Date: 7 December 2013
After Tuesday’s debacle at QPR I don’t suppose anyone expected this scoreline. We played a very similar game, but there were two key differences today. Firstly, with apologies to Reading, they’re no QPR and they don’t look anything special. Secondly, the replacements of MacDonald with O’Kane and Pitman with Grabban proved vital; though, in fairness, Grabban would probably have been picked to start on Tuesday as well, if he hadn’t been recovering from sickness at the time.
Reading’s stadium is daunting. This was the first time I’d approached it from the town side via bus, and it’s such a massive complex. Also, unlike QPR, it’s packed with very noisy fans inside. QPR’s home stands had been so empty, and quiet; but Reading sang their hearts out – taunting us about our "big day out" – words that would in due course come back to haunt them! So one has to wish Reading well for the rest of the season, in contrast with QPR, but they’ll need more than our good wishes if they are to achieve anything.
As already stated, we kicked off with the 4-1-4-1 system we’d played on Tuesday. But today it worked – in all departments! Reading, kicking towards the away supporters, won so many corners in the first twenty minutes that I lost count. They didn’t take them half badly either, but Camp caught many of them direct while Elphick and Cook were present to deal with the rest. The pressure, though, was unrelenting. And it would be half an hour before Bournemouth really got into the game, on the break, with Arter, Surman and Pugh having chances to shoot and Grabban actually shooting once over the bar.
But it was still somewhat against the run of play in the 38th minute when Cook headed the ball goalwards and the shot was saved by the Reading keeper – but spilt. Grabban seized the opportunity and shot home from close range. 1-0 to us, and ecstasy among the more than 2000 Cherries’ fans present. And just four minutes later, while the Reading fans were still sitting mesmerised, Grabban turned provider – his cross reaching Ritchie who buried the ball in the net. A goal he thoroughly deserved for his efforts. 2-0, and both goals just before half time. Of course we didn’t become complacent, because we’re used to throwing away leads, but being 2-0 up we knew what we had to do.
For the second half, the Cherries were playing towards their own supporters, so we longed for a chance to see a third goal. And there were numerous opportunities for virtually all our midfielders to score, as well as Grabban. There was good flowing play from our team, and Reading were being excellently contained. We played better in the second half than the first though we were to have no goals to show for it. Our midfield three were controlling the game (though Arter’s distribution left a bit to be desired at times); our wingers were joining our full backs in defending the wings; Cook and Elphick were dealing with all the hoofed shots over the top (though Elphick needs to learn to do more than just smash the ball away randomly); and Camp had little to do apart from catching balls that somehow broke through the defence – which he did, expertly, every time. Both goal scorers were substituted late on in the game – Grabban having run his socks off covering as much of the field as he could from his lone position up front. Towards the end, despite Reading fans departing in great numbers, the game turned somewhat and their players showed they hadn’t given up. Just as four minutes’ added time was being announced (which worried every Cherries’ fan present) Le Fondre scored for Reading. So it was destined to be a tense four minutes! MacDonald came on for O’Kane, to shore up the defence; away fans urged their players to take the ball to the corner flag as much as possible; and somehow – just – we held on to our 2-1 lead. There had been times mid-second half when we could gone more than two ahead, but by the end the goal difference was narrow. Nonetheless, a very hard won result, at a tough venue. A “big day out” indeed!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Elphick (6), Cook (7), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (8), Surman (7), Arter (5), Pugh (7);