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The Weston Report: I Feared Steve McClaren Would Collapse!
Monday, 23rd Jan 2017 07:09 by Ryan Weston

You know those games that it feels like you’ve played in? Mark this down as one of them, as the Rams gave their playoff hopes a boost by winning a pulsating game against the Royals.

Opting to shuffle his pack following two dismal away league defeats, McClaren sent Olsson, Pearce, Russell and Hughes out for battle, in what turned out to be just that.

Not that you would have predicted such after the opening exchanges, in which we produced the same sort of limp display evident on a truly scary Friday 13th at Elland Road.

Reading were allowed to play the good possession football Jaap Stam has certainly instilled, as we look like walkers in the local park.

Our midfield seemingly thought it was a late kick off, such was their start. Olsson had to get a good challenge right in the area and miraculously didn’t get up injured afterwards! Forest-reject McCleary then hit a rising shot over as the visitors dominated.

As the away fans gleefully informed us that they had the ball, they soon had the lead as well…

Kelly skipped past one, two, three players on the right, as if we had confused the Royals with.., well one of the Royals. His low cross was swift, as was the scorer. A momentary pause as we checked if the opposition were actually allowed to do that, given the last time it occurred was September. They were. We were one down.

Just as Baird let a simple square past roll under his foot, the gaffer decided he’d had enough of the higher view as he arrived on the touchline, arms waving and red faced. He wasn’t alone, as the kettle of frustration was already boiling around Pride Park.

More chasing shadows followed as Reading looked every inch a top six side. First Williams then McCleary again hit shots thankfully straight at Carson.

Darren Bent was forced to have his own January diet, starved of any sort of decent service. When the ball did go in his direction, he was bullied in the air by Reading’s three centre halves, with the Rams already looking lost. Who could we blame it on? Chris Martin? Michael Jacobs? Donald Trump?

Not for the first time this season, we were soon indebted to our goalkeeper for keeping us in it. A terrific pass sent Gunter free of Russell in the box, only for Carson to block with his legs.

Ah Johnny. The subject of much transfer speculation this week, but to be fair, along with Olsson, our best player thus far. The combination down the left was causing problems, with a couple of crosses just too high.

And then.

Good work from the aforementioned left back won a corner. The delivery was only partially cleared to Bryson, who found Ince, who in turn stabbed to Keogh on the right-hand side of the box. The skipper took a touch and did the thing you are always told to do from that situation; smash it hard across the box and hope for a touch.

And a touch we got, straight off Darren Bent’s unmentionables and into the net. His celebration told the story!

As if someone had switched gears, we were suddenly transformed. Now we were tackling. Now we were pressing. Now we were doing what we should have been doing from kick-off.

For all of their neat play, the one weak link in Royal armour was the goalkeeper Al Habsi, who certainly doesn’t deserve a knighthood for his kicking ability! He does though deserve an MBE for services to time-wasting, much to the disgust of the South Stand.

The calmness though was deserting our visitors as after Bent slashed high and wide, Kermorgant caught Keogh with a flying arm. Only yellow for the striker, as it became heated on and off the pitch. Noticeably, no-one picked a fight with Stam, which was probably wise.

Will Hughes was freed from his captivity and very nearly did what he does best, playing a beautiful pass to the onrushing Russell, who just couldn’t connect and score the goal he deserved.

Half-time and an intriguing set-up.

Following a half-time natter with a friend, who somewhat bizarrely said the stewards had been up to accuse someone in the vicinity of illegally streaming the game via Facebook, we were underway again.

Thankfully, we seemed to be much more up for the fight, was a few challenges meatier than the pies in the concourse. Reading though went close again, with Kermorgant curling one from twenty yards which Carson had to tip round the post. The resulting corner saw Moore required more power, with his header again bringing a smart stop.

With an hour gone and the game delicately poised, the visitors committed footballing suicide. Trying to play out, McShane’s pass was intercepted by Hughes, who did well to hold off a challenge for Bryson to produce a superb slide-rule pass to put Ince in the clear. Seating Al Habsi on his backside, Tom let the ball run across him before smartly finishing right-footed at the near post.

