This wasn't pretty, this wasn't our best performance of the season but my word was it a gutsy second half that could well set us on the path to survival. Two second half goals from Adam Le Fondre made a miserable first half a distant memory as Reading finally broke their winless run in their 11th game of the season. Results elsewhere meant that we even escaped the bottom three, so for the next seven days at least, we can walk around with a smile.
Reading: Federici (8); Shorey (7); Gorkss (5), Morrison (9), Gunter (6); McAnuff (6), Leigertwood (6), Tabb (8), Robson-Kanu (6); Roberts (7); Le Fondre (8); Sub: Hunt (6)
Two changes for Reading who gave Hal Robson-Kanu and Adam Le Fondre starts in place of Garath McCleary and Noel Hunt. Jimmy Kebe was ruled out after failing a late fitness test so Ian Harte earned a spot on the bench.
From the very first minute Reading looked shakey and while Everton more than deserved to take the lead early on, the way we conceded it will give whomever coaches the defence nightmares. Jobi McAnuff sliced a clearance high into the air and with the ball heading down to earth around the edge of the box where Reading's defenders all seemingly stood and watched before frantically making late efforts to get to the ball. They were too late as Jelavic and Fellani combined to get the ball to Naismith who stabbed home. I haven't seen a replay yet but on first glance it was absolutely embarrassing and I've not seen an opinion or spoken to someone who's disagreed with that notion.
Despite their poor play the Royals nearly got themselves level minutes later when a long ball found Le Fondre who beat an onrushing Tim Howard to the ball. Sadly despite beating Howard, with a defender on the line, Alfie went for the chip but it sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Aside from a few free kicks and corners, that was about as good as it got for Reading who seemed second best in just about every department in the first half. Captain Jobi McAnuff and Vice-Captain Kaspars Gorkss in particular were woeful, with both players giving the ball away needlessly more than once and neither looking a steadying influence in a team that was looking helpless. To be fair to those two it wasn't a lack of effort, just a total lack of invention, composure or quality but plenty of other players would have had to admit to themselves that they just weren't up to scratch in the first 45. Everton fans must have been wondering how their team weren't further ahead as chance after chance went begging.
Two men that could hold their heads high were Adam Federici and Sean Morrison who were just about the only things keeping the scoreline respectable. Federici made a couple of great saves and Morrison was happy to put his body on the line to block anything coming his way. There was even a bit of attacking impetus from Morrison, who made a marauding run with the ball deep into Everton territory that just gave the fans a little bit of a lift before half time.
Reading were lucky to still be in the game as they trotted out for the second half but as soon as they kicked off you could see a change. Suddenly they were winning second balls, men were getting into space and we weren't afraid to press Everton higher up the pitch. Robson-Kanu and McAnuff both got more into the game and Roberts and Le Fondre were getting much more possession in and around the Everton box.
Just six minutes into the second-half and Reading were level. Nicky Shorey's free-kicks have been very hit and miss this season but he got this one from the right just right and it found Le Fondre who beat Howard for his first goal from open play in the Premier League.
Reading were now starting to control the game but Everton were still looking dangerous, only to constantly find themselves shut out by the awesome Sean Morrison. Whether it was a great last gasp sliding tackle, or blocks in and around the box, Morrison was simply amazing and it's one of the stand out performances we've seen in a long time from a Reading defender... Kaspars Gorkss please take note.
With Everton still finding no way through it was Reading who got the key third goal, which they earned from the penalty spot with 12 minutes left. Coleman brought down Le Fondre in what at first glance seemed a clear cut penalty and Alfie made no mistake from the spot, converting his second pressure filled penalty of the season, to send 22,000 Royals in the stadium wild.
There were still some shaky moments, particularly when a late header hit the inside of the post, but Reading held on for a crucial three points.
Performance wise and I hope those that were writing off Adam Federici take a moment to at least reconsider that view this evening after an excellent display from the Australian. It wasn't faultless but generally his distrubution, catching and shot stopping was excellent and he showed just why he was one of the Championship's best 'keepers last season. Alex McCarthy had better hope his injury heals soon because the number one shirt seems very much up for grabs right now. I'd still give McCarthy the edge, but it's a lot more of a debate than it was two weeks ago.
Nicky Shorey was again a welcome and composed presence on the left and created the opening goal, while Chris Gunter had a decent if not spectacular game on the right. As mentioned, Morrison was simply immense. He's not looked out of place in the Premier League so far and man of the match for me. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Kaspars Gorkss who just hasn't looked Premier League quality yet. He's not awful and I'm not suggesting bombing him out of the club but I still cannot understand why Mariappa or Pearce isn't alongside Morrison right now.
Jobi McAnuff had one of those days when it just didn't work out. Maybe it was his switch to the right hand side but for whatever reason he just seemed lost and unable to influence the game at all. In the second half he was better but this still wasn't a day he'll remember fondly for his own performance. Hal Robson-Kanu worked hard but again struggled to make an impact when he's started a game. I have no idea why but for whatever reason he just seems to make much more of an impact from the bench.
Jay Tabb was everywhere, he's been one of the real plus points so far this year and I couldn't be happier for one of the club's really, really nice guys. His enthusiasm and commitment is exemplary and while he may not be the most technically gifted, he certainly deserves his chance in the top division. Mikele Leigertwood was again infuriatingly inconsistent. One minute nicking the ball brilliantly, the next selling out Chris Gunter with a shocking pass. If he could retain the ball better he'd be at a top top club but maybe that's why we've got him. Again, no lack of commitment but he needs to stop giving away possession so easily.
Up front and Jason Roberts was again his hard working and committed self. The edge of his game was taken away somewhat by an early booking and he didn't really get a good sight of goal. Despite that, Roberts still looked capable of creating something from nothing and it's great to have him in the side. Adam Le Fondre struggled to make a real impact in the first half but was excellent in the second, taking his first goal well before winning and scoring the penalty. His touch is excellent and if he gets the ball at his feet around the box, he's someone that can also make something happen.
Noel Hunt came on and gave it his all for ten minutes, did what he had to do and played his part in Reading finally closing out a lead.
Everton fans must be left wondering how they've left Berkshire with nothing but if they play like that all season they'll be there or there abouts for a European place. Fellaini just oozed class and the way he controlled the ball was exquisite at times. Baines also looked very good and didn't give McAnuff or Roberts much of a sniff all game. If they play as they did in the first half they'll beat most teams in this league and if they ended up in the top four come the end of the season I wouldn't be shocked. Still, the way they switched off in the second half will trouble David Moyes and perhaps he should have changed things with the score at 1-1 rather than waiting so long into the second period, especially after managers like Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol have been able to turn games at the Madejski with telling subs.
Referee Martin Atkinson didn't have an amazing game, he was a little too whistle happy for my liking while the book came out a bit too easily on occasion. Everton fans were claiming for two penalties and it'll be interesting to see them back on MOTD tonight. However given our luck with refereeing decisions this season I won't feel the slightest bit guilty if they feel hard done by!
Overall and it's hard to know what to take away from this game.
Perhaps it's best to just not worry about the performance and focus on the three points and a good win. On two or three occasions the result has obscured a good performance but this time we've all got what we've wanted more than a good performance, a win.
Whether this is our best team remains to be seen and we're still right down in a relegations scrap but sod it, those concerns are for another day. What's important tonight is that we all enjoy the win, watch MOTD, watch Goals on Sunday, buy a few papers, scour the internet (after the Tilehurst End of course) and just relax for at least a day or so.
Congratulations to the players and to Brian, you've done it boys, now let's crack on.