MATCH REPORT: 2007/2008 Season

12 April 2008: FA PREMIER LEAGUE
Reading: -
Fulham: McBride (24 mins), Nevland (90 mins).
Half Time: 0-1
Attendance: 24,112

Pos Team P Pts GD
15 Wigan 33 34 -17
16 READING 34 32 -26
17 Birmingham 34 31 -13
Reading: Hahnemann, Rosenior, Ingimarsson, Bikey, Shorey, Oster (Little 60), Harper, Matejovsky (Cisse 77), Hunt, Doyle, Long (Kitson 60). Subs Not Used: Federici, Sonko.
Fulham: Keller, Stalteri, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard, Murphy (Andreasen 90), Dempsey (Bocanegra 85), Healy (Nevland 83), McBride. Subs Not Used: Warner, Kamara.
Reading: -
Fulham: Stalteri.
Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
This was a shocking result and a exceptionally poor performance from the Royals that showed a total lack of ideas. A win would have almost certainly meant another season in the Premiership - instead this result blows it wide open and dragged Reading right back into the relegation battle. And on this showing there's not much battle for survival in us. It's hard to see where any more points are going to come from having just been so comprehensively beaten, at home, by a side seemingly doomed sitting just above Derby at the foot of the table. And we were soundly beaten. If it wasn't for the crossbar we'd have been on the end of a 0-5 humiliation. Fulham appeared a good side, playing some reasonable football and were supported by an excellent travelling support that made noise all afternoon. Reading were a distant second in all departments. Reading may have helped the visitors look good but this really must have been a magical day for the Fulham fans who saw their first away win for a season and a half and saw their team secure a lifeline for Premiership survival.

The good news before kick-off was that Glen Little was back in the line-up - on the bench after a long lay off from injury. The bad news was Kitson was dumped on the bench. And the pattern was established early on with a fair few balls flying in the Fulham area and with no-one in there to get on the end of them. Kevin Doyle was having a lively game, but his problem was that he'd drifted wide on the left and was crossing the ball to a Fulham area consisting of just Shane Long. Long was simply never near the ball against a Fulham defence that towered over him. It was all too easy for Fulham to defend as Reading failed to test the keeper or even get a shot in. Down the other end Bikey and Ingimarsson had reasonable games but were let down by Rosenior who made mistakes and Shorey who seemed to lose all interest in the game the longer it went on. Fulham took the lead midway through the first half with a cross from the left which was buried from close range.

Reading didn't know how to get back in the game. Time seemed to drift with little happening until our only real attempt of note during the entire first half was when Oster went on an excellent run past a couple of players before delivering a good cross to Doyle. It was a rare moment when Doyle was in the box to receive a delivery. He did well to get his head on it but perhaps should have done better as he could only direct his header wide of the left post. Oster had a free kick that was a simple take for the goalkeeper but Fulham were good for their lead at the break.

It wasn't long into the second half before Fulham started to waste time, but they really shouldn't have bothered as it seemed impossible that Reading would score. Keller in the Fulham goal must have been getting bored watching Hahnemann get more than his fair share of the action. Hannemann pushed a powerful effort onto the crossbar before having to perform a duplicate with a header that came off the inside of the bar as Reading hung on. A hatrick of crossbar hits saw a free kick fly into the bar again and back out into play. As Fulham surged forward again their fans were in party mood singing "we're going to hit the bar"... but we were expecting it to hit the back of the net as Fulham were clearly on top.

A brief moment of hope followed the introduction of Glen Little and David Kitson with thirty minutes left to play. Little got an amazing welcome from the home fans and immediately got stuck in, charging through to win the ball and run towards goal. The glimmer of hope was quickly forgotten with both Little and Kitson failing to make an impact as time slipped away. Instead Fulham looked more and more comfortable and Reading were doing precisely nothing in the final third of the pitch. Nicky Shorey summed up the afternoon by hoofing the ball cleanly out of play when he might have attempted to build an attack. Moments later he didn't bother chasing a ball and then gifted possession to Fulham. Reading's defeat wasn't due to a total lack of effort - there were plenty of players working hard when the tactics were failing, however Shorey's performance did little to appease the restless home support. In injury time we never expected to get anything but instead Fulham sealed the win with a break down the right and an impressive finish across goal and past Hahnemann.

The home fans streamed towards the exits to leave the ground half full well before the final whistle. Meanwhile the Fulham fans were having a disco dreaming of a great escape. Their side are now five points behind the Royals with four games left to play. Bolton's win saw them climb to three points behind the Royals but with a better goal difference. With Arsenal next to surely provide us another beating there's a possibility we might rely on Fulham and Bolton failing to continue their recoveries in the next weeks.

Everything about the build up to this game made me feel uneasy. Fulham had not won away from home since September 2006, Shorey had announced to the press that Reading had played ' like a pub side' in the second half last week at Newcastle, and Hahnemann had also been talking to the press about his regret if Reading were responsible for pushing his fellow Americans from Craven Cottage closer to the Championship. It was important for Reading to win, but a victory was essential for Fulham if they were to stand any chance of retaining their place in the Premier League.

