Reading: Federici, Kelly, Obita, Pearce (c), Hector, Chalobah, Williams, Mackie (Cooper 90), Robson-Kanu (McCleary 76), Cox (Akpan 76), Pogrebnyak.
Subs: Andersen, Cooper, Norwood, Blackman, Yakubu.
Steve Clarke kept his faith in the 4-4-2 formation that has been tested to the full in recent weeks- with largely pleasing results. Personnel changes from Tuesday's defeat against Wigan Athletic included the removal of Garath McCleary for Jamie Mackie, and Michael Hector's return to central defence that allowed Nathaniel Chalobah to take to midfield ahead of Oliver Norwood.
The match took very little time to kick into gear, with both sides looking to sit back- to an extent- and be punchy going forward. The first chance fell to top scorer Daryl Murphy, who has allowed to run on his weaker right-foot and placed a shot straight at Adam Federici. Indeed, Mick McCarthy's men had the best of the immediate chances, with Kelly and Mackie struggling as a defensive duo on Ipswich's left, allowing Murphy to cross for a weak Freddie Sears header.
When in possession, the Royals looked comfortable and forward-thinking, the first example of this saw a long ball up-field controlled well by Pavel Pogrebnyak- who found returning winger Mackie. Defender Tyrone Mings backed off and the Nottingham Forest-loanee took aim to fire home a daisy-cutter from all of 20-yards out. The away fans, who sat directly in-line with the shot as it nestled in the bottom corner, were joined in their celebrations by Mackie as the Scotsman indulged in his second Royals goal.
Town responded with the first of many futile handball shouts in the visitors penalty area, but the confidence that the goal had given Reading began to show as Hal Robson-Kanu, then Chalobah, had chances outside the area fired over. Ipswich, meanwhile, were creating chances but failing to take them. The closest they came in the first period was an unmarked Jay Tabb header at the far-post; the Irishman still loves us, clearly, as he headed wide from a great position. The game became scrappy but that suited Reading, with the away side good in the tackle and much more assured with Hector in the back-four, who impressed along with Cox despite the Royals becoming disjointed under Ipswich pressure.
With the referee edging towards some dubious home-team decisions, and some dodgy defensive moments allowing Ipswich time and space, the half-time whistle was welcome with the hosts' poor finishing keeping the score at one-nothing.
It was a bright start to the second period by Steve Clarke's men, sent out with the knowledge that one goal was unlikely to be enough. Danny Williams came into the game more, winning a dangerous free-kick via some nifty footwork as he drove the team towards goal- Chalobah stepped up and had a neat effort parried wide by ex-Southampton keeper Bartosz Bialkowski. The hosts pressure began to grow again, Murphy over-running a good position but still managing to get a shot on-target and moments later Tabb fired across goal from 12-yards.
The hosts had woken up, with Teddy Bishop's deflected strike dribbling inches past the far-post. However, the Royals were a threat on the break with great play from the Pog and HRK almost finding Williams for a tap-in at the far-post. Once again, however, lazy touches from Reading allowed Ipswich pressure- but resolute defending was looked good to hold out for the clean-sheet. Sub Paul Anderson and then Freddie Sears- with a great near-post chance- had efforts matched by Federici.
That led to Clarke employing a 4-5-1, with McCleary coming on along with Hope Akpan. This worked well, with only a foul in the D on debutant Luke Varney gaining ground for the Tractor Boys- Anderson fired the free-kick over. Reading were to counter again via McCleary, culminating in a Mackie miss, before the injury-time rally began. Jake Cooper was thrown on as Murphy had a flick-header fly wide and Federici held the last effort of the game to see out Reading's third-away win in a row.
Full Time: Ipswich 0-1 Reading
It was good to see Reading push themselves further into mid-table, allaying fears of relegation as we clearly have enough quality and a clear game plan for away matches. Of course, the elephant in the room is our home form; but the problem, for me, is one of tactics. Away from Berkshire, as in this victory, we can be vibrant on the attack through counters and pace- along with a dose of clinicality. At home, we simply cannot play on the counter as sides- a la Wigan- won't give a penny in space in-behind their back-four. That doesn't mean we have to play slower, docile football like we have been: because when we show our speed, strength and decisiveness, this Reading outfit is more than good enough to be competitive in the Championship.
Finally, a Champagne Moment to end on. Part of the fun in away games is upsetting the home fans, sadistic as that may be, but the fact that the hosts boasted Saturday as their 'international fans day' by showcasing over 100 Norwegian, American, and Irish fans added an exotic touch to annoying the good folk of Suffolk.