The Reading Verdict: This tie is far from over

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City’s 0-0 draw with Reading in the FA Cup quarter final featured plenty of talking points for WOAP pundits Andrew Baxter, Katie Whyatt, Nick Beanland and Phil Abbott to chew over.

What did you make of Bradford City’s performance?

Katie: Okay. I think they seemed over-awed initially, and took a while to find the composure and fearlessness that have characterised the last few cup games – the first half was odd to watch, both teams’ play largely disjointed, but City could have just about stolen the win during the closing stages.

Reading had done their research and knew exactly how to stop City, and our main attacking outlets were silenced effectively. Personally, I didn’t think James Hanson and Jon Stead received enough protection from the referee, but credit to the Royals for knowing who was going to cause trouble. I thought the back four were solid and Gary Liddle hugely impressive.

Nick: As ever it was packed with endeavour but shorter on quality than our previous cup escapades. I put this down to a very dry, bobbly pitch, a strong desire to avoid defeat but mostly to Reading’s gameplan – they were determined not to be bullied, not to be outfought and they succeeded.

Whilst it was an awful game to watch, the Royals paid us a lot of respect and were clearly pleased with the draw. City tried and tried but just couldn’t find a way through. The back four were absolutely fantastic once again but our creative players were continually stifled.

Filipe Morais didn’t look quite sharp enough to me, whilst Billy Clarke, Billy Knott and Stead were all handled expertly by the visitors. James Meredith was sensational, both in his defending and his almost constant willingness to burst forward.

Andrew: City were by no means at their best. Several players looked slightly lacking in match sharpness, most notably Morais, who wasn’t playing to his full potential. Having said that, it was a scrappy performance from City, and they deserve credit for restricting Reading to only a couple of chances.

In fact, Reading’s best chance came in the first half, after the linesman on the Midland Road side failed to spot that the ball had travelled some distance over the touchline. I felt that City had the lion’s share of possession, but the final ball seemed to be lacking and there were very few clear-cut chances. Stead worked his socks off up front, and I was impressed with Liddle, who put in some very strong challenges.

Phil: I thought it was a gutsy, hard-working display against a team who were often second to the major challenges and rather more direct than I had expected a Championship team to be. We lacked composure in the final third and when our chances did come, apart from Davies’ header, the rest were really only half-openings.

Reading rarely troubled us, but when they did come forward, defensively we were solid. Once again, James Meredith put in a great stint both defensively and when attacking, but Liddle was the stand-out performer for me.

What is your view of James Hanson’s move to playing on the left?

Phil: I’m not sure if this is a long-term ploy and my gut feeling is that it isn’t. I’d much prefer Hanson in the middle, causing a menace when balls are flown in from the wings.

I think he has a greater aerial presence in the box than Stead, who much prefers to take the ball at his feet. I think Stead is more comfortable on the ball too and I would like to see Saturday’s roles reversed.

Nick: I can understand Parkinson’s logic in moving him out wide to allow the team to accommodate more technically gifted players, Stead and Clarke, in the central area. It puts a lot of responsibility on Meredith’s shoulders as he needs to keep on pushing past Hanson on the overlap as, for all Hanson’s qualities, beating a defender and then whipping in a cross isn’t his forte.

Hanson has developed hugely over his time with the club and I would back him to benefit from this spell, learn from Jon Stead and eventually return to his preferred position as a better player.

Andrew: Personally, I think it’s a stroke of genius from Parkinson. Moving Hanson to the left and playing a variation on 4-2-3-1 means that whoever is playing on the left flank (for example, Billy Knott) can move infield and provide more cover in the centre of midfield.

It was evident in the early stages of the game that Reading were dominant in the middle of the park. To counter this, Parkinson shifted Hanson out to the left, allowing Knott to provide extra cover in the middle, and following that move, Reading’s dominance in the centre of midfield was nulled somewhat.

With this in mind, I believe it is a very clever move from Parkinson to play Hanson on the left, and I’m in favour of it, should we be overrun in midfield.

Katie: I think it has paid dividends, but the impact wasn’t necessarily felt on Saturday because he was nullified so effectively.

Nick and Phil have talked of Hanson returning to the centre at some point, having learnt from Jon Stead and improved technically on the left, but I’d be reluctant to assume this – I think it depends on where Stead sees his future.

Placing Hanson out wide brings the best out of Clarke and Stead, leaving us with an attacking triangle that looks assured and has been creating chances. The form and confidence of James Meredith has enhanced this and made us difficult to handle in the final third.

Hanson has improved more than any other player since Parkinson’s arrival, and, should this transition be more than a temporary fix, I’ve no doubt it will see him develop further.

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Sum up your feelings leaving the ground at full time…

Andrew: It says a lot about our achievements this season that I was disappointed to come away from the game with a draw. I felt that Reading did not offer too much in attack, and that if any side was going to nick a goal, it’d be City.

