Roy­als can ‘com­pete with the best sides’

Read­ing 2 Stoke City 2

The Wokingham Paper - - SPORT - By TOM CROCKER At the Made­jski Sta­dium [email protected]­ing­ham­pa­per.co.uk

PAUL CLE­MENT says Read­ing have shown they can com­pete with the best sides in the league after snatch­ing a last-gasp equaliser against Stoke at Made­jski Sta­dium.

The Roy­als led 1-0 at half-time thanks to a Marc McNulty header, the Scot’s first strike since join­ing the club in the sum­mer hav­ing missed a last-gasp penalty at Leeds United in mid­week.

But Stoke re­sponded just two min­utes into the sec­ond half through Benik Afobe’s cool fin­ish and com­pleted the turn­around when Tom Ince bril­liantly volleyed in.

Read­ing piled on some late pres­sure and even­tu­ally found a way through to deny the vis­i­tors all three points as sub­sti­tute Mo Bar­row turned in in the 94th minute.

The point keeps Read­ing hov­er­ing just out­side the Cham­pi­onship rel­e­ga­tion zone, in 21st place, but Cle­ment was keen to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives.

“I think it’s a good point in the end,” said the Roy­als boss.

“I thought it had maybe got away

from us but I’m glad the play­ers didn’t think that.

“We pushed strongly at the end. I got as many at­tack­ing play­ers on as I could and the play­ers kept go­ing right to the end.

“When you score that late it feels like more than you’ve drawn the game.”

He added: “Against two of the bet­ter sides in the league (Leeds and Stoke), two sides that have been tipped to do good things this year and both look­ing to be pro­moted, we’ve cer­tainly com­peted against both of those sides.

“I’m pleased with lots of aspects of our play. I thought at the start of the game we looked good.

“We de­servedly went ahead, faded away a lit­tle bit and started the sec­ond half poorly.

“Stoke clearly upped their game in the sec­ond half. They played quicker, they played with more en­ergy, they played more in­tel­li­gently and we found it dif­fi­cult then.

“We stuck at it and kept go­ing.” Cle­ment made three changes from the mid­week de­feat at Leeds, all of which were en­forced. Liam Moore (calf) and Liam Kelly (ill­ness) both missed out on the squad while Yakou Meite dropped to the bench as he con­tin­ues to nurse an an­kle prob­lem.

In came Tyler Black­ett, Garath McCleary and McNulty as the Roy­als switched to a 4-3-2-1 for­ma­tion.

Stoke carved out the two big early open­ings with Afobe twice latch­ing onto crosses from the right but Anssi Jaakkola was equal to the task.

Read­ing strug­gled to cre­ate many chances of­fen­sively with John Swift the chief threat, but they did get their noses in front just be­fore the break.

The im­pres­sive Andy Ri­nomhota burst down the right and clipped in a cross which took a de­flec­tion and looped to McNulty at the back post to head past Jack But­land for his first goal since May.

But Stoke came fly­ing out of the traps after the restart, equal­is­ing just two min­utes into the half when Sam Clu­cas clipped a ball over the de­fence for Afobe to chase and calmly slot past Jaakkola.

The Pot­ters had their tails up with Erik Pi­eters sting­ing the palms of Jaakkola be­fore Black­ett was called into a last-ditch block to deny a cer­tain Afobe goal.

The hosts weathered the storm to keep the game level and Cle­ment turned to his bench on 65 min­utes, in­tro­duc­ing Mo Bar­row, who missed the last two games through ill­ness, in place of Swift.

But it was the vis­i­tors who grabbed the lead soon after when McClean dug out a cross from the by­line for Ince, who bril­liantly volleyed in via the un­der­side of the cross­bar.

Cle­ment quickly al­tered his strike force to try and find a way back into the con­test with the in­tro­duc­tion of both Sam Bal­dock and Meite and the Ivo­rian cre­ated two op­por­tu­ni­ties with

Bar­row fir­ing off tar­get while Bal­dock could not con­nect with a low cross.

At the other end Jaakkola was called into an­other fine save, div­ing to his right to parry away Joe Allen’s ef­fort.

The Roy­als looked to have missed their chance when Meite was de­nied by a slid­ing But­land, but there was still time for one fi­nal op­por­tu­nity.

With the clock tick­ing to­wards the fi­nal of five min­utes of ad­di­tional time, good work from Yiadom and Meite saw the ball worked out for Bar­row to guide a shot into the bot­tom cor­ner to spark wild cel­e­bra­tions at the Mad Stad.

Read­ing host sixth-placed Sh­effield United on Satur­day (5.30pm) with the game tele­vised live on Sky Sports.

READ­ING: Jaakkola; Yiadom, Ilori, Black­ett, Gunter; Ri­nomhota, Bacuna (c), Swift (Bar­row 65); Loader (Bal­dock 72), McCleary; McNulty (Meite 72).

Subs not used: Man­none, McIn­tyre, Meyler, Sims.

Goals: McNulty (42), Bar­row (90+4)

Yel­low cards: Bacuna (35), Yiadom (89)

STOKE: But­land; Martina, Shawcross (c), Martins Indi, Pi­eters (Ed­wards 67); Woods; Ince, Allen, Clu­cas (Wil­liams 89), McClean (Fletcher 82); Afobe.

Subs not used: Fed­erici, Diouf, Ber­ahino, Crouch.

Goals: Afobe (48), Ince (69)

Yel­low cards: McClean (60)

Ref­eree: David Coote

At­ten­dance: 14,414 (inc. 1,706 away)

John Swift shoots

Garath McCleary takes a shot at goal

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