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Match Reports

Reading vs Newcastle

7 March 2017

Royals hold league leaders

Jaap Stam's Royals held league leaders Newcastle United to a goalless draw in a tense but enthralling encounter with Rafa Benitez's visitors.

Matt Ritchie was denied by the woodwork in the first half while Ali Al Habsi produced a very good performance to keep the Magpies out on a number of occasions, but Garath McCleary twice came close with deflected long range efforts and then glanced the crossbar with the last kick of the game after scurrying in from the left and beating Karl Darlow from a narrow angle.

Reading made four changes to the side that won at home to Wolves, bringing in Lewis Grabban, Jordon Mutch, Liam Kelly and the fit again Garath McCleary to start against United.

The first minute provided the first chance of the game and it was a good one for the Royals. Garath McCleary delivered a dangerous cross into the box from the left and it was only flicked on by a Newcastle head into the path of Lewis Grabban, whose instinctive header flashed agonisingly wide from close range.

Ali Al Habsi had to made a smart save from a well placed header from Yoan Gouffran soon after and he gathered the ball in at the second attempt before Matt Ritchie could pounce in the six yard box.

And the Omani stopper brilliantly parried a Shelvey volley with a quarter of an hour player, the Newcastle midfielder running onto a one-two with Murphy before sweetly striking a dropping ball at the target, only to be foiled by the Royals keeper's fists.

The league leaders were starting to exert their authority and Shelvey missed his kick as the ball was pulled back to him just inside the box at the climax of a swift counter attack down the visitors' left.

Reading regained control though and enjoyed a large spell of possession without finding a cutting edge ball to open up the Magpies defence - McCleary causing mild panic in the Newcastle box when a very good ball into the box almost found Kermorgant winging up to volley only for Clark to get a head to it just before it could drop for the Frenchman.

Gouffran forced Al Habsi into another fine save when he took aim from 20 yards out and arrowed an effort towards the bottom left corner. But at the other end a Kelly corner was headed back into the six yard box by McCleary but Darlow managed to clasp onto the ball under pressure from Moore.

But the better chances were falling to Newcastle and Shelvey came close again when he drove at goal from 25 yards out only to be denied the opener by a Liam Moore block on the edge of the six yard box.

And with seven minutes of the half remaining, the woodwork came to the Royals' rescue when a low bobbling Ritchie shot beat a sprawling Al Habsi, cannoned off the inside of the right post, and was marshalled behind by McShane as Shelvey lurked looking to convert just yards out.

Ritchie again took aim from distance and forced Al Habsi into another save, this time the Royals stopper leaping low to his left and clinging onto the fizzing shot. Two Kelly corners failed to cause Rafa Benitez's men any trouble at the end of the half and the teams went in level.

Half-time: Reading 0-0 Newcastle United

Just as they had in the first minute of the first half, Reading came so, so close to breaking the deadlock within the first sixty seconds of the second. McCleary turned on the ball left of centre and unleashed a powerful shot that took a wicked deflection off a Newcastle leg and looped just wide of Darlow's dive and the right post.

From the subsequent corner, Kermorgant tried to hook a shot at goal after the ball had dropped to him in the middle and an unsighted Darlow did well to save and push the ball away to safety in a crowded box.

Reading were dealt a blow soon after though when Liam Moore pulled up with what looked like a hamstring strain and had to be replaced by Jordan Obita at the back.

And as the game remained tight, both sets of fans came to life - each looking to spur their side on to score the one goal that looked like it might settled the game.

The visitors looked close to breaking the deadlock when Dummett swept a cross in from the left and Murphy placed a downward header at goal, only for Al Habsi to shovel it away low to his left and McShane to hack the ball away to safety.

But another superb McCleary drive from 30 yards deflected inches wide of the woodwork once more when it looked like it might fly past Darlow and ripple the Newcastle net.

Dwight Gayle and Christian Atsu came on for Benitez's men in search of a winner and an important interception from Van den Berg prevented Gayle from racing in on goal when looking to spring counter from the half-way line.

Al Habsi was off his line quickly to intercept Shelvey's throughball into Gayle with ten minutes remaining and the final throw of the dice came from the away dugout when Mohamed Diame came on for the final few minutes.

A brilliant backheel from McCleary got Gunter in behind at the start of four minutes of added time, but the right-back's cross couldn't pick out a Reading man in the middle.

Ritchie connected well with a first time left-footed strike after Atsu had swept the ball out to him on the edge of the Royals box, but Williams got the block in to deflect it behind for a corner.

Then at the other end, McCleary glanced the crossbar when he raced onto another sumptuous backheel from Williams, scurried in from the left and whipped the ball past Darlow and against the woodwork with a last gasp effort from a narrow angle.

That was the last action of a tense, tight but enthralling encounter and Reading had held the league leaders to take a point that further preserved their top six spot.

Full-time: Reading 0-0 Newcastle United

Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Blackett, Moore (Obita 50), McShane (c), Van den Berg, Kelly (Williams HT), Mutch, Grabban, McCleary, Kermorgant.
Subs: Jaakkola, Evans, Swift, Beerens, Popa.
Yellow: Gunter

Newcastle: Darlow, Gamez, Dummett, Clark, Lascelles (c), Shelvey, Colback (Diame 88), Ritchie, Gouffran (Atsu 68), Perez, Murphy (Gayle 75).
Subs: Elliot, Hanley, Anita, Mbemba.

Att: 23,121 (3,704 away)

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