There was a good atmosphere before kick off with both sets of fans generating plenty of noise. After ten minutes we had seen a deluge of hailstones, a rainbow over the centre of pitch and Oster lose possession and waste a good opportunity to get behind the Fulham defence with a horribly delayed pass to Rosenior down the right. Fulham were playing positive neat football and clearly were going for a win. This season Coppell has had to live with the fact that his forwards are struggling to score and his decision to play long instead of Doyle was probably based on work rate than an ambition to use subtlety to open up the Fulham defence. In the opening minutes it looked to be an unwise decision against a strong no-nonsense back four. Long's touch let him down throughout the game but crucially in the early stages when it was important to keep possession and put the away team under pressure. Hunt was similarly full of running but lacking in guile. Both players are most effective when the team needs an injection of pace and energy late in the game.

However, there was nothing for the home fans to be alarmed about until the sixteenth minute when Bikey and Harper had to lunge desperately to block a close range effort from McBride. The marking was non existent at that point and it was even worse down that side in the second half as Reading pushed forward with greater urgency. Oster seemed to offer little protection to Rosenior who also had his poorest game for a while. The home crowd were stunned into silence after twenty four minutes when a swift attack by the visitors ended with McBride sweeping in a well placed cross. Reading's laboured build up was making very little impression on a well organised Fulham defence and too often the player on the ball had few options for a pass. There was a lack of quality about the movement and the passing. Reading had to wait fro the fortieth minute for their first serious attempt on goal. Oster sent over a decent cross and Doyle, with Keller hopelessly out of position, would have scored if he had hit the target. Instead the ball drifted narrowly wide of the post. With half time approaching Reading mounted their only period of sustained pressure but Fulham kept their heads and nothing came of it.

The second half was predictable. Reading pressed forward and Fulham hit Reading on the break. The Royals actually coped with that situation well enough (after all they have been in that position quite often this season!) but Fulham were unlucky not to add to their lead. McBride hit the bar with a superb volley on fifty one minutes. Little's presence on the bench had caused excitement form the start and his long awaited return came with half an hour left. He replaced Oster and lofted the crowd. Kitson replaced Long and Reading briefly sparked back to life. Bikey sent a powerful header just wide but a few minute later Hangeland came closer with a header from a corner which thumped against the bar. Fulham hit the bar again minute later from Bullard's free kick after referee Styles harshly penalised Bikey. The Fulham fans were enjoying themselves and soon after began singing ' we're gonna hit the bar' as they were awarded another free kick. Instead of threatening to equalise Reading resorted to hitting long balls (ironically ignoring the introduction of Little), misplacing simple passes, and losing out in 50 - 50 tackles all over the pitch. Bikey and Ingimarsson remained solid but it was more creative and incisive attack that was needed to salvage something at that stage. As Fulham demonstrated how to pass and move Reading looked progressively second best. Their quality was particularly evident in the work of Murphy and Bullard in midfield. They finally received their reward in stoppage time when they sliced open the Reading defence and Nevland tucked his chance away confidently. The ground emptied, and for once I felt they were justified in leaving early.
John Wells

Words almost fail me. What an absolute disgrace that all the players, Coppell and Downs should be ashamed of. Gutless, totally lacking in character and who appeared not to have an ounce of bottle or courage for a fight. They simply rolled over and were battered by Fulham, thrashed and humiliated. Do they care, probably not, they'll still get paid their thousands of pounds and go out tonight while the fans suffer. They should all apologise to the fans for that display. Only one glimmer the return of Glenn Little. When you consider this was probably the most important game in the clubs history the performance it almost defies belief. I hope every Reading player hangs his head in shame tonight because when it came down to the crunch, you failed, professionals, my arse.
Nick Newbury

Passionless, spineless, clueless, talentless, gutless, brainless, inept, incompetent bunch of wasters. Absolutely outclassed by a team that hasn't won away for 20 odd months. Now had the double done over us by Fulham and Bolton who have only won a handfull between this. Completely blown Premeirship safety up the wall. No chance of any further points until Derby, and we'll get spanked there, our only hope is that by some miracle Bolton, Birmingham and Fulham are worse than us and that doesn't look likely. The team should be ashamed of themselves.

A must win game for both clubs but only one club seemed to realise it or, at least, rose to the challenge. 6 points dropped against Fulham and Bolton is not the stuff of survival. Hard to see now where our next point is coming from. The next two are away and I can see us getting nothing, with Spurs you don't know which team will turn up and by Derby it could be all over - their last game anyway, playing without fear, I can see us losing . So we rely on all others to keep losing beneath us. Bolton's win and indeed Fulham's has put paid to that. Fulham have some decent players so the performance they gave was one I thought they were capable of and feared they'd deliver. Our problem is that none of the players seem to be in any form - yesterday you would have thought it was us in the bottom three. It's not over yet but let me go back to something Coppell has said before. Simply the way you finish a season is the way you start the next. Watford beating us 2 nil and a performance that sadly made many leave early rather than celebrate the season we had, maybe had more about it in the tea leaves than we thought at the time. Plus, if you don't invest you stand still or, in this league , go backwards - that's what's happened. It's about budget in terms of getting into to the top four an it's about budget, not just over achieving in one season, with regard to staying up. Yesterday we maybe saw that the Championship awaits next season.
Nick Tilehurst.

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FOOTBALL, as we well know, is full of surprises, but few surely as surprising as this. Fulham, one place from bottom of the Premier League having failed to win an away game in the competition for 19 months and 33 games, not only beat Reading but played them off the park. It had been 581 days since they last won on the road in the league, their 2-1 victory over Newcastle at St James’ Park on September 9, 2006 a distant memory. However, the 2-0 margin scarcely flattered them. As their own manager, Roy Hodgson, remarked: “With any luck any one of those three crossbar shots would have gone into the goal.”
Brian Glanville, The Times