STOKE CITY FC 2 READING 1
Last week's encounter with Arsenal suggested that,if not exactly returning to form,at least we were getting back to doing those things that we do well. I had the same feeling yesterday. Fair enough Reading were content to defend in depth,and did not come at us. We effectively ran the first half without being able to convert any of the numerous chances that we made. Frederici in the visitors goal had a very sound game,plus his defensive colleagues managed blocks when he could not get to the ball. Stoke had nine corners,Reading none,a statistic which alone tells the story.
The match ran a very similar course for the first twenty minutes of the second half,but then burst into life. Tony Pulis made a double substitution,Crouch and Kightley leaving to be replaced by Jerome and Jones. The pair buzzed about to great effect unsettling the visiting defence. Within a minute the changes paid dividends. From a corner on the left Huth stole in to head the ball onto the underside of the crossbar thence into the net,for his first goal of the season (67 mins).
Fourteen minutes later it looked as though we had the game won,when Jerome bagged another wonder goal.The ball reached him to the right of and out from the Reading six yard box from a Shawcross punt.In one deft move he controlled the ball and gave defender Mariappa the slip,before lashing the ball across keeper Frederici into the far corner of the net.
Unlike the Wigan game we did not sit back thinking the job was done. However Reading pushed up and won a corner two minutes later on the right. Harte produced a wicked in-curling effort which Mariappa got head to,the ball flashing past Begovic into our net from very close range.
Cue squeaky bum time, given Reading's recent record of salvaging/winning matches in the last few minutes of games. We coped with what they had to offer,but appeared lucky to escape a penalty in the final moments of the game. La Fondre fell under challenge from Shotton,but referee Oliver was very well placed deciding against the award. It looked a penalty to me at the time,but watching tv footage there is more than a hint that the striker propelled himself backwards,albeit minimally, to ensure contact with Shotton before falling to the ground.
Three invaluable points from a game which many considered a must win. They provided the comfort of being able to look up the league table rather than over our shoulder to the worrying end of the table. Another three wins would see us maintain our status for another season,and happily we seem to have put an end to a bad run.