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Reading 1-1 Huddersfield Town - Not A Happy Home

What used to be Fortress Madejski now seems to be a comfort pad for away sides, as 18th placed Huddersfield Town came to Reading and outplayed the home team. Not for the first time this season, the Royals looked second best at the Mad Stad, but salvaged a draw.

Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Pearce, Obita; McCleary (Drenthe 58), Hector, Williams (Akpan 80), McAnuff; Pogrebnyak, Robson-Kanu (Le Fondre 73)

Nigel Adkins rang the changes after the dismal defeat in midweek at home to Barnsley. Two players returned from injury, with Sean Morrison replacing Kaspars Gorkss at the heart of defence, and Danny Williams coming in for Hope Akpan in the middle of the park. Michael Hector got a first League start for Reading partnering Williams, with Jobi McAnuff moving to the wing replacing Royston Drenthe. And up top, Hal Robson-Kanu was chosen ahead of Nick Blackman, who didn't even make the bench.

The returning Royals got a rousing reception before the match, but after just four minutes, one made a critical mistake. Morrison totally misjudged a long ball forward from Tommy Smith, and the pacey Nakhi Wells scooted past the defence, slotting calmly past Alex McCarthy into the bottom left hand corner. The defensive frailties were clear for all to see as Alex Pearce screamed for a cross into the Reading box, then left it, forcing Hector to pump clear.

But two minutes later, the scores were level again - and where else but from the penalty spot? McAnuff ran past two or three Huddersfield players before he was (perhaps softly) tugged down by Oliver Norwood in the box. Pavel Pogrebnyak stepped up to send Alex Smithies the wrong way and calmly slot home.

In truth, the Terriers were living up to their nickname, as their quick movement and one-touch football caused no end of trouble for the Reading defensive front. Adam Clayton, running the show, had a pop from 20 yards which McCarthy spilled before falling on the loose ball. Clayton then had a contender for goal of the season saved in style by the Royals keeper, as some near interplay down the left saw him unleash a curler from 25 yards - McCarthy just got across to tip over. The resulting corner eventually fell to Wells, who tried to sneak one in at the near post from 8 yards, but hit the woodwork.

The right flank of Reading was the target, with Chris Gunter frequently being overloaded or being caught out of possession. Danny Ward fired over from just outside the box, then Ward was involved again as a neat flick-on from Wells freed him running at the defence. He released to Adam Hammill down the left who curled tamely over. And just before the half-hour mark, Wells found himself running at just Morrison and McCarthy. The Reading centre-back stood off, but Wells had a pop from outside the box which McCarthy saved easily.

If the above couple of paragraphs seem one-sided, it's entirely because the game was. Royals fans grew restless, and it was highlighted by one moment when Jordan Obita marauded down the left wing, but no Reading player was within 20 yards of him. A Huddersfield injury allowed the home side to regroup, gathering around Adkins, and what followed was perhaps the best move seen this year. Gunter, Pogrebnyak and Garath McCleary played some neat one-touch football down the flank which freed the right-back at the by-line. His cut-back was met by a diving Russian on the corner of the six-yard box, but Smithies palmed away his header.

With the crowd revitalised, Reading fashioned a couple more chances before the break. McCleary dispossessed Paul Dixon around the half-way line and ran at the defence, eventually crossing for the quiet Hal Robson-Kanu. His turn and shot was blocked, but the rebound fell to Hector, who could only fire straight at Smithies. And then during four (FOUR) minutes of first-half injury time, Obita crossed for Pogrebnyak, whose control was met by McAnuff, but his shot was again quite tame.

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The first half was certainly action packed, which meant the second 45 was boring in comparison. Norwood fired in a couple of efforts from fully 30 yards which flew wide, whilst Pogrebnyak found the side netting after a corner fell at his feet. After an hour, Morrison made another mistake extremely similar to that which the Terriers scored from in the first half, but managed to recover and deny Wells a second. The away side were certainly trying to test McCarthy from afar, and their best effort came from Ward, whose daisycutter from 20 yards was heading for the bottom corner before the Reading keeper diverted it for a corner.

Adkins tried to change the flow with some substitutions, as Drenthe replaced McCleary and Le Fondre came on for Robson-Kanu. But Huddersfield had the best chance for a winner, as Murray Wallace headed towards goal from a corner, only for Obita to vitally stick out a leg; the follow-up was tame and straight at McCarthy. Reading could have nicked a win in injury-time, Drenthe swinging in a deep free-kick with Morrison got his head to, but it was off target. The Royals had to settle for a point, and on reflection, that's not a bad result.

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Why the problems at home? You probably already know the facts, but let's go through them again.

  • Since beating Blackpool 5-1 and Bolton 7-1 at the Mad Stad, Reading have lost three and drawn three at home.
  • Those matches have come against teams now placed 4th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 22nd and 24th.
  • We've scored three goals in those matches - two penalties and an own goal.
Most worryingly, in the past week, both Barnsley and Huddersfield have completely played Reading off the park - and make no mistake, the Terriers really could have scored four or five today. Obviously the Royals are a better counter-attacking side, but it's just a tad worrying that they cannot take control of a game, even against the sides at the bottom of the league. Just the one "killer" chance today, and another goal from a penalty - the problems are clear for all to see.

I'd like to say "the problem is this", but that's just impossible to do. Both Gunter and Obita have little option but to play tactical hoofball down the line, or pass back to the centre-backs and McCarthy. Williams is the only central midfielder capable of driving forward as well as doing a job defensively, but he wasn't at the races today. There's a lack of movement in between the lines, with the Royals almost lining up with a 6-0-4 in possession. And whilst Pogrebnyak and Le Fondre can trouble defences, they don't have one outstanding quality which gives them an edge, like the pace of Wells, or the power and presence of Yeovil's Kieffer Moore.

And yet, Reading are still in the play-offs. Yup, you read that right. And whilst teams had games in hand below us before today, now it's truly in our hands. Win every game, and we're in the lottery. But this is a side that doesn't look like winning any matches at the moment, in spite of the players we have at our disposal. In fits and spurts, the Royals have shown quality - just look at that wonderful play between Gunter, McCleary and Pogrebnyak today which so nearly brought a goal. But moments aren't enough, and Reading right now won't stand a chance in the play-offs.

Trips to Charlton (21st) and Bournemouth (10th) next, before the champions elect Leicester City visit the Madejski. And there would be a certain poetry if the Foxes sealed promotion in Reading; a mirror to the campaign of 2005/06, which is exactly how this Royals side seems at the moment.