Reading FC Match Report: 2023/2024 Season - League One


READING 3 EXETER 2

Reading: H Knibbs (9), A Hartridge (og 45), F Azeez (77)
Exeter: Z Jules (18), D Rankine (68)

Femi Azeez's superb strike after seventy-seven minutes lifted the Royals out of the bottom four for the first time since September. It was goal worthy of winning a tight game in which Reading again demonstrated their new found resilience and self-belief. After taking an early lead through Knibbs, a poor clearance was punished by City with an excellent strike by Jules from the edge of the box to restore parity. The lead was regained in first half stoppage time with Hartidge own goal. Reading relinquished the lead for a second time when Rankine poked home from close range taking advantage of some hesitant defending. Both sides clearly fancied their chances of taking three points but, as in recent games, Reading found a bit of extra quality in front of goal, once again delivered by an in-form Azeez.

Selles made changes at the back, Mola preferred to Mbebegue at right back, and an enforced change due to an injury to Tom Holmes meant Bindon came in alongside Abbey. The two centre backs had a huge share of possession in the first half, exchanging square passes whilst waiting to find a pass in midfield. There was a distinct lack of movement in this area and consequently frequently opted for a long ball in behind the City defence for Smith in particular to chase. Reading took an early lead when Knibbs nodded the ball to Dorsett and set off on an intelligent run into the box. Dorsett popped the ball up to Smith who, aware of Knibbs' movement helped the ball his path. Knibbs calmly lifted the ball over the advancing 'keeper. The lead lasted nine minutes before the ball fell to Jules with a worrying amount of time and space following a corner to lash past Button.

City had a golden chance to take the lead when the ball fell kindly for Hartridge, up for a City free kick, but inexplicably the centre back prodded the ball wide from a couple of yards with only Button to beat.

Hartridge did get on the scoresheet in first half stoppage time. Wing wrong-footed the City defence with a sharp turn and rolled a brilliant pass into the box for Knibbs. His cross was cleared by City only for Vickers to pounce and win back possession to give him with another crossing opportunity. This time the cross destined to find Smith before Hartridge intervened to deflect the ball into his own net.

The second half was end to end and littered with mistakes by both teams, but nevertheless full of incident and in spite of the lack of quality, entertaining. City's second equaliser came after sixty-eight minutes. Mola was left standing by Jules on the wing and his pass set up a cross which was not dealt with at all well by the Reading defence. Failure to attack the cross and react to the loose ball in front of goal allowed Rankine (who had given a Dorsett a torrid time all afternoon) to score from close range.

The game was set up for a finale and Azeez came up trumps once more. Dorsett, again involved in the build-up, exchanged passes with substitute Mukairu and continued his run inside and found Azeez with a simple short pass. Azeez, with his confidence high and in his current from, had no hesitation to taking one touch before beating the 'keeper with the power and accuracy of his strike. The ball arrowed low into the bottom right corner of the net.

These days Reading are harder to break down and cope well with pressure late in the game and held on to collect three valuable and hard-earned points. Four games in nine days over the festive period have yielded eight points and extended Reading's unbeaten run in the league to six games. I have the feeling, when we look back at the end of the season, this spell will be seen as the turning point in the season. The management and players deserve tremendous credit for their effort, application and commitment to the club, despite an apparent lack of support form the owners. At least they can be assured their hard work is greatly appreciated by their long-suffering fans.

John Wells

This League One game took place 59 days ago in the 2023/2024 season.