Last season Reading went to Villa Park and walked away with three points after the Joseph Mendes show. However, the modern Aston Villa and Reading are far different propositions.
Mannone; Gunter, Ilori, Moore, Blackett; Edwards (RC), Evans, Bacuna; Aluko, Smith, Barrow.
Subs: Clement (for Smith, 45); Kelly (for Evans, 65); Martin (for Aluko, 73).
Subs not used: Jaakkola, Holmes, van den Berg, Swift.
I can’t tell you what happened in first eight minutes as I was stood in a queue trying to get a ticket to get in with the slowest ticket office ever! Anyway when I walked in it resembled a scene from the Alamo with Villa’s midfield dominating the game and pulling every string that there was.
To their credit Reading did actually perform some heroic last ditch tackling and blocks with Tiago Ilori and Liam Moore throwing themselves into everything. Now this is ok at stages of the game and near the end, but trying to do this for 90 minutes takes superhuman fitness and concentration beyond belief. It’s possible, just not plausible.
With a referee looking to give free kicks with regularity, Edwards firstly gave him a helping hand on 16 minutes with a run of the mill yellow card quickly followed on 30 minutes with a tackle that bordered on ludicrous. After being booked 14 minutes earlier you would expect someone with Edwards’ experience to understand not to make rash challenges and give the referee no option.
Don’t let the red card fool you though. Before this Reading were second best, with the midfield offering little support and no outlet and routinely gave the ball back to Villa. This led to wave upon wave of Villa attacks and the bemused Reading defence managed to repel them. Admittedly, some were through good fortune, but the vast majority were due to the Villa players not quite getting it right.
This all culminated with a glorious chance for Villa on 31 min when Hogan had a brilliant chance which went over, and Vito Mannone on 34 pulling off a superb block backed up via Gunter helping him out.
Given that the Villa were doing good impressions of the Mexicans down at the Alamo, shooting on site and playing some sublime football, going in at half time Reading players and fans took a collective sigh of relief that a 0-0 scoreline was held onto. Whilst not justified on attacking prowess, it was a scoreline that was gratefully accepted.
All the good work that Reading did in the first half was undone in seconds. How many times this season have we conceded straight after half time in the first few minutes? The goal itself you have to stand and applaud as it was a good strike from distance, but questions have to be asked of the three defenders that are stood in front of the ball wondering what’s happening.
At half time Clement substituted the largely ineffective Sam Smith for Pelle Clement, pushing Modou Barrow up to be the focal point for the forwards. You do have to feel for Smith slightly as the service was non-existent for him and he had little to work with. However, when the ball did go near him, his first touch left a lot to be desired.
What followed in the second half was tortuous to watch. Largely following the first half’s display Reading did actually manage to spend a small amount of time in the Villa’s half, but when they did the defensive partnership of Terry & Chester managed to snuff out any threat there was.
The second goal when it came was hardly a surprise, with Hourihane rising virtually unmarked in middle of the six yard area to power a cross into the Royals’ net.
Clement responded by bringing on Liam Kelly for George Evans, who had been fighting a losing battle in the midfield, and Kelly tried to spark some life into an otherwise non-existent Reading attack.
Then we had a moment of madness that has plagued Reading ‘keepers for the last few years, with Mannone trying to play his way out of trouble. He managed to comically get tackled and present Hogan with probably the easiest goal of his career. I do feel for Mannone as upto this moment he had probably been the stand-out Reading player, pulling off save after save.
With the last throw of the dice and trying to get some decency back into the scoreline Clement subbed the ever-improving Sone Aluko for Chris Martin, whose time at Reading has been anything but successful. What should have been this year’s Jason Roberts has been a shadow of his previous self with a seeming lack of a jump to head a ball and always looks like he is running in treacle. I don’t want to single him out and, actually given Reading’s track record with loan forwards, (Vydra, team of the year, Grabban scoring for fun and Murray tearing up the Premier League) it does seem that we have an inability to get the best out of forwards.
The second half of the game had turned into a training exercise for Villa and once the third goal went in it got worse with the only opportunities for Reading coming when Villa were trying to be a little to technical.
Ok so we are two games into Clement’s reign, and many will point to this not being his team (agreed) and that it’s only two games and two weeks (also will take that). However, there are some worrying trends. Take the emotion out of the QPR win and it wasn’t a great performance.
Tuesday night’s game bordered on embarrassing. I will take that we need to go through one of those dreaded “transitional” periods but what I cannot accept is professional players seemingly not trying. There was precious little closing down in the second half, and we got played off the park. Yes Villa are fourth in the table for a reason, and if we had faded from the 60th minute ok I would have taken it. But from the off Reading were two seconds behind every ball, lacking in judgement and picking what balls to play.
Last night after reading my tweet out, Mick Gooding said that he didn’t agree and thought the intensity was there and the red card changed the game. However, before the red it was a matter of time until Villa scored and the intensity I’m not sure about.
In two games since Clement’s arrival we have stats of: 55 shots against, nine for Reading with one on target which we scored. Add in two red cards and 33% possession being our highest then there are some interesting stats.
We need to win both our home games to be sure of staying up, but on Tuesday night’s performance and the stats from the last two games, that is anything but a gimme.