Thick and fast is the only way games come in the EFL Championship, and, with the defeat at Millwall still probably fresh in the player’s minds, they were forced to run out for a second time this week as they welcomed East Anglian side Norwich City to Berkshire on Saturday evening, in front of the Sky Sports cameras for the first time this season.
Not for the first time this season, Jaap Stam opted to change his formation again in this match, moving from a five-man defence at The New Den to a back four at home. Tiago Ilori was the centre back who made way to the bench, with the midfield three made up of Joey van den Berg, Liam Kelly and Leandro Bacuna. The Dutchman was the only player in the centre of the park to keep his place following Tuesday’s defeat, with veteran Dave Edwards also moved to the bench. The front three remained the same, with Garath McCleary continuing his rehabilitation after recently returning from injury.
There was a somewhat disorganised look to Reading as the game kicked-off, with Paul McShane trying to show control over the players, and several silly tackles being committed by The Royals in the early minutes. The captain himself was perhaps slightly lucky to avoid an early penalty shout from Cameron Jerome after the Irishman barged him over in the penalty area, but van den Berg wasn’t as lucky as, moments later, he brought down James Maddison just outside of the area, and the former Coventry City player made it two goals in as many games as he sweetly curled the ball over the wall and beyond the reach of Vito Mannone.
But the lead didn’t last long for The Canaries, with Reading striking back within just a few minutes. Sone Aluko won what appeared to be a relatively safe free kick in the Norwich half, but the ball curled over the penalty area, and managed to find the head of defender Liam Moore at the far post, who was able to nod the ball into the back of the net unimpeded, his first of the campaign.
Reading became more comfortable on the ball as the first period went on, although chances were few and far between for both sides. City probably had the best of the opportunities, however, with Cameron Jerome managing to receive a long pass before beating McShane to the ball and bearing down on goal, but his side-footed effort could only bounce off the far post.
The Canaries struck early in the second half as well, scoring just seven minutes after the restart to put Norwich ahead in the game. It was once again from a set piece (a corner this time), and Reading could only watch as Maddison’s curled ball flew over their heads and met a free Cameron Jerome at the far post, who was able to nod the ball into the top corner of the net.
Frustrations seemed to show for The Royals, with both Dutch players Roy Beerens and Joey van den Berg picking up bookings around the hour mark for poor fouls on the hour mark. The first change for Reading came soon after, as Aluko was rested and on came Jón Daði Böðvarsson up front. Modou Barrow also joined the fray in the second period, along with academy graduate Omar Richards, taking the place of left back Tyler Blackett.
As the final twenty minutes came, Norwich City pulled back into their own half, restricting any change on the game the height of Böðvarsson or the pace of Barrow might have had. One of the best chances went to right back Chris Gunter, whose effort from the edge of the area struck the top of the crossbar before going over.
Marley Watkins, who had only been on the pitch since the hour mark, earned himself a straight red just minutes before the full time whistle blew after a lunge on Gunter, but the ten men were able to hold on to a win which puts them within shouting distance of the top six, while Reading, now five league matches without a win, have just nine points from ten games and are one point off the bottom three. This isn’t just relegation form, but sacking form as well. Jaap Stam will need to see improvement after the international break to ease the pressure on himself.