Dramatic Draw in Berkshire
Reading and Wolves played out an exciting, dramatic 3-3 draw at the Madjeski Stadium, with defensive errors and ricocheting deflections abound. The men from Berkshire went into the game in strong goal-scoring form, putting three past Fulham and Millwall respectively in their last two games, and picking up 6 points. Nigel Adkins was clearly in the process of manoeuvring a turnabout in form, and he will probably be quite pleased with the draw. Wolves went into the tie following an important, but narrow and hard-fought win against Bolton, definitely failing to impress in the second half of that game.
The first half was very sluggish from a Wolves point of view. Saville had the first serious chance of the match, after some neatly interworked passes saw him clear on goal at a feasible angle. However, the ball became stuck underneath his feet and he hit a tame short which Federici saved easily. The game then became quite Reading-dominated with the comprehensive capitulation of Wolves` passing game. As has become a recent trend with Wolves, the midfield structure was a bit awry, which severed the link between it and lone striker, Leon Clarke. Regardless of that, passing accuracy was shoddy from Wolves for 70% of the game. Reading did not have to press up with any great tenacity, for we were so competent at giving the ball away in totally unpressured situations.
The Reading opener came from a short corner, where Sako getting distracted created too much space for a pinpoint cross to be launched into the six yard box. Hector got on the right side of Stearman and was never going to miss the net from such pinpoint range. The half continued like this for a while, characterised primarily by Wolves` devotion to defensive anarchy. Reading do not play a possession game at all, nor are their wingers a particularly useful outlet for attacking creativity. They play a lot of direct football through the middle of the park, and their attacking players had no difficulty getting behind our defensive line and beating the offside trap. This was a combination of Batth and Stearman getting caught for pace, and the high line that we generally play anyway - Adkins got his tactic spot on, and this was something that Peter Beagrie really hammered in at half time on Sky Sports` coverage.
Around the 40 minute mark, Wolves increased the tempo of their game and fashioned some half chances. Clarke missed a couple of chances, but not so glaringly easy chances that he can be lambasted for that; what he can be lambasted for is his general immobility and inability to find space or be where the ball will be. Clarke doesn`t miss many easy chances because he doesn`t put himself in the position to miss them, he just ambles around the pitch blindly and bumps into defenders. I wonder whether his striking tactic is exclusively to force own-goals out of the opposition, because his physicality is the only attribute I can see right now. The second half did mark and improvement for Wolves. Sako had a typical Sako performance, reflected in his innate fabulous technical ability and pace, but average footballing intelligence catalysing his inability to release the ball at the right time, or his firm belief that step overs and clever jinks should be prioritised over keeping possession.
However in the second half we did come to life a bit, and got a break of luck when a powerful Sako cross was comically and unsuccessfully swiped at by a string of Reading defenders, landing on James Henry`s boot, and rocketing into the net - I think even Henry was surprised to see the ball reach him through what was a truly bumbling error on Reading`s part. The momentum tipped in our favour at that point, as we somehow carved out the opportunity to go on top. Doherty`s attempt to go past Obita on the wing resulted in Obita delivering a pitiful clearance, straight to the feet of Lee Evans, which struck an accomplished half volley into the goal. Within moments, Reading flew up the pitch in a perfect example of a counter attacking goal, Taylor tapping the ball through Ikeme`s legs for undoubtedly the best goal of the 6 goal thriller. James Henry and Matt Doherty became our greatest attacking outlet, with Clarke still shuffling meekly around the box and Sako too busy defining the word 'inconsistency`.
Some substitutions saw Lee Evans and George Saville come off. The former did not have a terrible game, but his lack of pace and inexperience makes him a poor choice for the number ten position in our formation. The latter had a poor game, really. He was too prone to losing possession, squandered an important early chance and did not make enough of an impact on the match. Kevin McDonald`s expansive game was hindered by an awful lot of mopping up. Wolves did hit back with a Blackman own goal coming from a corner. The linesman did very well to spot that the ball did indeed cross the line, in the rather scrappy affair. Reading`s equaliser came from Glenn Murray, sickening Wolves fans who had been interested in signing him to resolve our striker problems. Murray hit a firm strike from 25 yards, which took a significant deflection off the head of captain, Danny Batth, taking it over the reach of Ikeme`s outstretched glove, thus concluding the game.
Neither side will be overly disappointed with a draw, because neither side played very well. The Wolves backline will be unhappy that they doubled their goals conceded tally in a mere 98 minutes of football, however the midfield may take some solace that they engineered three goals despite the absence of Nouha Dicko. Clarke will remain frustrated at his inability to score, and as with Cassidy last season, he may have more than one chance to make this right before being replaced, but surely his number will be up soon.