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Reading FC 2-0 Nottingham Forest: Back To Haunt

A spooky occurence so close to Halloween... Chris Gunter finding the net! Garath McCleary was also on the scoresheet as the pair condemned their former club to defeat at the Madejski on Saturday.

Reading: Al Habsi; Gunter, McShane, Moore, Blackett; Williams, Van den Berg, Swift; McCleary, Kermorgant, Beerens

First Half

You'd presume the first thing on the Reading scout report is: "close down John Swift". Unfortunately for Forest, perhaps they didn't read the top line of the memo as nine minutes in, the England U21 midfielder created the opener. Afforded space 25 yards out, he fired a thunderbolt of a shot which Vladimir Stojkovic struggled to deal with. His block went straight to former Forest winger Garath McCleary, who curled into the bottom corner to open the scoring.

Forest hadn't won on their travels in the league all season but for much of the first half it was Ali Al Habsi who was the busier goalkeeper. Ben Osborn was causing all sorts of problems with his pace and trickery; one floated cross was just beyond Henri Lansbury for a tap-in. Damien Perquis forced a save with a powerful header which was tipped out by the Omanian. At the other end, Yann Kermorgant came close to doubling the lead from a well-worked corner routine, his back-post volley headed off the line. Danny Williams stung the palms of Stojkovic with another long range tester, which swerved wickedly en route to goal.

But Al Habsi continued to be the hero of the first 45, making a number of key interventions to prevent the equaliser. Pajtim Kasami somehow found himself onside on the penalty spot, despite the protests of the Reading players - he poked towards goal but Al Habsi made a double save to keep him out. The Swiss had another effort just before half-time which was again stopped by the in-form keeper. His best save was saved for last, as he dived to his right to deny an Eric Lichaj thunderbolt from hitting the top corner. 1-0 at the break, but Reading needed another to feel comfortable.

Second Half

In truth there wasn't much to report in the second 45, but five minutes around the hour mark settled the game - a tale of two right backs. Lichaj marauded forward and found himself one on one with Al Habsi around 15 yards out, but somehow fired wide when the goal was gaping. Gunter, though, certainly had his shooting boots on. Some great combination play with McCleary released the Welshman into the box, and he slammed a half-volley past Stojkovic to become the second Forest player to haunt his former club that afternoon.

Forest failed to fashion too many other chances in the second half, with only a Britt Assombalonga tap-in ruled out for offside to cheer. Instead it was a number of battles on and off the pitch which proved to be the talking points from the game.

Joey van den Berg and Lansbury had an exchange of words in the middle of the pitch after a couple of cynical fouls - both were booked, and soon enough van den Berg was withdrawn for George Evans. The Forest fans were growing irate, both at their owner Fawaz al-Hasawi and, seemingly, at each other, with one incident seeing the tangos pulling apart Forest fans throwing slurs at each other. And, of course, the return of Matt Mills didn't go unnoticed by the Reading faithful, who continually made their feelings known towards the man of the infamous one-finger salute. Mills' frustration would eventually boil over, as he got into an altercation with McCleary, drawing an even louder chorus of chants from Y25.

Closing thoughts

A solid 2-0 win for Reading then - as of Saturday evening, the Royals sit in fifth place after 15 games. That's some achievement considering Jaap Stam's relative greenness in the dugout and the major overhaul of personnel which went on at the Madejski over the off-season. Stam wasn't overly happy with the performance in his post-match interview, and it's fair to understand why, with Forest creating a lot of chances (21 shots to 7 according to BBC stats) and the Royals often giving the ball away far too easily.

But this team has something which we haven't seen a lot of in recent seasons - resilience. Ali Al Habsi might have had the odd howler earlier in his career but right now he's at the top of his game, ably helped by a back four which looks more comfortable with each passing week. McCleary seems to be getting back to the form we saw from him a few years ago, whilst Swift and Williams in the middle of the park are helping at both ends of the pitch. It's early days still, of course, and this was a Forest team devoid of confidence and without an away win all campaign. But it's a win, and a clean sheet - and teams are starting to fear the Royals once again.

*****

Points change on this stage in 2015/16 (52): +1

Points change on this stage in 2005/06 (106): -9

Points change on this stage in 1997/98 (42): +10

Projected Points Total 2016/17: 77