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Sa debuts in narrow Crawley defeat

27 July 2015

Royals downed by second half strike

Reading succumbed to a single-goal defeat in a pre-season friendly fixture away at Crawley Town, with Conor Henderson netting the only goal of the game at the Stadium.

The big news on the teamsheet for Reading was the inclusion of Portuguese summer signing Orlando Sa, who came into the starting XI for a Royals debut.  Royals midfielder Hope Akpan got a warm reception from the home faithful as his name was announced on the PA system at his old stomping ground.

A feisty first period ended goalless, with Danny Williams coming closest for the Royals as he rattled the post from a tight angle.

And the second period looked destined to finish with the deadlock intact when Gwion Edwards was denied by a superb close-range save by Ali Al-Habsi after being released through on goal.

But the hosts finally made the breakthrough ten minutes from time when sub Conor Henderson hammered in the game’s only goal from long range.

Neither of the goalkeepers were overworked in the opening exchanges, and Royals stopper Ali Al-Habsi was untroubled by Roarie Deacon’s swirling 25-yard strike as it dipped past the post.

Danny Williams had the Royals’ first opportunity when a pass from the outside of Sa’s boot found the midfielder on the run, only for a block to come in as he shot from the right side of the box.  The midfielder then popped off another shot from a central position as Reading worked a quick free-kick, but Callum Preston watched it wide.

Oliver Norwood was setting the tempo from the base of midfielder, but he came close to opening the scoring after winning the ball high upfield, only for a firm block to arrive.  The Red Devils broke quickly down the other end, and Al-Habsi had to react quickly to deny Jimmy Smith after the midfielder was afforded room to wind up a shot.

Williams continued to threaten for Reading in the final third, and after Sa nodded down for Williams, it was a combination of Preston and the post which denied the Reading man from a narrow angle.  Soon after, Crawley full-back Durrell Berry breathed a sigh of relief when he shanked a clearance from a low cross and it landed on the roof of his own net.

For a pre-season friendly, the game had a bit of spice – and some tasty challenges from Crawley midfielder Simon Walton in particular led referee Gavin Ward to have a word.

Half-time: Crawley Town 0 Reading 0

The hosts had the first opening of the second period as Luke Rooney delivered an outswinging free-kick from the right touchline, but ultimately Smith and Sonny Bradley got in each other’s way as the chance passed.

Then at the other end half-time sub Simon Cox played a neat one-two to release Hope Akpan, but the midfielder looped his shot just beyond the back post from just inside the area.  Soon after Simon Cox saw an opportunity to fire at goal, but a double-deflection took the ball through harmlessly into the hands of Preston.

Crawley made a raft of changes midway through the second half, and within minutes Gwion Edwards had forced the save of the match from Al-Habsi.  A raking ball over the top put the Welshman in on goal, but the Omani stopper stood his ground and turned around the post when the odds were against him.

The Royals stopper then pulled off another cracking save at the base of his near post – this time Edwards looked to turn provider as he sent a low centre into the path of Matt Harrold, only for the palm of Al-Habsi to turn away.

However Crawley finally had the ball in the net with ten minutes to spare – Henderson wound up a rocket of a shot from 25 yards, which swerved through a crowd of bodies and ended up high in the Reading net.

Aaron Tshibola came close to levelling as the game ticked into the three added minutes, but his powerful effort was gathered at the second attempt by Preston after he cut in off the right.

Reading were finishing strong, and it needed a strong palm from the Crawley custodian to deny Stephen Quinn a late equaliser as he struck low and hard with his right peg.

But, after two draws and a win in front of the public in pre-season, Steve Clarke's side had been edged out by their Crawley Town hosts.

Full-time: Crawley Town 1 Reading 0

Crawley Town: Preston, Berry, van de Bogaert, Walton, McNerney, Bradley, Smith, Barnard, Rooney, Young, Deacon.
Subs: Lennox, Edwards, Henderson, Fenelon, Ashton, Bawling, Harrold, Edwards, Niheme.
Goal: Henderson (78).

Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter (Obita 67), Griffin, Long, Ferdinand (Hyam HT), Akpan (Tshibola 80), Norwood (Kuhl HT), Williams (Quinn HT), Taylor (Blackman 67), Samuel (Novakovich 80), Sa (Cox HT).
Unused sub: Bond.

Attendance: 1,288 (296 away).

Referee: Gavin Ward

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