Roy­als re­spond in style

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Rob Do­man

STEVE Bruce couldn’t wait to get away from Villa Park and put things right at Ful­ham af­ter two goals from Joseph Men­des and one from Lewis Grab­ban pun­ished his side’s com­edy of er­rors.

An an­gry Bruce stood in stark con­trast to his op­po­site num­ber Jaap Stam, who watched his own play­ers re­spond from a 7-1 thrash­ing at Nor­wich, tak­ing one step to­wards se­cur­ing back-to­back wins over Easter by dis­play­ing their own ruth­less streak in front of goal.

The Dutch­man un­der­lined the im­por­tance of a sim­i­lar per­for­mance at Rother­ham on Mon­day while a seething Bruce went home pray­ing for any­thing but.

“It was an aw­ful af­ter­noon,” Bruce said. “I can’t wait to get out of the ground.

“We made more mis­takes in this game than in the last three months and we’ve been pun­ished.

“We’ve given re­ally bad goals away and if you hand out op­por­tu­ni­ties like that then you won’t win.

“We didn’t re­cover from those mis­takes and we are still a long way from where we need to be.

“We gifted them goals and we have to get bet­ter, but the fact that Ful­ham have had a day ex­tra to rest is a big ad­van­tage to them.

“I may have to say a prayer on the way home.”

Sloppy Villa de­fend­ing led to the open­ing goal on six min­utes when Men­des cap­i­talised on the loose ball to sweep it past Sam John­stone from just in­side the box.

Jonathan Kod­jia drew Read­ing goal­keeper Ali Al-Habsi into ac­tion im­me­di­ately at the other end, and he also made a fan­tas­tic re­flex save to deny Henri Lans­bury who de­flected Mile Je­d­i­nak’s 20-yard shot on goal.

But Al-Habsi couldn’t deny Villa a 14th-minute equaliser when James Ch­ester climbed high­est to meet the re­sult­ing Conor Houri­hane cor­ner and power it into the net.

Men­des wasted a golden chance to put the Roy­als back in front on 30 min­utes, clip­ping the ball over the frame of the goal from Grab­ban’s square pass with just John­stone to beat.

How­ever, Grab­ban com­bined with Men­des once more to re­store Read­ing’s lead just 19 sec­onds af­ter the restart with the lat­ter tap­ping in from close range as Villa’s de­fend­ers were again caught cold.

Kod­jia headed inches over the bar from another Houri­hane cor­ner as Villa sought a ri­poste be­fore John­stone beat away another Grab­ban strike as Read­ing pressed for a third goal.

Huge 67th-minute Villa penalty ap­peals for hand­ball were waved away by ref­eree Scott Dun­can. And Scott Ho­gan was guilty of blaz­ing a gilt-edged Villa chance over the bar hav­ing en­tered the fray min­utes ear­lier.

Grab­ban made them pay from the penalty spot ten min­utes from time af­ter Liam Kelly was dragged back by Le­an­dro Ba­cuna, send­ing John­stone the wrong way to seal all three points for the Roy­als.

Read­ing boss Stam said: “I’m very happy with the char­ac­ter of my team.

“We bounced back well from a heavy de­feat, played very con­fi­dently and took our chances.

“We know we can do well and we are in a good po­si­tion with just a few games left.

“Mon­day at Rother­ham is another im­por­tant game and it will be far from easy.

“We can do very lit­tle to pre­pare in just one day.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

DOU­BLE UP: Joseph Men­des scores his and Read­ing’s sec­ond and, inset, James Ch­ester scores for Villa and cel­e­brates

CLINCHER: Lewis Grab­ban scores Read­ing’s third from the spot


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