Reading marked their return to football with a 1-1 draw at home to a resurgent Stoke City side on Saturday afternoon. Many tuned in to iFollow’s (rather unreliable) stream to see Mark Bowen’s men in action for the first time in three months.
The Royals’ long-awaited return was a bittersweet one; failure to put the game to bed, accompanied by some rather questionable officiating, ultimately led to a disappointing finish. I think I speak for most Reading fans when I say it feels like two points dropped, rather than one point gained.
Line-up: Rafael; Gunter, Morrison, Moore, Richards, Olise, Swift, Meite, Obita, Ejaria, João
The young Michael Olise made just his seventh league start for the club and Jordan Obita played in what seemed to be a more unconventional role, with Omar Richards adopting his more natural left-back position.
Elsewhere, Lucas Joao started up top for the Royals for the first time in over five months, with clear intentions of making up for lost time, and he did just that. The Portuguese poacher was in the right place at the right time again, and just five minutes into his return, he was back on the scoresheet.
Some neat build-up play from Bowen’s side eventually led to Chris Gunter feeding the ball down the right flank and past the Stoke backline. Bruno Martins Indi was unable to deal with it and fortunately Yakou Meite capitalised on his mistake. The Ivorian chased down the ball, squared it into the box and Joao made no mistake in slotting the ball in to the bottom left corner first time. The Reading frontman was evidently delighted to be back to doing what he does best.
With the deadlock broken after just seven minutes, the game began to unfold. The away team pushed up, forcing the Royals to sit back and withstand some of the pressure. Michael O’Neill’s side occasionally resorted to the long ball, and it very nearly paid off: Ovie Ejaria and Richards both failed to deal with a tame ball from deep inside Stoke’s half and Tom Ince swooped in unmarked at the back post. Luckily for Reading, the winger failed to trouble Rafael and the Royals could breathe a sigh of relief.
Just before the half-hour mark, Joao’s relentless chasing lead to some sloppy defensive work from the travelling side and Olise’s resulting long-shot forced a strong save from Jack Butland.
In typical Reading fashion, Joao hit the deck with seven minutes to play of the first half. The striker was forced off with a suspected hamstring injury on his return; Puscas was his replacement.
With 54 minutes on the clock, Reading still held their 1-0 lead and had a chance to double it with John Swift stood over a free-kick 20 yards out. The Royals’ playmaker smashed the underside of the bar and the ball was headed to safety by Stoke. Just 16 minutes later, Stoke forward Tyrese Campbell also hit the woodwork with a curling left-footed effort, but Rafael collected the ball for a goal kick.
As the game petered out, neither side created any golden opportunities and 1-0 seemed to be a fair reflection (if you are a Reading fan). Reading had two shouts for a penalty that referee Michael Salisbury arguably got wrong, under far less pressure than usual. Had Club 1871 been present, who knows what would have happened?
With two minutes of injury time to play, Stoke won themselves a corner. Sørensen’s delivery was easily met by Vokes’ head who cushioned it down for Nick Powell to head, unchallenged, into the same bottom left corner as Lucas Joao did almost 85 minutes earlier.
Calamitous defending from Reading who were caught napping at the death and made to pay the price. Bowen will be disappointed that his side were unable to see out the win on their return, but also frustrated by the debatable decisions made by referee, Michael Salisbury.
A win would have moved Reading within six points of the playoffs with eight games left to play, but maybe I was being too optimistic…