Previous match reports that I've done for the Tilehurst End have involved Leeds away and Millwall away two seasons ago so you can understand my fear as the clock started to wind down in the last 15 minutes. Thankfully Yann Kermorgant popped up with a good low finish to the keepers left in the 89th minute.
Other than the goal this was a game of few clear cut chances, Ali Al Habsi was tested by Jazz Richards and Pilkington with decent strikes from outside the box in the first half. Reading definitely came out the better of the two sides in the second half with Roy Beerens having the best chance to give Reading the lead before Kermorgant's winner. With this being a game of little incident and a good refereeing display instead of a minute by minute report I'm going to look at two things that pleased me with the performance and one frustration.
Recently the debate has been going on of 'is it easy to look good in the holding midfield role?' George Evans has been tidy if not spectacular in the role in the opening games of the season. For me Joey Van Den Berg showed exactly what is required for a player in that role in the modern game. In possession he constantly showed for the ball, dropping deep between the centre backs yet also pushing forwards he was waiting for the ball to be headed clear for him to immediately recycle attacks. Without the pressure of playing centre back he was able to show a full range of passing from tidy passes to Williams, Evans and later Quinn to push forwards, to Norwood-esque 50 yard passes to Gunter and Beerens.
Defensively he was even better, Cardiff lined up with a 5-3-2 with a three of Whittingham, Ralls and Harris. Whittingham is a player who's always been a talent at this level and Van Den Berg managed to keep him and the other two creative midfielders quiet in the main. While it has become a cliché in football sometimes you need a player who can put in a hard but fair tackle to let the opposition know he's there. In Joey we may have a player who can strike a bit of fear into attackers of the opposition.
Secondly we saw something on the pitch that I can't remember seeing since the Steve Coppell era; wingers switching sides. With Cardiff playing with wing backs there was clear space to exploit in behind on the counter attack. In the 05/06 season we used to see Convey and Little swap sides so that full backs would go from dealing with a pacey player to a tricky player. It could now be the same with McCleary and Beerens in one who has a lot of pace and one whose game relies more on trickery to beat a man.
Mixing up the play doesn't allow the full backs to get comfortable in their role or to get a handle on one player, so it was refreshing to see a Reading team try something new out on the pitch tactically. It points towards the fact that Stam wants his team to be intelligent footballers both on and off the ball.
Frustratingly at times Reading seemed unwilling to attack which is already not sitting well with some fans. I'd urge patience as this is a new style and yet again it will take time, and I have faith in Stam to deliver. However it is trying when on several occasions Reading would have a throw in near the Cardiff penalty box and instead of looking to beat a man and put the ball in for Kermorgant, Reading would end up playing the ball all the way back to Al Habsi on each occasion. 68% possession is an incredible stat particularly considering that a lot of the team is still the same players from last season, however at times there surely has to be an instinct to attack instead of always looking backwards.
Overall a very good Reading performance against a Cardiff team that were poorer than I expected, not enough pressure was put on the defenders and they allowed Reading to play their natural game. So far we have seen that teams that simply allow Reading to keep the ball will eventually be broken down, but this will have helped to build confidence in what is looking to be a good new look Reading side with some talented additions this season.
Finally it was refreshing to see a striker on the scoresheet, with the transfer window shutting in 3 days it will be interesting to see if Stam dips into the market for one more signing but for now onwards and upwards URZZ