his shot, he shouldn't have had such time and space 8 yards from goal.
The game was well and truly put to bed minutes later. Defoe got away from Gorkss just inside the Tottenham half and marauded past Pearce and Gunter before slamming a great finish past McCarthy's far post. It was a finish that showed why he's an England player and just why he's scored so many goals at the top level over the past 10 years.
Reading did manage to grab a late consolation through substitute Hal Robson-Kanu but it was far too late to effect the result, even despite a last second penalty claim that looked a very good shout live and on replay.
Credit to Tottenham who looked back to the type of form that had seen them take apart much better sides than Reading over the past 2-3 years. It wasn't a 100% awesome display from Villas-Boas' side but the gulf in quality was there to see and hopefully Reading's players will learn from watching the types of runs that Defoe, Lennon and Bale were making.
Reading wise and as mentioned McCarthy had some great moments mixed in with some basic errors that on other days would have gone punished. It looks as if he'll get a run in the team for at least the next couple of games and hopefully he'll shake off the rust by the time we get to the Hawthorns next week.
Ian Harte won't want to remember this game, it's harsh to single him out on pace issues because Aaron Lennon has destroyed plenty of full-backs even with a lot more pace than our resident Irishman. That being said Harte will lament the fact he failed to make his set pieces count and he generally struggled to get into the game. His place is certainly under threat but it would be unfair to single him out totally. Chris Gunter also didn't have an amazing game but his linkup play with McCleary certainly seemed a lot more effective than the Harte/McAnuff combo on the other flank.
The centre-halves were probably the pick of the bunch with Alex Pearce my MOTM for Reading. The defender earned International honours in the week and followed it up with a fine display that included some key blocks and a goal line clearance to save McCarthy's blushes in the first half. Gorkss too was strong, though he won't want to watch Defoe's second goal too many times.
Like Harte, it would be unfair to lay too much blame on skipper Jobi McAnuff but again the former Watford man will be wondering why he didn't get more into a game at the Madejski. The fact he's not a natural on the left was evident at times last year and the step up hasn't done him any more favours. Couple that with the fact he seems to be reluctant to move too far ahead of Harte and you've got a bit of a wasted attacking opportunity in my opinion. I'm happy to chalk this down to bad day at the office but when Jimmy Kebe returns, captain or not, McAnuff will have to be a little concerned for his first team chances.
On the other flank and as mentioned McCleary had a better day, being happy to take on the Spurs full-backs, albeit with little joy. His copy book was only blotted by a few wayward crosses but again it was a decent game from the former Forest man.
In the middle and neither Guthrie, Leigertwood or Karacan did too much right or wrong. Of the three Leigertwood probably had the best game while Karacan was unlucky to be sacrificed for Le Fondre.
Pogrebnyak worked hard up front but looked isolated and didn't really get a good sight at goal during his time on the pitch. He looked better with Le Fondre alongside him and it'll be interesting to see if McDermott opts for a Roberts/Pogrebnyak combo when Roberts returns from a calf injury.
Subs wise and Le Fondre looked lively, Robson-Kanu took his goal well while Noel Hunt didn't have much time to do very much.
I thought the atmosphere in the ground was pretty good, Spurs fans were quiet for long periods but so were Reading fans. Both sets of supporters can take pride from how they applauded a pre-match playing of You'll Never Walk Alone to honour the Hillsborough victims and I didn't notice any aggro inside or outside the ground.
Next up it's West Brom and while you can write off a defeat to a perennial top 4 challenger, it'll be a lot harder to stomach a defeat to one of your relegation rivals. I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two changes, with a move to 4-4-2 certainly possible and Nicky Shorey could be given the chance to impress against his former side.
We'll chew over this defeat a bit more over the next few days but until then, let us know your thoughts on today's game in the comments below