Eight wins from 12 at the Madejski against Ipswich, and just one defeat. After opening my Ipswich account with 4-1, 5-2 and 4-0 defeats in my first four matches (the other a 1-0 win) you begin to understand the satisfaction every win against the Tractor Boys gives me.
An unremarkable game, made remarkable by the fact three penalties were awarded in one match, a rarity that on average occurs just once a season in the Championship, although not as rare in Reading circles as the rest of the division. Since the beginning of 2005/06 there have been 10 matches in the Championship that have had three penalties awarded. Reading have been involved in half of them*, a slightly more remarkable stat given we’ve not been in the division for three of those 10 years.
In truth if you turned up to this match (or switched on to watch it) hoping for it to be a classic then I’d have personally asked for you to have your head seen to. This was always likely to be a difficult game to play anything remotely resembling fluid football. A marked contrast in styles, the Jaap Stam philosophy of dominating possession pit its wits against a typical Mick McCarthy side that boasts attrition, physicality and compactness that allow you no space to play in the middle of the park. Second balls are critical to win when up against a side like this, which in part I think was why we saw the more combative midfield trio of Evans, Williams and Van Den Berg with Swift coming off the bench in an effort to inject some extra ball playing quality into the mix.
McCarthy gave more than a hint of what was to occur in his comments to the press pre-match, alluding to the effect Wolves had on us when we were soundly beaten at Molineux, but that’s not exactly what occurred particularly in the first half as the Suffolk men spent significant periods stood off, sat in and keeping a solid shape about them.
It took a while for Reading to settle however, and Freddy Sears gave a warning of the threat Ipswich possessed after just two minutes, but eventually the Royals settled into a rhythm, patiently passing around the back while Ipswich stood off, keeping their shape. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably given that the expectations of some Reading fans which are clearly at odds with the patient, possession-based philosophy instilled by Stam, passing was restricted to along the back line and Al-Habsi for lengthy periods which led to the inevitable impatience from home supporters, and so it was the boos were heard around 30 minutes in. It was disappointing given the set up was clearly designed to counter the physicality of Ipswich, sacrificing some ball playing ability in the middle of the park.
Personally I’m not a booer, I can understand why some people feel the need to do it when they want and expect a faster pace and more direct nature to the play, but I think those expectations no more than ever need to be revised. Jaap Stam has suggested there is space for variation of play but he has demonstrated thus far that he is unwilling to shift from his possession based game, and Reading fans had better get used to it. The alternative is of course to punt it long, which Al-Habsi did, and Reading lost possession immediately. You can’t win as a player sometimes.
Regardless, Reading had by far the better of the first half. Roy Beerens had a decent chance after the Ipswich defence were forced into an error of their own, Bialkowski smothering well, while Evans got just under a very good Beerens run and cross from the left and headed over when totally free in the middle. Beerens had one of his most productive halves in blue and white hoops, but faded in the second, and perhaps McCleary, who was not quite as effective as his compatriot on the opposite flank first half but a far greater threat second, was a tad unfortunate to be taken off.
And then, just as half time was approaching with the scoreline looking like it was to remain goalless, a Tyler Blackett cross struck the hand of Grant Ward. From my viewpoint in the North Stand I couldn’t tell if it struck a hand or not, but the distance between the player and the ball when Blackett struck it suggested any penalty would be harsh. The hand, however, is definitely held away from the body thereby making the player “bigger”. It’s harsh, but there is an argument that it is correct, and referee Jeremy Simpson wasted no time in pointing to the penalty spot. Garath McCleary put the penalty away with aplomb to maintain his 100% penalty taking record for Reading.
Second half, Ipswich pressed higher, and got almost instant rewards as Tyler Blackett found himself the wrong side of Brett Pitman at the far post, and the slightest contact was going to see a close call. I’ve seen them not given, but this time referee Simpson pointed to the spot immediately again. Pitman dusted himself down and drilled the resulting spot kick down the middle. 1-1, game on, and Ipswich looked much more of a threat than they had done first half and looked the more likely team to go on and win it from that point as Grant Ward drew a good stop from al-Habsi minutes after the equaliser, while Tommy Smith missed the chance of the game from six yards after a set piece knock down. Freddy Sears also put a poor effort into the Omani’s hands again when played through into the inside right channel when Brett Pitman was well placed in the middle. The only real effort of note for Reading came from substitute Swift whose 20 yard effort was competently parried wide by Bialkowski.
Despite the much improved Ipswich second half performance though, it was Reading that won the game as, after the Ipswich defence received a warning for grappling before a corner was taken Joey Van Den Berg was clearly...I’ll use the word impeded here as he wasn’t actually “held”...by Jonas Knudsen. Third penalty, Danny Williams volunteered to take it. Being of German mentality, and having seen his uber-confident penalty in the shoot-out against MK Dons, confidence reigned supreme in my mind and the struggle pig didn’t let us down with an equally confident penalty to win the game.
* If anybody’s interested, the other four matches are Charlton Athletic 4-2 Reading August 2008 (Kevin Doyle missed, Andy Gray scored, Stephen Hunt scored after a retake), Nottingham Forest 3-4 Reading April 2011 (Kris Boyd scored, Lewis McGugan scored, Shane Long saved), Reading 1-2 Barnsley September 2011 (Ian Harte saved, Noel Hunt saved, Hal Robson-Kanu scored), and Birmingham City 2-0 Reading (Ian Harte saved, Wade Elliott scored, Wade Elliott saved).