Defensive pottering costs Royals points

Posted by Jon Keen

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesNo late match heroics this time for Brian McDermott's Reading who went down in defeat at Stoke.

You know exactly what you're going to get when you visit Stoke City: a thoroughly physical match, with an aerial bombardment, plenty of gamesmanship and certainly not a game for the purists. Stoke City versus Reading is never a game likely to make hearts beat faster and this drab encounter, won 2-1 by the home team, was everything you'd expect from a match between these teams.

- Match report: Stoke 2-1 Reading

Reading started in their familiar 4-5-1, with Nick Blackman playing wide left midfield in a somewhat surprising change, and the first hour or so of the match went according to plan and is hardly worthy of mention. Stoke applied concerted physical pressure to the Reading goal, forcing a string of corners but failed to score as Reading matched them, even if the defending was desperate at times. For their own part, Reading had some reasonable possession and some promising moves, but never looked to have the guile or physicality to breach the Stoke defence.

In an attempt to improve their chances, Reading switched to a 4-4-2 earlier than normal in this match, after just 56 minutes, bringing on mercurial substitute Adam Le Fondre. He replaced Blackman, who had worked hard but looked to be out of his depth somewhat. And as Reading have consistently been vulnerable to conceding soft goals from corners this season while Stoke are the long-time masters of scoring from aerial set pieces, the smart money was on Stoke scoring from a corner. This duly came to pass after 67 minutes when Robert Huth was first to the ball and crashed his header in off the underside of the Reading crossbar as Reading defenders stood static.

From this point, Royals opened the game up more, committing men forward to try and grab an equalizer. But in doing this they always looked likely to be hit on the break, while at the same time failing to create worthwhile goal-scoring opportunities. Although Reading had useful possession, they often looked ponderous with it, moving the ball around too slowly and often telegraphing passes; frequently they lacked someone willing to take responsibility with the ball and make something happen.

Having said that, after 80 minutes Reading had the best goal-scoring opportunity of the game as Jimmy Kebe, Garath McCleary and Pavel Pogrebnyak broke forward against just one covering Stoke defender. But criminally, Kebe passed the ball right to Pogrebnyak who couldn't control it and put it harmlessly out, rather than leaving it to McClearly who was much better placed to score.

And to add insult to injury, the resulting Stoke goal-kick went straight off a Reading head to Cameron Jerome, who was allowed to spin his defender and place a superb strike past Adam Federici to double the Stoke lead. A cracking finish, but very poor defending from Reading to gift him the ball and allow him time and space to finish that way.

For the remaining nine minutes plus the four added-on minutes, Reading huffed and puffed and poured forward, and actually looked more effective than at any other time in the match. They quickly pulled back a goal when Adrian Mariappa headed home an Ian Harte corner after 83 minutes. But they couldn't extend this despite having a couple of free kicks in useful positions and Le Fondre being blatantly and crudely scythed down from behind in the Stoke area in the 94th minute. But sadly referee Michael Oliver lacked the guts to make the right decision in the last minute of a match at a ground like The Britannia and with an argumentative manager like Tony Pulis.

And so Reading's unbeaten run came to an end in match where they always looked good for a draw. Disappointing defence cost them, as so often it has this season. Only time will tell how much this matters come May.

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