McALENY LEAVES IT LATE TO LEVEL

Loom­ing Cup date plays on Read­ing

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Matt Wright

CARDIFF manager Rus­sell Slade is tar­get­ing a strong end to what has been an av­er­age sea­son for his side af­ter Conor McAleny’s late goal sal­vaged a point at Read­ing.

Pavel Po­greb­nyak’s early poacher’s ef­fort looked to have won the points for the FA Cup semi-fi­nal­ists but McAleny’s 90thminute in­ter­ven­tion main­tained the Blue­birds’ re­cent re­vival on their trav­els.

Any rel­e­ga­tion fears that Read­ing may have are only lin­ger­ing ones but they were slightly the live­lier side in a low-key en­counter against a Cardiff out­fit that only woke up in the fi­nal halfhour.

The Blue­birds are mired in mid-ta­ble as the cam­paign ap­proaches its fin­ish and the Roy­als have one eye on their en­counter with Ar­se­nal in two weeks’ time – and a match that lacked tempo re­flected this.

Slade said: “You want to try and keep the mo­men­tum go­ing and I think we’re achiev­ing that so far in the fact that we’ve just lost a cou­ple in 12 games and we’ve not lost in four now.

“We’ve got a bit of mo­men­tum and we’d like to fin­ish the sea­son strongly.

“Our away form has im­proved dramatically – it couldn’t get much worse frankly.

“We hadn’t won too many away from home in the last 18 months so at some stage it had to pick up.

“It was a very tight game all in all, there wasn’t much in it through­out.

“Our mark­ing for their goal was dis­ap­point­ing but I thought we grew into the game and we did to them what we did at our place by get­ting a late goal.”

Read­ing struck in just the fourth minute when Jor­dan Obita’s hang­ing cross was nod­ded across goal by Garath McCleary and Po­greb­nyak turned the ball in from close range.

The rest of the first half, sadly, failed to live up to this bright start and passed with­out fur­ther in­ci­dent with both sides see­ing moves break down all too eas­ily.

Bruno Ecuele Manga al­most handed Read­ing a sec­ond when his sloppy pass across his own half was picked off by McCleary, but he could only shoot wide af­ter ad­vanc­ing into space in­side the area.

It took Cardiff over an hour to prop­erly work Roy­als goal­keeper Adam Fed­erici when the Aus­tralian had to be alert to push away Craig Noone’s placed ef­fort.

Debu­tant Kwesi Ap­piah al­most dou­bled Read­ing’s lead when his pow­er­ful ef­fort was pushed be­hind by David Mar­shall.

From the re­sult­ing cor­ner, Michael Hec­tor came closer still when his header at the back post came back off the cross­bar.

But Cardiff en­sured there was a sting in the tail as Aron Gun­nars­son’s cut-back was swept into the back of the net by McAleny’s fine first-time fin­ish.

Read­ing boss Steve Clarke feels his side are al­most at the point where they can stop look­ing over their shoul­ders at the bot­tom of the ta­ble but cursed their in­abil­ity to see it out.

He said: “We played well enough to get the three points – it cer­tainly was a game where we should have fin­ished it off.

“You know that when you go into the last five min­utes and it’s only 1-0 you al­ways leave your­self vul­ner­a­ble if a ball falls in the box for them.

“For them it’s a good fin­ish and they’ll be pleased that they’ve come here and nicked a point. For us, it’s a point fur­ther away from the bot­tom three.

“We’ll take it and we’ll move on to the next game – I thought there were a lot of pos­i­tives out there, the team was good.

“We’ve set our­selves a points tally from our re­main­ing games and that’s a point on the way to it so if we reach the tally we’ll be very com­fort­able.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

AP­PIAH DAYS: Read­ing’s Kwesi Ap­piah in ac­tion with Aron Gun­nars­son MY HERO: Jamie Mackie grabs Pavel Po­greb­nyak af­ter his early goal for the Roy­als

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