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Bristol City 2-3 Reading FC: Kermorgant Double Downs Robins

Yann Kermorgant was the hero as Reading started the New Year with a thrilling comeback win at Ashton Gate.

Harry Trump/Getty Images

There’s something about Ashton Gate. In 2011 Reading kick started a season which they would finish as champions with a win from being two goals down. My previous three visits have coincided with seasons when Reading have finished no lower than third. You can thank me at the end of the season for the lucky omen or jinx I have just placed.

Ashton Gate has changed a lot in the 15 years since my last visit. Gone is the awful away end and a relic of a main stand. The ground gives the feeling of a club on the up, but Bristol City are still the yo-yo team between the second and third tiers that they have always been since I first started watching football.

If you want to know why Jamie Cureton’s equaliser at Brentford remains the most important goal in the club’s history look at The Robins. One season aside they have never been genuine promotion challengers to the Premier League. I still feel Reading would have gone down a similar route if we had lost that day at Griffin Park, but instead we have never looked back.

Such is the difference in the two club’s divergence since 2002, the last two seasons for Reading were viewed as difficult for our fans when for The Robins they would have probably been considered decent seasons.

I was always of the view that a lot of what was said about the previous two campaigns was at times over the top. It seemed like it was time to lower our expectations and mid-table Championship mediocrity was set to become the norm.

Fast-forward to the present day and such has been the transformation that automatic promotion might start being talked about. This was not supposed to happen this season and yet after the start we have had, yesterday's game was the sort we needed to win if we wanted to be genuine promotion challengers.

After an hour any talk of automatic promotion was unrealistic. Half an hour later this was the game when we need to start taking ourselves seriously.

Brighton and Newcastle are the best two teams in the Championship and should go onto comfortably win automatic promotion. The latter though will start to be getting worried. For that alone, Jaap Stam deservers huge credit.

First Half

The game started as so many Reading games start. We dominated possession and the opposition sat deep happy to allow us to pass the ball amongst ourselves.

Whenever Reading did finally manage to get the ball into the opposition's third they found the only route they could take was to go out wide. Initially this meant Roy Beerens and Garath McCleary hugged the touchline.

Stam must have felt Yann Kermorgant needed support, as early on McCleary was moved up front leaving Chris Gunter as the only player covering the whole right flank.

For all Reading's possession they never really created any clearcut chances. Such was their dominance though, that the only way the home side looked like creating a chance, let alone scoring, was from a Reading mistake.

It was clear that City's tactic was to press high up the pitch when Ali Al-Habsi was in possession. They always left one Reading player free knowing Al-Habsi would pass to him, but that player would have no options.

This tactic often resulted in Al-Habsi and Reading taking risks. One poor pass from the goalkeeper gave City their first decent chance, but he didn't learn.

An even worse pass went straight to Joe Bryan, who drove forward unchallenged and saw his shot palmed straight to the onrushing Tammy Abraham who scored from the rebound. For most of the game Bryan was the only player on the pitch who was willing to be direct and were it not for the game's goalscorers he would have been a deserved man of the match.

Abraham's goal gave City a much needed confidence boost and for a while Reading looked rattled. Yet despite an unconvincing first half they should have been level. Kermorgant went close with a majestic header from outside the box and also hit the bar. Danny Williams also should have done better with a good chance.

Second Half

Those misses meant Reading would have to do something they had fail to do all season: avoid defeat when losing at the break. They made that task even more difficult for themselves with another Abraham goal littered with Reading mistakes.

Careless play in midfield gave Bryan the chance to run from the halfway line before playing in Callum O'Dowda who was knocked over by Tyler Blackett. There was never any doubt that Abraham would score his 17th goal of the season from the spot.

The build up to both City goals once again showed a major weakness in Stam's tactics. Such is the desire to dominate possession and build from the back that the players seem to forget that they need to be in positions where they can defend if they lose the ball. This isn't a new weakness, I highlighted it way back in early August.

For all the mocking from the away fans at full time, Lee Johnson had got his tactics spot on for most of the game. With a player as quick and strong as Abraham, City could afford to sit deep and pick and choose when to press high. They knew they didn't need to create any chances because Reading would do it for them.

One mistake Johnson may look back and regret was not stopping his team getting deeper and deeper as the second half progressed. Reading suddenly started building from the halfway line rather than their penalty area.

Unlike Reading, City had played the full 90 minutes on Friday and had to travel across the country. They started to tire and the first time a Reading player got some real space in their penalty area they were made to pay.

Gunter's pass found Liam Kelly who had time to control, turn and fire past Frank Fielding. From that moment the momentum was with Reading. City's poor run weighed heavily on their minds whilst Reading had the belief that comes from being third.

A frantic final 15 minutes ensued. Reading started to up the tempo and City struggled to keep up. Another low cross from the right, this time from Kelly, found Kermorgant who aimed his shot in the same corner and had the same result.

There was still time for City to go close, but when you're in a run as bad as theirs you don't get much luck. As Reading continued to probe, Kermorgant dropping deep decided to shoot from distance.

Same corner, same result. Déjà vu and delirium amongst the Reading fans. More of that arising from this trip to Ashton Gate would be very welcome.