Reading: Federici; Gunter, Obita, Hector, Pearce (c), Norwood, Williams, Robson-Kanu (Kelly 80), Taylor (Cummings 58), Cox, Murray (Blackman 57).
Subs: Andersen, Cooper, Kuhl, Tanner.
Following last week’s frustrating defeat at home to Watford, manager Steve Clarke tried to keep consistency in the starting 11, making only two changes. Jake Taylor and Hal Robson-Kanu came in for Nick Blackman and the injured Garath McCleary, meaning for the first time in a while the Royals would start an away game with two strikers up front. Only two games in for the new manager and already his selections seem to make much more sense than Nigel Adkins who continually frustrated with his tinkering.
There was something of a strange feeling around the game, with both sides used to meeting each other towards the top of the table rather than in the bottom third. It does seem that the two clubs are very similar, however, and both had great hope for the game with the recent managerial changes.
This selection immediately paid dividends, with Simon Cox flicking it on to Hal Robson-Kanu, who burst down the wing and put a great ball into the box for Murray to fire home after just 40 seconds, despite there being a plethora of Brighton defenders standing around him in the box. After months of frustration from Robson-Kanu, it was great to see him make a real impact again, and he would go on to impress further in the match.
Reading then managed some further attempts at pressing, with there being a definite threat going forward, but Brighton also had some desire and this resulted in some open play during the first spell of the game. Robson-Kanu once again managed to play Jake Taylor in during one of our particularly threatening moves early on, whilst Brighton kept trying to press forward and had a penalty appeal turned down, despite not really posing any real goalscoring threat (with Darren Bent in particular being quite disappointing).
However, Reading then got a further foothold in the game after 26 minutes. After some disappointing corners from Norwood last week where he was floating them in rather than whipping them, he managed to put a great free kick in from the right flank, which provided a perfect opportunity for Murray to add a second goal (although it did take a fairly large deflection off the Brighton defender, but we won’t talk about that) with a bullet header. This led to an almost surreal feeling in the away end as we hadn’t had such dominance in an away game at all this season!
A minute later and Brighton’s chances seemed to be halted further when Darren Bent came off with an injury. Although he had been disappointing in the game, such a prolific striker always has the risk of scoring (much like Adam le Fondre for us last season) and so it was something of a relief to see him leave the field. However, this seemed to mark the tide turning in the game, as Brighton seemed to rally and attack with much more intent.
After several unsuccessful moves forward, Brighton decided to try the long throw which quickly reaped rewards. Former Royal Greg Halford, who had already tormented us in 2014 when he scored for Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day, launched the ball from a throw into the box. Federici stood static whilst Lewis Dunk flicked it to the far post for Jake Forster-Caskey to tap it in from all of 2 yards.
This seemed to inspire Brighton to push on again, with another long throw just minutes later ending with Forster-Caskey hitting the post. In the end, half time came at a good time for Reading, who could take a break from the increasing pressure and regroup.
However, the second half was very different, with Brighton becoming the dominant team. Whilst Reading had the odd chance going forward, it was apparent that the home side had changed their approach to an all-out attack to find an equaliser, and it was mainly thanks to Federici that the Royals didn’t concede in the opening 15 minutes of the second spell. Whilst the Australian goalkeeper might have some critics, nobody can deny the quality of his shot-stopping and there were numerous chances which Brighton would have put away if it were not for him.
After an hour, Clarke made two substitutions, bringing Nick Blackman on for Glenn Murray and Shaun Cummings for Jake Taylor. Cummings ended up lasting a whole two minutes before being booked for handball but seemed comfortable in the unorthodox (for him) role of right midfield. Whilst Brighton continued to push after this, the Reading defence seemed to handle this comfortably with little in the way of chances, and confidence increased further after 80 minutes when Stephen Kelly came on for Hal Robson-Kanu.
In fact, the last 10 minutes seemed to slightly open the game up more than anything, as Brighton’s insistence to push forward to grab an equaliser created gaps in their defence which Reading tried to exploit with some counter-attacks. Of particular note was Simon Cox’s break forward where he put in a measured ball which Nick Blackman simply didn’t notice, but Jordan Obita continued to show promise when breaking forward and Shaun Cummings managed to keep driving the ball forward with ease.
But anyone who knows anything about Reading knows that we like to make things hard work for ourselves, and it was perhaps inevitable that a Brighton equaliser was coming. After yet another wave of pressure, Colunga played a cross in and Inigo Calderon came storming in to the box unmarked to fire home in injury time. Frustrating to say the least, but it would be unfair to say that the home team didn’t deserve something from the game.
Overall, though, the performance seemed to be a massive improvement from other recent games, with our defence in particular looking much more solid and capable of soaking up prolonged spells of pressure. It was also pleasing to see a bit more luck going forward, although if the inevitable happens and Glenn Murray leaves in January it will leave us a lot sparser up top. However, football is a results-based business and we cannot afford to keep throwing away points, and this surely has to be something that Steve Clarke looks at improving with urgency. I have faith, however, as at the risk of sounding like Nigel Adkins there were a lot of positives to take away from the performance today.
We just have to remember, January tends to be our best month…
Read Matt's player ratings here.