Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Pearce, Kelly (Bridge 46); Guthrie, Williams, Karacan (Blackman 84); Drenthe (Robson-Kanu 46), Pogrebnyak, Le Fondre
Reading set out to dominate the game early on and press home the Mad Stad advantage, although no real clear-cut chances came from their play. Royston Drenthe released Adam Le Fondre with a stunning overhead kick from just outside his own area, but ALF was crowded out by Greer, who got his foot in just as the striker was bearing down on goal. Drenthe, still hungry for his goal, dug out efforts for goal when perhaps a pass would have been the better option - first, a weak shot from the corner of the box which was easily dealt with by Kuszczak, then a free-kick way out wide which the keeper got to just as easily.
But it was Brighton who had the better chances in the early part of the first half. David Lopez found himself in space out on the right flank and drilled a cross to Andrew Crofts, and his diving header from the top of the box sailed just wide. Lopez then stole the ball from an Alex Pearce miscontrol - he found Kazenga LuaLua on the edge of the box, whose shot was blocked by Chris Gunter.
Now, the sending off of Pavel Pogrebnyak is going to rumble on, but here's how I saw the two bookings.
The first was a cynical slide on LuaLua where Pogrebnyak had absolutely no chance of getting the ball inside his own half. He flicked LuaLua's foot, who took a step before going down - whether he lost his balance or took the foul is another matter. But here's the key word: INTENT. Pog wanted to, or attempted to, bring down LuaLua, just like he committed that horrendous challenge on Maynor Figueroa against Wigan last year. Extremely similar tackle, although less aggressive this time - but it still warranted a yellow in my opinion.
The second is the one I'm less sure about. Pog won the ball just outside the Brighton area, and was crowded by two defenders. One stepped on his foot, and the other was holding him back. Pogrebnyak went down, but there was no way the contact made was befitting of the reaction it got from the big Russian, who dived as if he was about to bungee-jump off the Grand Canyon. Yes, there was contact; yes, it was an overreaction. What does the referee do? Does he give the foul but warn Pogrebnyak that the simulation wasn't necessary? Does he wave it away? Or does he give the second yellow? In the end, he opted for the latter.
Still, one often talks about referees trying to even the game up after a sending-off, and Leonardo Ulloa made that particularly easy for Scott. Alex Pearce went in for a header, and Ulloa flew off the ground with a kick that Bruce Lee/Eric Cantona would have been proud of. Ten men apiece. The best chance in the last ten minutes fell to Gordon Greer, whose header from a cross was well saved by Alex McCarthy.
Nigel Adkins made two changes at half-time, with Hal Robson-Kanu coming on for the ineffective Drenthe, and Wayne Bridge returning for Stephen Kelly. And it was the former who created the first chance of the second half, as he laid back to Jem Karacan to force the stop from Kuszczak. Karacan has been in the goals of late, and his shot from a Danny Williams layoff forced another corner. Williams had been playing wide-left in the second half and he had a couple of good chances to open his Royals account. His header from a Wayne Bridge cross went just wide, whilst he also had a shot from the top of the box which was straight at the Brighton keeper.
But as has been the case so many times in his Reading career, it was up to Alex McCarthy as the last line of defence to keep the clean sheet intact. He could do nothing about Lopez' right-footed flick which flew harmlessly wide, but he showed his agility with two good stops from Barnes and Calderon, both volleyed efforts headed for either corner. Calderon found himself in another good position a few minutes later, but his shot from Matthew Upson's nod-down was harmlessly overhit.
And as ever, there's that one save which you can't quite comprehend how McCarthy kept it out. Stephen Ward beat the offside trap and crossed low for Barnes arriving at the near post, but Alex was in the way to somehow deflect it onto the post, before diving on the rebound. Just another one for the highlight reel for the star keeper. Ward had a decent hit at goal which went just wide, whilst Alex Pearce had the best chance of a rather chanceless second half for Reading with a dragged shot from 12 yards at a corner - again, straight at Kuszczak.
Nil-nil it finished, and whilst it's naturally pleasing to finally get a clean sheet at home, it's disappointing that we couldn't really trouble Kuszczak in the same way that McCarthy was by the Brighton frontline. Adam Le Fondre barely had a touch after the first ten minutes, whilst the second coming of Pavel The Pog was bitterly frustrating. "Give it time" is what we keep hearing, but how much time do we need? Brian McDermott visits on Wednesday, and neither side will need any motivation for that one. But draws aren't enough right now, if the aspirations of the supporters and the club are to be met this season.