Clarke reign starts with home defeat
Saturday 20th December 2014
Steve Clarke's first game as Reading boss ended in defeat, as Almen Abdi's second-half winner gave ten-man Watford all three points at the Madejski Stadium.
The new Royals boss made just two changes from the side that was thrashed at Birmingham last week, with the extensive injury list restricting any major adjustments. Nick Blackman and Alex Pearce came into the side, with the central defender taking over the captain`s armband duty from Chris Gunter. A bold call from the manager, but one that made sense, with Gunter`s form decreasing in recent weeks.
It was a bright start to the game from both sides, with the first real chance falling to the home side. Good interchange on the left side allowed Blackman to cross to the back post for Murray, but fired his volley over the bar - he should have done better. Watford responded well to this early scare though, forcing a few dangerous set pieces and nervy moments for the Royals backline, but we survived.
Despite the bright start, the tempo eventually slowed down after a lightening opening ten minutes, with Watford keeping the ball at the back, struggling to break Reading down - the first minor yet obvious improvement under Clarke. Murray was doing well to force the occasional free-kick by backing in and Oliver Norwood nearly profited from one, but despite getting his free-kick over the wall, couldn`t find the target.
The Hornets were resulting to long-range efforts, but was proving effective, as Federici had to scramble to deny Abdi`s swerving drive. From this save, McCleary managed to break up field and nearly find Cox with a low cross, but was cut out by the Watford backline. Nick Blackman was given a rare start and nearly repaid his new manager, but his header at the back post from Gunter`s cross ballooned over.
Reading were finishing the half well and nearly carved an opening, as the usual partnership of Obita and Murray sprung up again, as the left-back`s cross was attacked by the on-loan Palace man, but put header wide, under pressure from Gomes. Then followed the game`s key moment, as Angella handled on the edge of the area, after good footwork from McCleary, to receive a second yellow card from the referee.
The Royals fans gave generous applause at half-time, as they saw an improved defensive display from their side, albeit a lack of attacking intent. The prospect of a second half, playing with an extra man should have excited the team, apparently not! Murray had a good chance to open the scoring, as he beat Cathcart to an aerial ball and bore down on goal, only to put his effort wide unopposed in the area.
It may have been a tight angle, but he has to be at least hitting the target - if Warnock was watching, he wouldn`t have seen anything to prove he is a Premier League player. Gomes earned a reputation in England for poor pieces of goalkeeping, but was displaying the opposite in this game. The Brazilian denied McCleary from the edge of the area, before keeping out Gunter`s rebound with great reactions.
The chances were in full flow, as a goal seemed imminent - superb play from Garath McCleary again set up Blackman for a tap in at the back post, but couldn`t make the crucial connection into the empty net. The pressure was building from the Royals, but Watford managed to weather the storm and scored the first goal of the afternoon, much to the delight of the strong away following from the Hornets.
A mix up in central midfield between McCleary and Williams allowed Watford to break away, with the eccentric Anya being fed down the left wing and crossing low into the area, which fell fortunately into the path of Almen Abdi to make clean connection into the goal. The away side were in front, despite having ten men on the field - a goal that really kicked the stuffing out of Steve Clarke`s side.
It was a goal that was undeserved on the balance of play, but goes to prove what happens when you don`t take your chances in this division - you get punished! In truth, Reading really failed to respond to this blow and had to resort to a half-hearted penalty appeal when Gunter was outmuscled by Bassong in the area, after an overlapping run. Blackman tried an audacious volley in injury time, but to no avail.
Another loss for the Royals and a first one for Steve Clarke, but one that cannot be accredited to the new Reading manager, who has inherited a squad of players clearly derived of confidence still. There were positives there to build on, but still plenty to work on. Clarke will need to work with the players tirelessly over the next five days to try and get their confidence back for a big game against Brighton on Boxing Day.
Reading - 4-2-3-1: Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Hector, Obita; Norwood, Williams; McCleary, Cox, Blackman; Murray.
Subs: Andersen, Cooper, Cummings, Kelly, Taylor, Stacey, Tanner.
Watford - 3-5-2: Gomes; Cathcart, Angella, Bassong; Anya, Guédioura, Abdi, Tozer, Pudil; Vydra, Deeney.
Subs: Bond, Doyley, Parades, Murray, Dyer, Forestieri, Ighalo.