Now, our time-wasting visitors had to show urgency, something that McClaren was showing in earnest. Either that or he was having some kind of attack - never have I seen him so animated!

The frenetic action on the touchline was evident on the pitch. As was the classic counter attack. Olsson received from Carson in the left back position and drove forwards. Combining with Russell, Marcus was suddenly in the box and shooting, only to be blocked. No matter, as the ball fell kindly for Hughes to steer in. 3-1.

On 75 mins - you’d have got very good money on that given the Rams poor first half hour.

Breathing space? Don’t be silly, this was Derby County!

Instead of putting our slippers on and shutting up for the evening, we gifted Reading a way back and increased the gaffer’s blood pressure further. A deep corner, with no real pace, found the head of substitute Meite, who headed, almost in slow motion, into the net.

Another game, another set-piece goal conceded.

All change again.

Now, panic ensued, as Reading dominated. We looked leggy, knackered in fact. The crowd was suffering as much as the Gaffer, as we got deeper and deeper. Surely there would be a sub soon?

There was, but not before a heroic last-ditch tackle from our hero Russell, denying his man right on the dead-ball line. Finally, Vydra and Christie appeared for Bent and Bryson, the latter who had just received a yellow card to warm applause, bringing down his man when he was bearing down on our defence.

Panic over? Definitely not!

The referee, who had been, shall we say, poor throughout, now couldn’t wait to give free kicks, mostly from the ill-discipline of De Sart. The board went up-6 minutes to be added. I daren’t look at McClaren for fear he may have collapsed.

A Reading corner and the South Stand giving their own rendition of, ‘We’ve got the ball,’ failing to return it until another had been called for. It would have been funny at 4-0, but you just got the feeling it could end badly. It very nearly did, the corner eventually skimming off Vydra and behind… just. Of course, the ref gave a goal kick!

There was still time for Jason Shackell to be introduced, in order to drive the bus that was being parked in front of our goal. No time for formation now, a case of see ball-kick, head and clear ball.

Clear we did through Hughes, whose own engine was clearly on empty as he stumbled across midfield. Kindly, Obita brought him down and was told to motor to the dressing room after seeing red courtesy of a second booking.

As time seemed to tick into Sunday, still we played. Still there was time for two free kicks and for Al-Habsi to venture forwards. We weren’t to be denied however, as Keogh led from the front (or back) to clear the danger. Finally, the full-time whistle.

One look at the players told the story. A first win over the Royals in eight years and the first time in the league we’d recovered from a losing position to win this season.

We’d proved we have character.

We will need to show even more of it if we’re going to cement a spot in the top six.

Weston’s Player Rating:

Scott Carson - Some important saves 7

Chris Baird - Another steady game 7

Richard Keogh - Very impressive. Gave as good and a rare assist! 8

Alex Pearce - His reliable self, nice to see him back 7

Marcus Olsson - Nice to have a recognised left back! 7

Will Hughes - Grew in stature as it went on, a nice finish for his goal 7

Julien De Sart - Good in spells but gave away too many soft free kicks 6

Craig Bryson - Played in spells but was carrying a knock 6

Johnny Russell - His best performance for a long time. Weston’s Star Man 8

Tom Ince - Another good game and well taken goal 7

Darren Bent - Lovely finish with his privates (superb ball control even? – Ed)! 7

Subs:

Cyrus Christie - Good to have him back 6

Matej Vydra - On to give us a way out of the onslaught! 6

Jason Shackell - Put on to drive the bus! 6

We Said / They Said:

We said - Derby County manager Steve McClaren:

"I couldn't stand watching that upstairs. We were allowing them to play and the only way I could do anything about it was to run up and down the line like a crazy man. The players responded and all credit to them for turning it around. They decided to join in the fight and we made it a bit feisty and lit a fire which we had to do.”

"It was a big win, there was a lot of pressure on the team to deliver and find a way to win and the response was great from going a goal down."

They Said - Reading manager Jaap Stam:

" I think we should have got something out of this game. If you look at the way we performed, we should have had at least a point. If you concede two easy goals, you make it difficult for yourself, the second goal you are taking a lot of risk in building up from the back.”

"I think overall how we played, pressing the opposition, we played very well as a team and the mentality was very good even after the third goal."


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