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If only there was some way a judging panel could give a side an extra point for dominating a game but not winning....Reading were unquestionably the better side in the autumn sunshine at the Madejski Stadium but two Demba Ba goals cancelled out strikes from Jimmy Kebe and Noel Hunt as Reading had to make do with a point.
Reading Prem Watch
2006/07 PLD:5 W:3 D:0 L2 PTS 9 - 6th
2007/08 PLD:5 W:1 D:1 L3 PTS 4 - 18th
2012/13 PLD:5 W:0 D:2 L:3 PTS: 2 - 19th
Reading: McCarthy (7); Shorey (7), Gorkss (6), Mariappa (8), Cummings (8); McAnuff (8), Leigertwood (7), Karacan (7); Kebe (8); Hunt (9), Pogrebnyak (7) - Subs: McCleary (6), Roberts (7), Le Fondre (6)
I can't say I was overfilled with confidence going into this one due to Newcastle's strength in the final third and our defence having conceded in every game this year. On top of that I was mystified that Brian had elected to keep Alex Pearce out the side in favour of Gorkss and Mariappa. That was one of five changes from the last league game at West Brom and you have to give credit to Brian who isn't afraid to mix things up.
Needless to say the changes worked as this was much more the Reading of early 2012 than the timid shot-shy version we've seen so far this season. From the kick-off Reading had a much, much higher tempo, forcing Newcastle on to the back foot and going in 100% committed for every ball. It might sound cliche but Reading just seemed to want it more than a Newcastle side that looked like a bunch of individuals who had swanned down to Berkshire expecting to roll over the bottom side in the league.
Despite a much higher tempo, Reading still had to wait a good while to fashion real chances but as the half wore on they edged closer and closer, with Pogrebnyak having the two best chances. The first saw the Russian control the ball well to get through on goal to the left of the area only to sky his effort over. The second was much more down to the excellent Steve Harper, who rose brilliantly to tip Pog's header over the bar. Nicky Shorey also had a good chance to fire a shot in from a tight angle but found the touchline, while Jem Karacan got a telling off from the bench after having a crack from 35 yards.
The half-time whistle came at the worst possible time but credit to the Royals who picked up where they left off in the second period, and were soon rewarded with the goal they deserved. I'll hold my hands up to say that I questioned Jobi McAnuff's position in this team, I wasn't the only one and all of us that have wondered if our skipper can make a difference in this league have got to hold our hands up today as Jobi put in a great display. The Reading captain was influential in the first goal, threading the ball through to Jimmy Kebe who beat his man well before wrong-footing Harper with a low shot to give the Royals the lead.
It was no less than we deserved but just seconds later the difference between this league and the Championship was demonstrated as just seconds later Chieck Tiote threaded a brilliant lofted through ball right into the path of Demba Ba who volleyed past a helpless McCarthy.
At this point you might have expected us to capitulate, with all of the hard work undone through no fault of our own but this was more like the Brian McDermott side we know and love and once again Reading pushed forward and got themselves ahead again when Noel Hunt nodded in McAnuff's cross.
With our noses in front we started to wind down the clock, with McCleary replacing the tiring Kebe and Pogrebnyak being subbed for Jason Roberts to make his first appearance of the season. Reading looked comfortable and heading towards a win when Jobi McAnuff looked to have been shoved over as he tried to clear a ball inside our own half. No foul was given and the resulting throw was quickly switched from right to left to Shane Ferguson who whipped in a teasing cross that found Ba who bundled the ball home between Gorkss and Mariappa. Apparently those who've seen it on TV including Brian McDermott say it was handball and if that's the case it's another gutting way to drop points, coming just weeks after Fernando Torres got away with being clearly offside at Chelsea.
Despite another setback, once again Reading refused to roll over and die, surging forward at every opportunity to nick a win. Adam Le Fondre came on and Jobi McAnuff was so nearly the hero as his right foot shot doinked off Harper's far post to safety. Jason Roberts also forced a fine save from Harper but Reading just couldn't find the net and in the end had to settle for just the one point.
This was the fourth different back five we've had in five matches and all of those playing today had decent games. McCarthy couldn't do much about either goal and while he didn't have much to save, he commanded his area well and looked very assured.
Shaun Cummings looked every inch a Premier League full-back, to think how far he's come since being destroyed by Jerome Thomas in 2009 and called one of the worst players in Reading's history by one BBC Radio Berkshire commentator, as well as getting a ton of stick from plenty of fans. Nicky Shorey was again composed, if not a little leggy by the end after his third game in seven days. Adrian Mariappa was excellent and you can see just why Newcastle were trying to secure his services last season. He's good in the air and on the ground and hopefully in the team to stay. Kaspars Gorkss was perhaps the weak link today, giving away fouls a bit too often and not quite dominating the game in his usual style.
I can totally understand why Mariappa has been brought into this team but quite why Gorkss has kept his place over Alex Pearce is puzzling. Pearce was generally regarded as our best defender against Spurs and West Brom and as the younger player you'd imagine Brian would want to build a defence for the long term with the newly capped Republic of Ireland man amongst it. Perhaps Brian wanted some experience, or maybe the left footedness of Gorkss for balance but considering Pearce is out of contract in June and is yet to sign, I can't imagine this is going to help convince the Oxford born centre back that he should sign on the dotted line any time soon. His contract situation might be one to watch....
In the midfield and Leigertwood was much better, giving the ball away far less often and generally working a lot harder than he did to start the year, maybe Ledge is just a slow starter? His partner Jem Karacan did his usual excellent job of harrying and hassling the Newcastle midfield and his energy certainly made a difference today. Jimmy Kebe wasn't quite vintage Kebe but he worked very hard, getting up and down the right well and taking his goal brilliantly. You get the feeling he constantly has full-backs on edge and that can only help the whole of the attacking unit. As mentioned Jobi McAnuff was superb and if he plays like that every week we'll be just fine.
Up front and what a difference Noel Hunt made today. I tweeted in the week to ask whether we'd been underrating Hunt given how much he brings his strike partner into the game and today speaks for itself. The Pog clearly appreciates being the one to get the ball from Hunt's flick-ons rather than having to go up for every header and it's a much better use of the Russian's talents to be on the receiving end. This was one of Hunt's best ever performances in a Reading shirt and the Irishman was unquestionably my Man of the Match today.
Sub wise and McCleary looked a bit more positive today if not lacking a little in the end product department. Jason Roberts looked understandably rusty but his composure and ability to beat a man are very welcome and Brian will be delighted to have four legitimate options up front. Le Fondre didn't have much time to make an impact but we all know what he's capable of.
Newcastle hardly looked like a side who finished fifth last season but when you've got players the quality of Tiote and Ba you've always got a chance of something special happening and that's exactly what happened today. I can imagine Alan Pardew is thrilled with a point and they'll certainly have to improve if they want to follow up last season's success.
Ref wise and Andre Marriner generally had a decent game. Newcastle deservedly had three booked and on first glance it's hard to blame him for missing the Ba handball, if indeed that's what it was.
Overall I'll enjoy watching Match of the Day and the various highlights shows this week. Despite failing to win, Reading can be proud of their performance today and they'll go to Swansea full of confidence as opposed to a Swansea side who have struggled mightily in the past three or four games.
So let us know your thoughts below, did Brian get the team right? Would you change anything next week? Should the ref have spotted the handball or was it just one of those things? All comments welcome!