Home wins, it seems, are not like London buses. You wait ages for one to turn up but then there are no more waiting in a queue to follow. After finally breaking the Madejski Stadium curse two and a half weeks previously against Blackpool – the first home win since beating Wolves in late January – hopes were high for a repeat performance against Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace.
With three points picked up on the road in south Yorkshire against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, things looked rosy for Reading. That is until Victor Moses and his Eagles chums rolled in to town. It took just minutes for Nathaniel Clyne to burst the Berkshire bubble with his long range daisy cutter that somehow found its way past Adam Federici at his near post. Ignoring Alex Pearce’s best John Terry impression in attack when he powered home Jobi McAnuff’s corner to level the score, Reading were doing their best to make things easy for their visitors. The players in blue and white hooped shirts decided that, as the Christmas season is upon us, they would proceed to gift-wrap Palace two goals inside the two advertised minutes of first half stoppage time.
If the second of the quick-fire strikes – curled expertly from range by Victor Moses – was a peach, the first by Darren Ambrose was all a bit pear-shaped for the hosts. The ambling Brynjar Gunnarsson, recalled to the starting line-up in place of November’s Player of the Month, Gylfi Sigurdsson, had a chance to clear but let the ball run for Ryan Bertrand. The left-back was left sold short, and within seconds the ball was in the back of the net courtesy of Ambrose’s right boot. Again Federici must ask himself questions as to how he was beaten, but the point remains that Ambrose should never have found himself in that position to start with.
It feels awkward to point the finger at the Aussie goalkeeper considering the number of times he has bailed Reading out this season. A valuable away point was picked up at Swansea in August when Feds saved a penalty and gave an excellent all round performance. On several other occasions, he has repeated the heroics of that day and will surely go to the World Cup with his country. However, he does seem a bit too prone to howlers for the comfort of a team languishing in the lower echelons of the table. With every point such a battle to earn, it does not help to be undermined by a goalkeeper failing to deal with routine shots.
When Federici first earned his spurs in the first team, he gave a schizophrenic account of himself over two FA Cup ties against Manchester United. In the first game, he was so good that he won the Player of the Round award and a trip to the Final as a prize. A week and a half later in the replay, he had conceded three goals inside the first six minutes, at least two of which he could have done so much better on. This season, there were questions to be asked on Sheffield United’s clinching goal against the Royals, whilst away to West Brom, Federici decided to go walkabout to the halfway line, gifting the Baggies a goal in the process. Federici has a lot of positive qualities and can be Reading’s goalkeeper for the long term future, but he needs to cut out the gaffes just as Marcus Hahnemann worked so hard to do over the years.
With so many top quality players having exited the Mad Stad over the past couple of seasons, mostly to Premier League clubs, feelings of envy will no doubt have arisen in the home crowd at Palace being able to field a player like Moses. The Nigerian-born England U-19 star, who does not turn 19 until Saturday, was a constant menace on the left flank, and gave make-shift right-back Jay Tabb one of the biggest tests he will get this season. For his second goal that killed any hopes of a late comeback by the Royals, Moses was given far too much space by Tabb but still produced a fine curling finish that Federici could not do anything about to go with his earlier beauty. Reading can only dream of attracting a player of the quality of Victor Moses on this showing. Right now they would be lucky to attract Adie Moses, who recently retired at Gainsborough Trinity for those that still remember him, by the way.