Frustration mounts as limp Reds fall short again..

Earnie: Back amongst the goals

Nottingham Forest – 3
Reading – 4

A strange afternoon saw an end-to-end encounter that I’m struggling to describe as entertaining, because our defending was so shambolic.  A dreadful referee at least made dreadful decisions in both directions – but ultimately Forest didn’t have enough about them to deny Reading claiming a win they deserved.  As predicted, once Moussi went off (looking knackered, so fair enough), we lost the midfield battle.

Whilst the gap to the play-offs now sits at four points, a re-ascent into the promotion reckoning is by no means impossible, but having seen the kind of form we’re on, performances levels and the continued lack of options open to us – not to mention playing games against decent opponents as soon as Tuesday, then Friday, I’m about ready to give up hope on getting into the top six.

So, to the game, Billy brought Moussi back straight into the starting eleven, whilst Lynch got the nod over the recovered Konchesky at left-back, Earnie was restored to the starting eleven to partner Boyd up front…

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Lynch
McCleary    Majewski    Moussi    McGugan
Boyd   Earnshaw

It was a pretty positive start from the Reds, an early attack saw McCleary have a shot which deflected toward Boyd, who was offside.  Early on though it was the welcome back Guy Moussi show – he had a really positive start to the game, and really helped to show what we’d been missing since he suffered his injury.  Reading were certainly proving a threat though as the half went on.

On nineteen minutes Shane Long hit the deck with, and Shane Long fans might want to correct this, what I think was a variant 2 dive under the most minimal challenges by Gunts.  The referee thought it was a foul, and should therefore have given a penalty since I thought whatever had happened occurred in the box, but he gave a free-kick which Harte did really well to put straight in – although I think it’s fair to point a few questions toward Lee Camp.

Reading really dominated the game now, with Forest visibly wilted by going behind after their decent start.  Another dangerous delivery from Harte – this time from the right – found Manset in the box, but Moussi was able to get it clear.  Despite our early promise, the first shot on target game well after half an hour, and was a tame effort from Lewis, an easy first call to action by McCarthy in the Reading goal.

We did equalise though, on the 38th minute McGugan was *ahem* fouled by Leigertwood (didn’t look like it to me), Kris Boyd was quick to claim the ball, and confidently struck the ball into the bottom left corner, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way in the process.  This seemed to give the Reds a new lease of life, a venomous shot from McCleary from range swerved in the air forcing McCarthy into an awkward punch.

The rejuvenated Reds had a couple of forays down the right via Chris Gunter, but weren’t able to craft too many more meaningful opportunities, whilst at the other end Lee Camp made up for awkward positioning from another Ian Harte freekick which a decent save to tip it over the bar to give the visitors a stoppage time corner, which came to nothing, meaning we went in level at half time.

Forest came out positively in the second half, and immediately tried to probe the Reading defence but without much end product.  Reading were looking dangerous on the break, particularly down the flanks – Kebe in particular was making life incredibly difficult for Lynch (when he wasn’t writhing around on the floor in mock agony, that is!).  It was Reading making opportunities too, a Harte cross was headed just wide by Mayset.

Gunts in the meantime was exemplary in turning defence into attack, winning the ball to deny Reading a chance before bursting forward and into the Reading penalty area before being halted.  We did get the lead, too – the ball was played toward Earnie who dummied it beautifully allowing it to run through to McGugan, who spotted Earnie’s run into the box, picked him out and the number ten finished brilliantly with a low drive to the far post.

In recent Forest fashion though, the lead lasted a matter of moments – two minutes later and Reading were level, a very deep corner saw Camp ridiculously out of position, around five yards off his line, although that doesn’t take anything away from a brilliantly executed looping header from Karacan from the edge of the area which dropped just under the bar and in.

The match continued to be end-to-end, McCleary had done well to fashion a shooting chance for himself but was blocked off by a defender, McGugan pounced on the rebound but was also denied by a block.  At the other end Leigertwood sent Kebe clear who seemed to have all the time in the world but conspired to hit the ball wide.  Shortly after he did hit the target but Camp saved for a corner.

I think it was a 2-2 that Earnie showed echoes of Gary Crosby by cleverly nicked the ball away from McCarthy as he was making to clear.  Whilst it’s true the ‘keeper didn’t have the ball in his control having thrown it in the air, I’d be surprised if any referee would’ve tolerated Earnie stretching his foot up to nick the ball, round the goalie and net it.  Shame though, it was a nice finish. Earnie was booked for his trouble.

It was third time lucky for Kebe, a Reading corner was hit goalwards after a good turn from Khizanishvili – Camp made the save but was only able to parry the ball into the danger area where Kebe was on hand to hammer the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out to put Reading back into the lead.  Billy introduced Nathan Tyson for the visibly knackered Moussi, and Konchesky to replace the run-ragged Joel Lynch.

Tys had an early chance – Boyd had a shot blocked, the ball fell to the former Reading man but he characteristically blazed it over and wide.  Adebola was Billy’s last throw of the dice, replacing Boyd with a little under a quarter of an hour remaining on the clock.  McCleary had a strong finish to the game, another shot blocked from him fell to Konchesky whose cross found Chambers, but he headed wide.

Dele was fouled blatantly in the area by McAnuff but the ref waved away appeals for a penalty, moments later Gunter looked to have gone to ground rather easily and I can only presume the referee was evening up the earlier miss.  McGugan grabbed this one and put it the same was as Boyd had earlier, and again sent the ‘keeper the wrong way to give Forest an equaliser which, to be honest, was a bit flattering.

Alas, anyone who reads a Forest match report of late knows the script of late – for every Forest goal there must be one for the opponent soon after – and that’s what happened again.  The 90th minute saw a quick freekick release Karacan down the left, he struck a powerful cross into the six yard box which hit Chambers to go in for an own goal to give them the lead.

In stoppage time there was time for more controversy, a block from Gunter which I’m sure he made with his chest was given as a handball to give Reading an undeserved penalty (I actually don’t think any of the penalties the ref gave should have been given!).  With the visiting fans thinking the game was sewn up now they had a moment of discomfort after Camp saved Long’s penalty, but the Reds weren’t able to muster up anything approximating a threat in stoppage time and thus lost. Again.

As I said above, I think that’s it for us this season – but would love to be proven wrong.  Our strength in defence is eroding through lack of depth and – more crucially – lack of defensive cover in midfield.  Pretty much as Billy has always said, we lack the squad size to challenge – and, against what Billy says, I don’t think that we are excellent candidates for the play-offs, not without a BIG improvement over the next two games and beyond.