Stoke 2 (Huth 66, Jerome 81)
Reading 1 (Mariappa 84)
The Royals were consigned to their first top flight defeat in five games on Saturday afternoon, as another late comeback wasn’t quite enough to take a point from the Britannia Stadium.
An imposing header from Robert Huth and a spectacular strike from Cameron Jerome looked to have given the Potters an easy passage to three points, before Adrian Mariappa brilliantly headed home Ian Harte’s corner kick to give the visitors hope late on.
But McDermott’s men couldn’t quite subject Stoke to only their second home league defeat of the campaign – as substitute Le Fondre appeared to be felled in the box, only for referee Michael Oliver to wave play on and put pay to any hopes of another stoppage time show.
Stoke: Begovic, Wilkinson (Cameron 84), Shotton, Huth, Shawcross (c), Whelan, Kightly (Jerome 65), Etherington, N'Zonzi, Walters, Crouch (Jones 65)
Stoke subs: Sorensen, Cameron, Whitehead, Adam, Jerome, Jones, Owen
Booked: Whelan (foul 73), Cameron (foul 89)
Reading: Federci, Kelly, Harte, Mariappa, Pearce, Leigertwood, Akpan, McAnuff (C) (McCleary 73), Kebe, Blackman (Le Fondre 57), Pogrebnyak (Hunt 80)
Subs: Taylor, Shorey, Morrison, Karacan, McCleary, Le Fondre, Hunt
On his full debut six footer Nick Blackman lined up for the Royals on the left wing, with Jobi McAnuff once again taking up a central role in a five man midfield.
There was plenty of height in the Stoke team too, with an early corner kick whipping across the six yard box – just inches away from connecting with the diving head of Peter Crouch.
Crouch then nodded a dangerous Matthew Etherington cross wide five minutes later, but in truth was put off by some fantastic defensive work by Adrian Mariappa.
Brian McDermott’s men enjoyed a fair chunk of early possession, exhibiting the type of confidence and zip that comes off the back of a rich run off form.
The long throw of Ryan Shotton also presented a challenge for the Reading backline, but they dealt with it admirably, winning aerial duels in key positions.
It was the boot of Ryan Shawcross that forced Federici into a smart save in the 34th minute, with the visitors this time only half clearing a corner kick – which the giant centre half sent back in at goal only for the Australian to tip over his crossbar.
‘Fedders’ showcased even more spectacular reflexes in the 40th minute, as Crouch’s dipping drive was acrobatically tipped away from danger.
The Potters cranked up the pressure – yet another corner kick created havoc, with Stephen Kelly brilliantly blocking Huth’s goalbound shot.
A slight switch in the second period saw Nick Blackman move to a more central role, with skipper McAnuff reverting to the left wing.
Twelve minutes into the half and Blackman made way for Adam Le Fondre, as the Barclays Premier League player of the month was given another opportunity to increase his cult status amongst the Royals support.
Hope Alpan then saw his effort from 25 yards take a deflection, though it wasn’t enough to deter Begovic as the Stoke stopper gathered it easily.
With 65 minutes on the clock was Tony Pulis who was making changes, as strike pairing Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne jones replaced Michael Kightly and Peter Crouch.
Jonathan Walters remained on the pitch and came a whisker away from breaking the deadlock shortly afterwards, as a long ball dropped to his feet in the box – allowing the striker to strike the ball on the turn, only to see it deflected narrowly wide.
However from the resulting corner the deadlock was broken. Whelan’s set piece was well delivered and Huth rose high at the back post to cannon a storming header in off the crossbar.
Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak were causing problems at the other end, with a brief moment of hesitation inside the Stoke six yard box almost allowing ‘Alfie’ to nip in, before Begovic again reacted well to smother the danger.
There was a golden opportunity as Kebe instigated a lightning fast breakaway, with the Royals briefly three on two with the City defence – though Pogrebnyak’s stumble put pay to any chance of a textbook counter attack leveller.
And Reading were made to pay. Substitute Jerome controlled a dropping ball 15 yards from goal, before turning and firing a wonderful strike past the helpless Federici. It was a class strike and a hammer blow for McDermott’s men.
But naturally this side never lays down – and only a couple of minutes had gone by before Reading had a leveller. Harte’s corner kick was whipped in with trademark venom, and Mariappa met it well at the near post to head past Begovic.
The Potters still came forward with a view to killing off the game, a long distance daisy cutter from Whelan was well saved by Federci – before Pearce pulled off a world class last ditch tackle to deny Walters the rebound.
There was a heart in mouth moment as Le Fondre was fouled in the box in the dying second – and it looked to be a huge penalty shout for the away side, but referee Michael Oliver waved play on to the disbelief of the Reading bench.
Indeed another exhibition from the comeback kings wasn’t to be, as Pulis’ men saw out four minutes of stoppage time – and the Royals were consigned to their first top flight defeat since New Year’s Day.