Reading away is a pain in the arse. It’s difficult to get to and difficult to get away from. I remember about 10 years back a load of us actually flew down from Newcastle to Bristol and got a minibus across to Berkshire for the match. That was easier than my journey last night.
But still, putting aside the logistics, last night was another thoroughly professional performance from a team who knows exactly what they are about away from home and know how to execute Benitez’s tactics. 7 points from Brighton, Huddersfield and now Reading is an excellent haul and was achieved last night with some ease against a toothless Reading side.
Reading itself has definitely had money spent on the station and the Three Guineas right next to it a proper lick of paint. A couple of ales were had in, if not quite balmy temperatures, a chilled, pleasant evening, which was to turn shittier later on.
The bus took an absolute age to manoeuvre itself through motorway traffic and as a result we all missed the opening salvoes of the match. I also got caught up in a couple of phone calls which were a proper ball ache. So I didn’t get into the ground until 20 minutes gone. Absolutely bloody typical.
Assured that I missed little bar a couple of decent chances for both sides with Shelvey going close from distance, my mood improved. I thought it wise not to throw Gayle in to start but gradually get him properly match fit. Also, it was my first proper watch of Gamez who has barely featured; in fact this was his first League start for us I believe.
It was apparent that although Reading had plenty of the ball (70% of it in fact across the match), they were content to hold it further back up the pitch as we were barely threatened. It’s been said that RFC were the poorest team at SJP this season at SJP and on this evidence I wasn’t to disagree.
We came closest in the 1st half with Ritchie hitting the post while Gouffran’s follow up was denied by what looked like a clear tackle from a Reading player. I’m sure he got a touch to it so we were astounded it wasn’t a corner. The officiating at this level continues to amaze.
Into the second half and little changes. At the back we looked organized and settled. One thing I would say is that although Dummett and Lascelles will never be world beaters, we have found a settled back 5 (Gamez’s appearance apart) and there’s a great value on a defence as a unit and collectively greater than the sum of its parts. Its clear Rafa thinks this and I believe it’s genuinely an understated value of this side.
Dummett then put in a great cross for Murphy’s header to be saved well from close in but you would be hard-pressed to mention much else.
Atsu came on for Gouffran, and later Gayle on for a tiring Murphy after a superb effort this past week. Colback came off after actually a decent shift for Diame as the game was drifting out towards a draw. Reading, in their best spell of the match, then came close with Gareth McCleary clipping the top of the bar but a draw was absolutely the fair result. Interestingly, this was our first 0-0 of the league season.
After 2 huge wins which must’ve taken a lot out of the squad physically and mentally, we were absolutely right to bank the point and let Reading attempt some Tiki taka in their own half. If anything after Huddersfield, Fulham on Saturday is a much greater challenge with the Cottagers sitting 7th and a genuine chance of a play-off position. We still look uncertain at home, possibly weighed down by expectation to produce. This has got to change and after this week we have the perfect platform to do so.
The job isn’t finished yet but we are nearly there. Keep pressing on lads!
NUFC: Darlow 6, Dummett 7, Clark 7, Lascelles 6, Gamez 6; Gouffran 7 (Atsu n/a), , Shelvey 6, RITCHIE 7, Colback 7 (Diame n/a); Perez 5, Murphy 6 (Gayle n/a).
Subs not used: Elliot, Hanley, Anita, Mbemba
Ref: Davies. 5. Very little to do mind just how he didn’t give a corner to us in the first half for that tackle I’ll never know. Linesmen again missing balls out of play.
Mags: 8. Was a pretty relaxed away end. Taking a breather after the last 2 matches. Good support for the team and especially the manager. For those that travelled down a great effort.
Reading: 4. Pretty subdued. Buggered off a good few minutes before the end, I suspect to beat the traffic and trying to get away before the roads came to a standstill.
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