Reading: McCarthy, Kelly, Morrison, Pearce, Gunter; Guthrie, Baird (Akpan), Obita (Cummings), McCleary (Blackman), Robson-Kanu; Pogrebnyak
With rumours of Billy Sharp being in the squad for yesterday's fixture and rumours of Jordan Obita starting, there was possibly more interest in Saturday's squad and starting eleven than the match itself. This was largely down to the fact that Readings recent performances haven't been very inspirational. It was exciting to see that Obita was starting and that Chris Baird was making his debut but the lack of Sharp was a little bit of a let down. When the match kicked off it was interesting to see Obita, Danny Guthrie and Baird were our midfield three with HRK and Garath McCleary out wide.
The first half played out pretty much how I think most Reading fans expected, with both teams keeping the ball well, 52% Derby and 48% Reading possession and Reading lacking that killer pass and spark of creativity that many can see that is lacking. Derby worked Alex McCarthy a few times, but he looked comfortable with most of the saves he had to make. If he can improve his distribution I think he'll be a future England keeper. Reading only had 1 shot on target in the first half and as the first 45 drew to a close most Royals fans went to the concourse with a sense of deja-vu.
The second half started with low expectations.
During the first half the Pog had been his usual self and largely isolated from the midfield but in the opening minutes of the second period the Russian won a free kick in a decent area. The free kick was delivered by Obita to the back stick, where Alex Pearce was lurking to knock the ball back across the goal, for the Pog to finish from close range. This was a classic Reading free kick routine which has paid off a few times before.
The goal unquestionably changing the game and one goal soon brough two. With confidence from his goal the Pog looked and played like a different player, so when McCleary took on his man and cut the ball back a Derby defender missed the ball and the Pog put it away with confidence and ease. THIS was what we'd all expected when he signed for us, finally he was delivering!
The game at this point should've been dead and buried but it's never that simple with Reading.
With Baird not fully match fit, Hope Apkan came on to replace him in centre midfield, which weakened the midfield's ball playing ability. This led to Derby having the majority of the possession again and saw them start to dominate the match as they had in the first half. Nigel Adkins could see this and brought off Obita who had had a solid debut and replaced him with Shaun Cummings to try and solidify the midfield and control the game again.
I personally never want to see a midfield of Guthrie, Cummings and Apkan again....
Within minutes of this substitution, Cummings was out muscled and didn't clear the ball followed by Guthrie also failing to clear his lines. The ball then fell to Will Hughes who put the ball into the top corner giving McCarthy no chance.
At this point the party atmosphere within the away end stopped and a sense of here we go again set in. Soon after the goal Nigel Adkins made a final change bringing on a fresh pair of legs to stretch the game out, with Blackman coming on for McCleary. The Reading defence and goal keeper were looking capable of withstanding the pressure and with HRK and Apkan keeping the ball in the corner the minutes seemed to ticking away nicely. Then the fourth official stepped up with his board and SIX minutes of injury time was announced. This was probably right considering Morrison's injury after he'd been punched in the head by their goal keeper plus a full six subs but that didn't ease the nerves at all.
Thankfully, substitute Nick Blackman finished off the game a well taken goal after a strong run from HRK managed to latch onto a long hopefully punt from Cummings and we could safely enjoy the closing seconds.
Overall it was a classic away performance by Reading, taking the few chances that we had. keeping the team compact and a well organised unit. With so many injuries a patched up Reading team with a debutant and first time starter playing in centre midfield it was a job well done. With The Pog's two goals lets hope this is the start of the player we all thought we'd signed over a year ago.
If you'd like a bit more analysis on the game, you can also find my player ratings here.