There was a time not so long ago where simply coming from behind to earn a point would have been considered a major step forward but for Reading to not only level things up but then take the lead and go on to dominate proceedings has to be the major positive from today's 2-2 draw with Fulham.
As expected Brian McDermott kept faith with the 4-1-4-1 system that's yielding a four-game Championship unbeaten run, with the only change seeing Anton Ferdinand step in for the injured Paul McShane, who Brian McDermott has confirmed is a doubt for Friday's big FA Cup Quarter-Final with Crystal Palace. McShane wouldn't be the only injury problem for Brian to deal with either...
If this game had kicked-off at 3.15 then Reading would have been just fine but alas a standard 3pm kick-off time meant that there was work to do and unfortunately, the defence just didn't get the memo. Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele are one of the league's finest attacking duos and within ten minutes Dembele had Fulham in front after the defence fell asleep at a corner and left a 12-goal Premier League target free to make that 13.
Reading struggled to respond in any useful fashion, with Yann Kermorgant, Hal Robson-Kanu and Ola John all struggling to make much of an impression against a defence that has kept just one clean sheet since October. John was threatening to make something happen but struggled to beat his man and his final ball was also sub-par for the first 40 or so.
While Reading were doing a poor job at giving Fulham keeper Andy Lonergan anything meaningful to do, his own defender stepped up to the plate to gift-wrap us a penalty. Fernando Amorbieta isn't a name you're likely to be overly familiar with but we can all thank him tonight as he clumsily brought down Robson-Kanu when the ball seemed to be heading harmlessly out for a goal-kick. The Tilehurst End's Player of the Month for February duly stepped up and made it 1-1.
Now the beauty of a player like Ola John is that while he can go for long periods without making anything happen, he's got that uniquely brilliant quality of being able to conjure up a moment of magic out of nowhere and that's what led to the second goal. The winger got himself on the end of a cracking ball from the dominating Michael Hector and whipped in a delicious ball to the onrushing HRK who headed home to give us a half-time lead. He may not be perfect but John is going to be missed when, if as Charles Watts and I mused on Friday's Podcast Extra, he goes in the summer.
After a freezing cold half-time spent outside the East Stand, where myself and Bucks Royal recorded one of our first TTE half-time videos, Reading heated things up instantly with both a half-time sub and a chance to make it 3-1. First Hal was replaced by Garath McCleary due to an Achilles problem, one that McDermott confirmed will keep him out of Tuesday's game with Huddersfield, before Kermorgant raced through only to slot wide. It was one of a number of misses from the French striker who once again worked hard but was missing the quality that saw him score twice and create another up at Charlton last weekend. I still don't think he's best suited to fill that lone striker role but with the options available to Brian and the overall success of the system, he's not got much choice.
Just when you allowed yourself to think that Reading would calmly see out another good win, Jake Cooper got himself into a hopeless foot race with Ryan Fredricks which saw our young centre-back concede a penalty that you could see coming a mile away. Some people will point to the past two games as evidence of why Cooper needs to be replaced with more experience against Palace but to me he's going to have learned plenty about his positioning and it's only by making those mistakes that he's going to learn as a footballer. You can't have it both ways, either you embrace seeing your young stars develop in front of us, or you let them make those mistakes out on loan. McCormack made no mistake with the resulting pen and that was about the last meaningful attack Fulham had.
McDermott turned to Deniss Rakels to change the game but the Latvian couldn't make things happen, being far too weak on the ball and once again continuing to stray offside a little too often. Like Cooper, it's just something we're going to have to put up with for now and see how he develops. Elsewhere and chances fell in varying quality for Oliver Norwood, John, Kermorgant and Cooper but far too few tested Lonergan and Fulham were able to hold on to take a big point in their fight to avoid a relegation battle.
For Reading the draw does lift us up one place but it very much felt like two points dropped on a day where we could have been just nine points off the play-offs with a game in hand. As it is, it really does feel a gap too far and expecting this squad to win the 10 of 12 remaining games they'd need to realistically finish in that top six is very, very optimistic.
On the plus side and Hector was once again immense in the holding role, making some wonderful interceptions and looking much more like a £4m player than the one we saw through the early winter. Anton Ferdinand also put in a good shift at short notice and if McShane does miss Friday night, Anton will be a more than capable replacement. Ali Al-Habsi didn't have a wonderful day on an afternoon when he picked up the club's POTM award but his shaky moments didn't prove costly.
So next up it's a trip to Huddersfield before that massive game with Crystal Palace rolls around on Friday night.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Obita, Cooper, Ferdinand, Gunter, Hector, Quinn (Rakels), Norwood, John, Robson-Kanu (McCleary), Kermorgant
Full-time reaction Reading Football Club 2-2 FulhamPosted by The Tilehurst End on Saturday, 5 March 2016