Reading: Federici, Obita, Pearce, Hector, Kelly, Chalobah, Williams, Norwood (Mackie), Blackman (Yakubu), McCleary, Pogrebnyak (Cox)
Expectations were high for yet another Tuesday night fixture against Leeds United. The Royals had been on a decent run of form and came up against a West Yorkshire side who have won just two of their last 11 games. However, Saturday's 1-0 defeat at home to Brentford was the first in five games for Neil Redfearn's team.
Reading's good form of late was as a result of losing just one of their last nine games in all competitions. Two of the last three games at the Madejski stadium had resulted in all three points for the home side, with the other match ending as a draw.
Steve Clarke made two changes from Saturday's impressive 2-1 win away to Wolves. The former West Brom manager chose Nick Blackman and Oliver Norwood in favour of Hal Robson-Kanu and Simon Cox. Leeds made three changes to their weekend defeat.
The First Half
The game began quietly with little of note happening in the first 15 minutes or so. Danny Williams collided with Italian midfielder Tommaso Bianchi with both players down injured afterwards. Williams was able to shake it off but a few minutes later Bianchi was substituted with an apparent knee problem.
After half an hour's play, Blackman was played in with acres of space but had his shot blocked. Centre-back Alex Pearce headed wide from the resulting corner. Shortly afterwards Steve Morison saw his shot from range hit the post having been sent through by Lewis Cook after the ball was lost on the half-way line. It was three on two before Morrison went close and this was to be Leeds' best chance of the half.
The first 45 minutes showed Reading's defence to be shaky and most of the team looked awkward when in possession and uncomfortable under pressure. This led to the ball being given away far too much. Chances were created but, well-known to Reading fans recently, opportunities were not taken and our forwards were unable to convert.
At the interval, the general consensus among fans of the North Stand where I was sitting was that Norwood was putting in a great deal of effort but consistently losing possession even when unchallenged. Fingers were crossed as fans hoped for a drastic improvement.
No changes were made by either side at the break and it was Reading who came out looking most likely to have an impact. A corner was won and from it Michael Hector went close when his quick flick at the front post was cleared off the line.
It was clear to most spectators that Reading's main goal threat was coming from their left-winger Nick Blackman. The former Sheffield United frontman saw a great deal of the ball in the first half and early in the second. He did well to beat Scott Wootton on a few occasions and cut in from the left side. His right-footed shot went closer to the corner flag than Marco Silvestri's goal much to the disappointment of the Reading faithful.
Close to the hour mark Danny Williams ran with the ball with his back to the opposing goal and was hacked down by Wootton. The foul looked awful and this was echoed by the Reading fans and coaching staff who called for referee Graham Scott to produce a red card but the man in the middle from Oxfordshire could only show a yellow.
Less than five minutes later Casper Sloth played the ball into Luke Murphy whose right-footed shot from around 30 yards bounced just in front of the Royals' player of the month Adam Federici who was unable to keep out the Englishman's speculative effort. 1-0 to the away side.
Steve Clarke responded immediately by replacing Norwood with Jamie Mackie who provided a much-needed injection of pace. Soon after coming on, the winger had a header saved by Silvestri after some trickery by Blackman allowed him to cross into the area.
Fans were getting impatient and Clarke made a double substitution swapping Pavel Pogrebnyak with Simon Cox and handing new-signing Yakubu his debut in place of Nick Blackman. The former Everton and Portsmouth striker commonly known as 'The Yak' was greeted by the home fans with the biggest cheer of the game. His only contribution however was a tame effort wide of the goal.
Leeds then went close with three attempts off target in quick succession before Williams had his shot saved having been put through by a clever ball from on-loan Chelsea midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah.
Time was running out for the Berkshire side and in the 89th minute, Michael Hector was dispossessed on the half-way line after trying to go past one too many Leeds players. Steve Morison was allowed to run at Alex Pearce who was unable to stop his attempt on goal. However, Federici again stood tall and saved Morison's shot only for the rebound to fall kindly for the striker, who crossed to the back post where Sam Byram was waiting. His calm header found the back of the net sending 2,602 travelling Leeds fans into raptures.
Five minutes was added on but Leeds were able to run down the clock and hold on for their third win in four matches as they bid to avoid relegation to League One. Steve Clarke's second home defeat, and Reading's first of 2015, leaves the Royals languishing in 14th position on 37 points, just seven above the relegation zone while Neil Redfearn's men rose to 17th.
Despite having slightly more possession (51% to 49%) and a larger number of attempts on goal (14 to 8), it was a below-par display which deeply disappointed the 15,500 home fans after such a promising run of good form. Hopefully this is only a small blip as Reading travel to Derby on Saturday afternoon for a Valentine's Day encounter with the Rams in the fifth round of the FA Cup.