Reading: McCarthy, Obita, Gorkss, Pearce, Gunter, McAnuff, Guthrie, Akpan, McCleary (Blackman), Drenthe (Hector), Robson-Kanu (Cummings)
When Royals fans arrived in North Yorkshire to find out kick off had been delayed by half an hour, you could be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a long old night in more ways than one. Those fears seemed to be backed up when the team line ups were announced and we saw an 11 without a recognised striker. After almost two months of naming the same team line up, birthday boy Nigel Adkins was back to his usual ‘tinkering' ways at the weekend against Brighton with four changes, and he made another three here as well. Garath McCleary, Kaspars Gorrks and Jobi McAnuff returned to the starting line up with Adam Le Fondre, Michael Hector and Nick Blackman making way. Danny Williams and Pavel Pogrebnyak were not fit to return from injury so this left Hal Robson Kanu to lead the line as a lone striker, a role he did with limited success in the reverse fixture at the Madejski, with Royston Drenthe in ‘the hole' in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
With Danny Guthrie pulling the strings in midfield we began the game keeping good possession of the ball without looking too threatening to the Leeds goal. Drenthe had the first half chance of the game for the Royals when his effort was blocked, before McAnuff sliced the rebound well wide. England hopeful Jack Butland wasn't troubled on that occasion but from a later corner he flapped at the ball and was thankful to his defenders for clearing the danger before a Reading player could get a head on the ball.
Garath McCleary was described by Nigel Adkins as ‘running on empty' at the end of the Brighton game at the weekend but he looked refuelled on the right hand side and it was no surprise when he used his pace to capitalise on some shocking Leeds defending to give the Royals the lead. There appeared to be no danger when the centre half knocked a short pass back to Butland but his hesitation allowed McCleary to nip in and knock the ball past him before tapping into an empty net. On the balance of play it was a well-deserved lead but one that the Yorkshire faithful were none too happy about.
The goal raised our confidence even more and we continued to pass the ball well and could, probably should, have doubled our lead when McCleary put in a brilliant ball for Robson Kanu. The makeshift striker looked set to score an almost certain goal but instead of shooting first time he opted to take a touch which took him slightly wide and his effort was tipped over by Butland who would have had no chance if the ball had been struck first time.
That excellent cross was to be McCleary's last contribution to the game as he went down appearing to clutch his hamstring and was replaced by Nick Blackman on the right. This didn't stop our dominance though with Alex Pearce going close when his header from Drenthe's corner hit the side netting. The home side were limited to a couple of long range efforts with a well marshalled Royals defence holding strong on the rare occasions the home side came forward.
The Leeds player were roundly booed off by the home support and you would have expected them to come out all guns blazing at the start of the second half but it was Reading who continued their dominance and doubled their lead within a minute of the restart. The excellent Chris Gunter played a superb ball down the line to Robson Kanu held the ball up well and won a free kick on the edge of the box. Guthrie and Drenthe lined up the dead ball, and after Guthrie had called rank in the first half seeing a weak effort saved, it was no surprise when Drenthe strode up to strike the ball. His superb effort curled round the wall and into the top corner of the net. As he did on Saturday, he raced to the bench after finding the back of the net and this time he embraced manager Nigel Adkins. Read into that what you will but the Dutchman clearly seems a lot happier at the Madejski Stadium than he did earlier in the season.
Just moments later it was three. Guthrie picked the ball up deep on the left and side and swung in a cross that was missed by everyone apart from substitute Nick Blackman who headed home at the back post as Leeds desperately appealed for offside.
If you thought things couldn't get any better you would be wrong as before the hour mark we made it four. Robson Kanu raced onto a ball forward, out muscled the centre back and raced into the area before firing into the roof of the net. The small travelling support were going crazy in the corner of Elland Road whilst the home support directed their frustration after seeing their side concede a 9th goal in less than two home games, on the back on their 5-1 thumping at Bolton. Brian McDermott cut a forlorn figure on the touchline and it must have felt like Groundhog Day. 1 year to the day he was sacked at the Madejski Stadium he was watching his new side seemingly on their way to another heavy home defeat. Royals fans could only tease him with chants of ‘They're going to sack you again'!
However just when you thought it was game over, McDermott played his trump card in giant striker Matt Smith and proceeded to hoof balls into the box towards him. You would have thought this would be food and drink to Gorrks and Alex Pearce but after poor defending from the Royals, Smith snuck in at the back post from a knockdown in the area and tapped past a helpless Alex McCarthy.
With Adkins on the touchline demanding his side keep their composure and go back to keeping possession of the ball, we easily gave it away on the half way line and allowed Jamaican international Randolph Austin to stride forward and unleash a long range effort that moved viciously in the air and into the net. The home crowd erupted and sensed that they had somehow found a way back into the game.
The next 10 minutes proved to be very nervy for the visitors as ball after ball was sent into the box but the closest the home side came to finding a third goal was when Smith headed wide. The introduction of Michael Hector as a third centre back and Sean Cummings on the right side of midfield allowed the Royals to close the game out well and after seeing through that spell after the second Leeds goal, we closed the game out well. In fact we nearly added a fifth when Gunter went on a lung busting run forward and crossed for Blackman who poked the ball just wide when the travelling fans expected the net to bulge.
The final whistle sounded and the Royals had claimed a vital three points in their push for a play-off place. With Forest dropping more points after only managing a draw at Middlesbrough and Wigan not playing until Wednesday, sixth place was cemented for the time being. It remains to be seen whether we will have enough about us to clinch a spot in the end of season lottery but after a poor home draw with Yeovil it was widely accepted that 7 points from 9 against Brighton, Leeds and Derby were the very least we required to realistically keep our season alive. That points total now relies on Saturday's visit of the Rams who also dropped more points with a disappointing home draw with Bolton. Win and we are right back in the promotion picture.
Be sure to check back later when we'll have a full set of player ratings.