In an enthralling 3-3 draw at the Mad Stad, The Royals secured an unlikely point against high-flying Derby County. The home side showed signs of improvement but remain winless in all-but-one of their last thirteen league games.
Following a controversial rallying call from Jaap Stam earlier in the week, the supportive home fans were given reason for optimism in the opening exchanges. Barrow and Bodvarsson probed, whilst Moore was denied twice in quick succession. But, though the Royals started brightly, it was the visitors that struck first. The capable, yet clumsy Tiago Ilori spooned a clearance into the path of Andreas Weimann, he picked out Tom Lawrence, and Mannone could only parry the Welshman’s effort to Kasey Palmer, who made no mistake from close-range. 1-0 down at home - this was familiar territory for Reading.
Ten minutes later, the resilient Royals responded – and in some style too. When the ball fell kindly to diminutive midfielder Liam Kelly, some thirty yards from goal, few expected him to shoot first time. Envisaging a Goal of the Season contender, the Irishman leathered the ball towards the target and, despite Scott Carson’s best efforts, the ball swirled into the top corner. A sensational strike, worthy of a second watch:
Liam Kelly (@L_Kelly95) takes advantage of a loose clearance for @ReadingFC in an entertaining affair at the Madejski Stadium today. #ReadingFc— Channel 5 Sport (@Channel5Sport) February 24, 2018
➡️ @EFL highlights from 9pm on @channel5_tv. pic.twitter.com/KhzLlhRIXJ
The Reading fans stirred, seeing glimpses of a positive and penetrating Reading team of old, and soon they were celebrating again. Barrow was released through on goal, he pulled away from Davies with his electric pace and finished his eighth goal of the season with calmness and composure. Not only were Reading ahead, but they were worthy of their advantage.
Disappointingly, the lead lasted just three minutes and, once more, the goal was avoidable. Ilori, who had given away a needless free-kick, headed Lawrence’s delivery onto his own man and, in an unfortunate break, the ball bounced at the feet of Derby’s captain six yards out. Richard Keogh prodded beyond Vito Mannone and the scores were tied once more. 2-2, as the half ended.
After an encouraging first period and benefiting from a rousing team-talk, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the second half to start with the home side on the front foot. Instead, Reading opened the second forty-five with a comedy of errors. Moore uncharacteristically misjudged a header, Aluko’s concentration lapsed welcoming pressure with an under-hit back-pass and, all too easily, Tom Lawrence danced through the Reading defence to restore Derby’s lead. The Welsh winger was a continual threat and deserved his goal.
Concerningly, the home side temporarily reverted to the loathsome Reading of previous weeks. Bacuna and Clement struggled to string passes together in the midfield and a succession of short goal-kicks from Mannone, were hesitantly returned to him, inviting unnecessary pressure. Aluko’s struggles also continued. The big-money signing appeared to be playing with little confidence, little creativity and little chance of getting a corner past the first man. An unsettled home crowd looked on as Cameron Jerome headed against the bar from two yards out. A chance spurned and a let-off for the lacklustre Royals.
Eventually, Reading rallied, for which they deserve great credit. When Barrow won the ball deep in Derby territory, the industrious Bodvarsson ran to the near post. The Icelander prodded Barrow’s cross goal-wards and fired past Carson on his second attempt. 3-3. The equalising goal triggered a universal sigh of relief from the Reading fans, as Kraftwerk blared out over the sound system.
Reading were looking the more likely in the closing stages and were given a further boost five minutes from time. Former-Royal Chris Baird was shown a straight red card for a scything lunge on Barrow. Tempers flared, with Gunter and Carson involved in a scuffle in front of the dugouts but, once the tetchiness had died down, Reading didn’t have enough time to make their man-advantage count. The full-time whistle sounded and the spoils were shared.
So, this was not a result to catalyse a season revival, but I left the Mad Stad having been entertained – and that felt good and somewhat unusual! There were several encouraging signs, particularly in the first-half and, at times, Reading looked more than a match for their opponents. They dominated the ball as per usual, maintaining 72% of the possession, but more hearteningly showed considerable attacking intent, registering 16 shots to Derby’s 11. Kelly, Barrow and Bodvarsson were the standout performers.
However, there remains a fundamental problem. Reading, so assured last season, continue to look shaky and error-prone at the back. With limited options due to injury, we’re relying on this defensive quartet to step-up their game over the coming weeks - not least, to avoid humiliation at Wolves. Next up, it’s the visit of Sheffield United on Tuesday night and the Royals will have to be more resolute to achieve that elusive win.