Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing a well-deserved win over a Neil Warnock side. This April 2012 tie was no different and it sent the Royals to the top of the Championship table.
It wasn’t a game known for its quality. The eye-watering challenges from Leeds United certainly took the headlines and it wasn’t long before the away side were reduced to ten men. Teenager Zac Thompson lunged in on Jobi McAnuff early on, with both feet off the ground and a reckless two-footed challenge. Straight red, no questions.
Jem Karacan was next in the firing line and I have to say this was probably one of the worst challenges I’ve seen live at a football match. There’s always going to be a chance that at least one player could be injured in a typical 50/50 challenge - well, Danny Pugh made sure of that. Another horrendous two-footed challenge sent Karacan flying.
This was even more deserving of a red card than Zac Thompson’s tackle. The most farcical thing about it? Pugh didn’t even receive a yellow card for it, although eventually he did get himself in to the referee’s bad books. We’ll come on to that a little later on.
I think Ian Harte’s attempted cross that deflected off Andy Lonergan’s (who’s now a Champions League winner with Liverpool) post was all forgotten about with that horror challenge. An image later came out that the tackle had created a hole in Karacan’s sock. Nasty.
The young Turkish midfielder was on the end of another Leeds United challenge just after; Michael Brown was the man to go in this time, taking the ball but leaving Karacan in a heap. This time, he wasn’t able to carry on and had to be helped off the pitch by the club’s medical staff. The Reading midfielder suffered a broken ankle from that challenge, leaving Brian McDermott visibly perplexed on the sidelines as to how Leeds United still had ten men on the pitch.
The second half started off in the same vein. Pugh’s challenge on McAnuff by the West Stand sent even the most mild-mannered Reading fans into a fit of rage. Looking back at the highlights, I think that tackle was worthy of a straight red card. Only a yellow card was brandished and I’m still trying to work out how Pugh wasn’t sent off in this match.
The longer the game went on, the more and more I was getting frustrated. With our opponents down to ten men, we had to squeeze every point we could out of this tie at the business end of the season to get promotion. We needed redemption after the previous season’s Wembley heartbreak. However, it was the away side who had the first real chances in the second half.
Ross McCormack’s powerful shot just outside the box hit the outside of Adam Federici’s post, before Robert Snodgrass had a one-on-one opportunity to put Leeds United in front, only for the Aussie to palm his tame shot away. We can only be thankful that Shaun Cummings was on hand to deal with the rebound.
75% of me was thinking this was going to be one of those games where we just wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net. The 25% of hope that I had completely went when Jobi McAnuff’s shot deflected into the path of Adam Le Fondre who scooped the ball home from no more than a couple of yards out - only for it to be ruled out for offside.
Let’s just say I was foolish to think a Reading side managed by Brian McDermott would give up after that. Only a few minutes later, Jimmy Kebe’s cross was headed back across the face of goal by Hal Robson-Kanu for the main man Le Fondre to chest it home. 1-0 Reading. Cue pandemonium at the Madejski Stadium.
Chants of ‘we are top of the league’ rang out across the Mad Stad, in an atmosphere that got even louder when Le Fondre bagged his brace. Leigertwood’s cross, Jason Roberts’ turn and shot and Le Fondre’s poaching ability made it 2-0.
Two goals, a clean sheet, top of the league and a win over Warnock. Happy days. It wasn’t a game known for its quality, but it was probably one of the most important in that 2011/12 promotion season. The players showed real desire and bravery that day, one of the reasons why they fully deserved their Championship medals. Good times.