Sunderland traveled down to Reading this afternoon for what beforehand looked a pretty tricky encounter. Despite the best efforts of new signing Danny Graham off the bench, Sunderland offered little up front and crashed to a defeat. Here's our recap of what unfolded at the Madjeski Stadium today...
Sunderland started very poorly, with the opening minutes being a scrappy affair. The Black Cats did get an early free-kick when McAnuff went in high on Fletcher, but it came to nothing, setting the precedent for Sunderland's early frustrations. Jimmy Kebe sent an warning when he broke free down the right, but his cross went straight into the hands of Mignolet.
The Black Cats didn't heed this warning and, like in the Wigan game, found themselves behind within the opening ten minutes. Larsson allowed McAnuff to get past him far too eaily on the left, and his ball into the middle found Kebe. The Frenchman skipped past O'Shea and put the ball in the top corner from close range.
Reading soon took control as Sunderland struggled to get a foothold into the game. The midfield duo looked all over the place and the home side continued to get joy down the wings, taking advantage of Colback and Gardner's defensive frailties. Gardner himself went into the book after bringing down McAnuff on the left hand side. The cross was dangerously swung in towards Pearce at the far post, but the ball came off N'Diaye and went over the bar. The resulting corner was held by Mignolet.
Sunderland, who had shown nothing up front up to this stage, finally forced a save from Federici on the 22 minute mark. A nice bit of possession found N'Diaye on the left. He brilliantly used his strength to cut inside and force a decent parry from the Reading keeper, who then saved well from Larsson on the rebound.
The Black Cats continued to push forward and were rewarded with a penalty on 27 minutes after a corner was cleared from near-post. O'Shea picked up the ball and, despite the fact that he was going nowhere, was stupidly tackled by Pavel Pogrebnyak just inside the area. It was a real 'strikers challenge' from the Russian, and the home side will have been disappointed to have conceded such a silly penalty. Craig Gardner stepped up and, like against Wigan, finished well into the bottom left hand corner.
Reading responded with renewed impetus to the equaliser, and Kebe again broke free, but saw his shot from distance go well over. A cross from the left then found McCleary at far post, whose header was cleared. The ball fell to Ian Harte, but his shot went wide. Harte was also heavily involved in Reading's best chance since their goal. A free-kick on the right was whipped in and Pogrebnyak, looking to make amends for his earlier error, saw his header well pushed away from Mignolet.
Despite the home side having the better of the first half, with the dangerous McAnuff almost forcing his way past there defender to get in on goal, Sunderland could have taken the lead before the break. A free-kick from Adam Johnson was cleared, but the ball fell to O'Shea who played a good pass to Sessegnon just inside the box on the left hand. He forced his way down the left and saw his floating shot well saved by Federici.
Sunderland made one change at half time as Danny Rose replaced Sebastian Larsson, with Jack Colback moving into midfield, allowing Alfred N'Diaye more of a license to get forward. The substitution did little to change the game at first, which followed the scrappy pattern of the first half. Steven Fletcher had a half chance on the edge of the area, but his scuffed shot went straight to Federici. Reading continued to look very dangerous on the wings, with Kebe and McAnuff still getting far too much space to get into crossing positions. Elsewhere Ian Harte looked dangerous from set-pieces, as he struck a free-kick from more than 30 yards out. Mignolet saved and fortunately Kebe's cross from the rebound was just about cleared.
Both teams made changes to try and liven up the game, with McClean replacing the ineffective Vaughan for the visitors, while super sub Adam Le Fondre came on for Reading. Sunderland had a pair of corners, but neither of Johnson's deliveries came to anything, as the winger struggled to have any impact on the game.
The Black Cats then had a penalty shout turned down from Lee Mason. Gardner played a ball from deep looking for the run of N'Diaye. Though it never looked like he was going to reach the ball, he appeared to have been clipped by Alex Pearce. While there was slight contact,t here perhaps wasn't enough to give a foul, despite the strong appeals from the away fans behind the goal.
The game continued to be one of little quality, but Reading soon had a great chance. Adam Le Fondre put good pressure on Bramble, who was forced to concede the corner. The cross found the head of Mariappa, and the ball cannoned of the crossbar. Replays showed that Simon Mignolet got the slightest of touches to keep the ball out of the net.
Both teams made their final changes and brought on new signings to try and steal all three points. Nick Blackman came on for the home side, while Geordie Man Danny Graham made his debut, replacing Sessegnon. Pleasingly Graham got a much better reaction than he did on Tuesday night, as the fans hoped he would be the man to liven up a poor game, and his substitution did coincide with a period of Sunderland pressure.
However it was another of January's signings who could have given Sunderland the lead. N'Diaye and Johnson linked up well on the right, and the Frenchman broke free in the box. His shot was poor though, and ended up going well wide of the target. Johnson, looking more lively at this stage, was involved in the next chance too, as Sunderland pushed for a winner. His cross found Graham at far post, and his header was deflected out for a corner. The resulting set-piece again found the new striker, whose header was well saved by Federici. And then, despite Sunderland's pressure, and with just a few minutes of normal time remaining,Reading took the lead.
Titus Bramble gave away a silly set-piece on the right, and Ian Harte delivered a superb ball which was headed in by Jimmy Kebe just a few yards out. The Black Cats had been giving away cheap free-kicks all day, and given the home sides strength from set-pieces, it was always likely a goal would come through this route. It was also another late goal from a side that is developing a reputation for picking up points in the final ten minutes.
The visitors pushed for a late equaliser, but Danny Rose's cross was pushed out by the impressive Federici, and the referee soon blew his whistle for full time. It was, all in all, a second successive poor performance for Martin O'Neill's side. Apart from a brief period following Danny Graham's introduction, the team again offered very little going forward and O'Neill will be particularly disappointed to have conceded so many silly free-kicks in good positions, especially considering Reading's strength in this area. The side must improve ahead of next weeks game at home to Arsenal.
We'll have further reports and reaction as the weekend continues in our Match Stream, HERE.