Royals can ‘compete with the best sides’
Reading 2 Stoke City 2
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