Royals rescue thrilling point
The Royals battled their way to a point against Fulham at Madejski Stadium, in a pulsating encounter that will certainly thrill the neutrals on Match of the Day on Saturday evening.
Mikele Leigertwood gave the home side a lead at the break thanks to a trademark rocket strike from the edge of the box, before goals from Bryan Ruiz and Chris Baird swung the momentum towards the Cottagers in the second period.
Substitute Garath McClearly leveled the scores once more by clipping home a cutback from Jason Roberts - but a well taken strike from Dimitar Berbatov appeared to have killed off any hope of a reward for McDermott's men's efforts.
However their never-say-die spirit was again exhibited, as another replacement - Hal Robson-Kanu, snatched a draw by bundling home in stoppage time.
In truth Reading almost won it at the death, as Robson-Kanu and McCleary were denied by Schwarzer - but once again the men in blue and white were denied their first victory of the season.
Former Cottagers man Pavel Pogrebnyak had the first real chance of the game, as Jobi McAnuff’s breakaway ended in Nicky Shorey chipping a delightful cross into the danger zone – where under extreme pressure the giant Russian nodded wide.
There was certainly room for Royals wingers Kebe and McAnuff to manoeuvre in the opening stages, with Jason Roberts also providing plenty of width on his return to the side.
At the other end Dimitar Berbatov mustered his side’s first effort of the game fifteen minutes in, lofting a shot high over the bar from 25 yards after clever work from Kieran Richardson.
A better chance fell to Berbatov’s strike partner Hugo Rodallega five minutes later, as visitors’ number 20 headed tamely at McCarthy when given plenty of space in the centre of the box.
The middle of the first half saw a slight change of momentum in the Cottagers’ favour, as former Real Madrid man Mahamadou Diarra blazed a shot off target from distance with twenty minutes remaining in the opening period.
But Brian McDermott’s men would bounce back – and with a bang. An astute move involving Roberts, Pogrebnyak and McAnuff resulted in the ball rolling to Mikele Leigertwood on the edge of the box – and ‘Ledge’ made no mistake, hammering home a superb strike into the top corner.
The Mad Stad exploded with noise, and Reading’s popular number 8 was the definition of joy as he dedicated his celebration to his baby son, Cameron – born in September.
Blue and white tails were up, as Roberts’ canny jostling won a free-kick on 20 yards form goal – which ‘The Pog’ hammered wide of the post.
As ever in the top flight, there was always a threat from the opposition, even in spells of Reading domination – as Rodellega again headed weakly at McCarthy from close ranges after 25 minutes.
Duff also latched onto a half chance from Richardson’s square ball in the late stages of the half, but the Irish international steered wide of McCarthy’s goal.
An initially quiet second half started to spring into life ten minutes after the interval, as Shaun Cummings swung in a dangerous cross to the far post that had Schwarzer flapping, – before narrowly flying over the head of Pogrebnyak.
Moments later Roberts broke into the right hand side of the box, before toeing the ball past Fulham’s number one and into the danger zone, but some desperate defending from the visitors ensured Martin Jol’s men conceded only a corner.
In need, perhaps of some inspiration – Jol introduced the technically efficient Bryan Ruiz with half an hour remaining - and it was he who would drag Fulham back into the game.
The Costa Rican didn’t have too much time to ponder as the ball fell to him on the bounce 20 yards from goal, and it was therefore all the more impressive as he thundered a wonder strike past McCarthy and into the same corner Leigertwood had pinpointed in the first half.
The Royals almost found themselves behind in dubious circumstances moments later, as Berbatov appeared to foul Mariappa on the box before taking a snap shot from six yards – which crept wide and into the side netting.
The home side made an effort to respond – Kebe finding space on the right and dancing across the area before seeing his low shot well held by Schwarzer – with Roberts ready to pounce on any spillage.
Chris Baird’s free-kick deflected narrowly wide as home supporters began to feel their hearts in their mouths with 13 minutes remaining, and from the resulting corner – heads slumped further.
Baird met a dangerous swinging cross at the near post, heading past a helpless McCarthy to leave Reading with an uphill battle.
However it was a battle they would relish as two substitutes combined to level the scores once more. Hal Robson-Kanu scampered into the area before laying the ball into the six yard box, where Roberts’ neat touch allowed McCleary to clip home.
Another replacement, Adam Le Fondre tried to match the breath taking efforts of Leigertwood and Ruiz before him with five minutes remaining as he controlled deftly on the edge of the area before swinging a volley at goal – which was well held again by Schwarzer.
Once more, however, a touch of class would silence the home support.
The Royals were again forced to settle for a Premier League point after another pulsating encounter at Madejski Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The match will certainly be a favourite for the neutral on Match of the Day - as the momentum changed constantly following Mikele Leigertwood's brilliantly struck first half opener.
Martin Jol's men struck back in the second period through an equally impressive effort from Bryan Ruiz, before Chris Baird headed his side into the lead.
Garath McCleary came off the bench to clip home a leveler for the home side, and although Berbatov's 88th minute strike appeared to have killed off any hope for McDermott's men - they showed their hallmarked fighting spirit, as substitute Hal Robson-Kanu bundled home an equaliser in stoppage time.
Berbatov had been relatively quiet up until the 87th minute – but he sprung into action in front of the visiting fans, finding space before whipping an unstoppable effort into the net from the left hand side.
Anyone who witnessed McDermott’s men rise to the top of the Championship last year would have noted that they didn’t give ever give up without a fight – and the Cottagers discovered this to their cost as stoppage time loomed at Madejski Stadium.
Captain McAnuff won a free-kick on the touchline, and as the ball was clipped into the box an epic goalmouth scramble ensued – resulting in Robson-Kanu somehow bundling in from close range.
It didn’t stop there – the home side went for the jugular. Schwarzer had to be on top form to deny Robson-Kanu and McCleary – before Roberts almost diverted into the net from all of a yard in the dying seconds.
3-3 it would finish – and certainly an encounter for the neutral to enjoy on Match of the Day.