Another late goal to make it two wins on the trot. Mark Sellers reports.
The ill will surrounding the upcoming membership scheme combined with the recent slump in form on the pitch has had City fans in a despondent mood of late. It was hoped that a decent away result against misfiring Reading would add a spring to the step of the Tiger Nation, giving some much needed momentum after the less than convincing home win on Friday.
Steve Bruce had no new injury worries with Diame and Dawson still sidelined, yet the starting eleven still had four changes with Maguire, Snodgrass, Maloney and Huddlestone replacing Bruce, Elmohamady, Livermore and Clucas.
The team that took to the field in a sparsely populated Madejski Stadium was –
The attendance (a crowd of 12,949 with 504 City fans) was Reading’s lowest in the Championship this season and gave a decidedly “end-of-season” feel to the occasion.
Despite this the home side made the better start, and on 4 minutes City were a goal down. A free kick on the left flank was drifted over by Norwood. His ball found the Reading defender Cooper, who rose unchallenged to head past McGregor. 1-0.
Not a good start, but it seemed to wake up City as Hernández and Meyler both went close before the Uruguayan equalised on the 18th minute. Huddlestone hit a log ball down field, but this was no aimless punt as the ball released Hernández perfectly. City’s top scorer left Reading defender Anton Ferdinand trailing in his wake as he strode forward and slotted the ball through keeper Ali Al Habsi’s legs to level the score.
City tried to build on their goal, with Snodgrass putting a cross in for Meyler at the far post, but it had too much weight for him to got there.
Reading started the second half brightly, and thought they had won a 58th-minute penalty when the referee pointed to the spot after Maguire appeared to have fouled Deniss Rakels. The City players urged the ref to check with his linesman, and after a few moments of consultation he unexpectedly changed his mind and gave a corner. Reading upped their tempo following this reversal of fortune, and for a frantic five minute spell they forced two saves from McGregor.
After 74 minutes Huddlestone played a great ball down the right which Snodgrass pulled back for Hernandez, whose shot was saved by Al Habsi.
City are now looking the stronger side, and Andy Robertson helped secure the winner after 78 minutes. The young Scot went on a barnstorming run down the left, before cutting inside and drilling a shot into the bottom corner past the Reading keeper. A great solo goal, taking the score to 1-2.
The Tigers keep up the pressure in the closing part of the game, and on the 83rd minute Akpom (who had replaced Diomande) went to ground in the Reading box while chasing down a ball from Huddlestone. There didn’t look to be any contact and the referee waved play on, but didn’t book Akpom.
So back-to-back victories, and City’s first away win since February. While an automatic promotion place is still mathematically feasible (through realistically nigh on impossible) this win does guarantee a top-six finish with three games remaining. Next up is Leeds United at home – a win on Saturday really would add a spring to the step of the Tiger Nation.
Mark Sellers @mrmarksellers