Reading’s opening games a harsh reality
What a strange few weeks for the Royals. When it was announced that Reading would be taking on Stoke in their season opener, most fans felt it would be the ideal starting block to a season of struggles. The next weekend would see a trip to Sunderland – not a match Reading were likely to win, but certainly one where they were capable of an upset. But then the fixture gods conspired against them.
September 13th, 2012
Due to Chelsea’s participation in the European Super Cup on the first weekend of September, Reading’s match with them was (amicably) moved between these two opening fixtures, meaning three games in eight days for McDermott’s squad. Suddenly that modest start to the campaign had turned into a baptism of fire.
And so to Stoke. The beautiful game had once again returned to the Madejski Stadium… or not. Long ball after long ball pumped forward by towering Potters defenders – this was not the demonstration of Premier League class so fervently talked about by the neutral. As it was, Reading coped admirably with this war of attrition, until a moment of calamity from goalkeeper Adam Federici. Guarding the best defence in the Championship last campaign, with 20 clean sheets to his name, he somehow let a weak, bobbling Michael Kightly shot squirm through his arms. Kightly ran off embarrassed; Federici fell to the floor in shame; Reading hearts sank. Only a last-minute penalty from Adam Le Fondre would salvage a point but the early Premier League message was clear: mistakes will be brutally punished.
This mantra was made even more clear by the European champions. Eden Hazard, so impressive on debut against Wigan, turned Royals’ right-back Gunter inside out and drew an impetuous challenge in the box – Frank Lampard nonchalantly drilled the penalty home. But it wasn’t just the Royals plotting their own downfall – Danny Guthrie lined up a free-kick from 25 yards out, Petr Cech seemingly jumped out of the way of its path and Reading, after Pogrebnyak’s earlier header, had somehow carved out a lead at the Bridge.
And so it stayed for 40 minutes, until three more errors cost Reading a shock victory. The first, the goalkeeper again. This one less criminal, due to the sheer power and swerve behind Gary Cahill’s 25-yarder, but still a shot one would expect a Premier League goalkeeper to get behind and at least turn around the post. The second, the linesman. And oh, how we lambast “big clubs” getting the rub of the green at home, but Fernando Torres was clearly offside when Ashley Cole squared for him to sidefoot home. The third, a number of culprits. Federici again? The management? Adrenaline? Seeing the morning headlines? The Aussie keeper had once salvaged a point for Reading by scoring from a corner in the last minute against Cardiff, but he couldn’t repeat his heroics at Stamford Bridge – instead, Ivanovic and Chelsea countered to put the game beyond doubt.
The baptism of fire became more of a biblical flood as Reading travelled to Sunderland for their third match in a week. The match was called off just an hour before kick-off due to a waterlogged pitch. In August. So two League games in four days, then none in 24, thanks to Chelsea’s European heroics, Sunderland’s pitch problems, and the international break. One of the stranger quirks of the fixture list so far means that Reading (with Chelsea) were the first club to two games, and now will be the last to three when they take on Spurs on Sunday. The Royals will be hoping the extended break will have given time to eradicate the mistakes; the fine margins between wins, draws and losses.