City spurned some of their half-chances, being too slow to deliver the ball into the box, or shoot, on several occasions. However, we’re still in the draw for the semi finals, which is an incredible achievement in itself.

Nick: I felt slightly flat – it had been an emotional build up to the game for me, and what followed didn’t match it. Seeing my team walk out in front of a full house in an FA Cup quarter final was a great experience but the game itself felt like something of a let down.

By Saturday night I felt much more positive – with this team we always have a chance.

Katie: It was weird – I think a lot of us felt as though we were limbo. I’ve been so busy the past few weeks that much of the build-up has evaded my attention, but the club did a fantastic job of building the big game atmosphere on Saturday.

Like a Yorkshire Superbowl show, the performance of Take Me Home prior to kick-off was riveting, the whole stadium alive; the scarf parade was so moving; throw in the long walk to the ground, the streets lined with scarf sellers, and each minute just saw the tension built further. It was a fair performance from City, but, realistically, nothing could have compared to what we’d imagined the game would be like.

I think everyone went in expecting nothing but a win. After Chelsea, who do you fear? It’s a valid question, and, for most of us, the thought of a replay was inconceivable. Only once the dust settled we did realise what a superb effort it had been to get the draw. Against a Championship team that had lined up effectively against us, it was a great effort from City.

No one should be dissatisfied.

Phil: I share Nick’s feelings regarding the mood after the game. The build-up was intense, the atmosphere electric but, alas, the football very average.

I’d have hated to have gone out of the cup with such a disappointing anti-climax. Much energy was expended on the pitch and plenty on the terraces also. I was drained.

How do you rate City’s chances in the replay?

Nick: I’d say the odds are 60/40 in Reading’s favour. Their recent home form is poor and I presume they will play more openly than they did on Saturday. That gives us a chance to pick them off on the break and I really believe this team will go for it.

I am praying Parkinson gives them as much rest as possible so they can be ready for one almighty push at the Madejski Stadium.

Andrew: If City play to their full potential, there is every possibility that we can beat Reading. City were, for the first time since the Dartford game, billed as favourites for this tie, but with the pressure being back on Reading’s shoulders in the replay, City can go out and play without fear.

The tag of underdogs is something that City love playing under, and as a result I’m quietly confident about our chances in the replay.

Phil: I think the tie is very much alive and I am sure that Reading will open up a lot more in the replay. They are now clear favourites, but we know this City team are a special breed and I would be far from surprised if we blasted the Royals out of the cup with some scintillating football.

It will be tough, but I saw nothing on Saturday to suggest we should be scared. In truth, whilst there is more expectation now of a Reading victory, I’m yet to be convinced that they have the shoulders to carry the burden that comes with the favourites tag.

Katie: I think we have a chance. Reading set out to stop us and didn’t really risk much – neither team did.

At their place, with the Royals clearly positioned as favourites, I think it will be a different story, and I don’t think they will set up as conservatively. They will have to offer something more, and you can envisage a scenario where they will leave space in the middle of the park for City to exploit. 

With this squad’s spirit and determination, you fancy them to beat anyone. 

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Categories: The Verdict

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4 replies

  1. I had a feeling it would be a draw, and to be honest was worried for a late lucky goal for Reading, as the second half seemed set up for that, with us having the better of the game at that time but then conceding late on. I also thought Morais looked like a man who hadn’t played for a few weeks, I thought his chance early in the 2nd half was much better than Davies’ header and if he’d been playing up to this tie would have buried it at the 1st opportunity.
    It was a scrappy match and the flow of the game felt more like a league game than playing a team from a higher division, and I feel that going to Reading I feel it is still very much 50/50. There was no-one on the pitch for them that should strike the fear of God into us, so making them open up more should benefit us. As for the atmosphere, it may depend on where you were, I was in the kop for the Sunderland game and was on the very back row of the main stand on Saturday, and it seemed like we weren’t as noisy against Reading, may be nerves got to all of us by the end not wanting to lose.

  2. The Monday scheduling is a bit of a killer. The problem is that we have two games this week from which we need to get league points to support our push for the play-offs, whereas Reading are completely safe. They will inevitably rest most of their first team on Saturday. If we follow suit tomorrow, we run the risk of dropping points (especially without Pickford), which will increase the pressure on Parkinson to pick a full team for Notts County. Ideally, we can pick up three points tomorrow, then rest 5 or 6 for Saturday.

  3. Personally I’d be tempted to rest the entire proposed starting 11 on Saturday and play some of the trainees with the other squad members. Let’s give Wembley our best shot ! We haven’t been this far in this cup for over 100 years !!!!

    • Neil this is an interesting one. Do we rest the key players on Sat in order to have a fully fit team for next Monday? I think financially missing out of the playoffs this season but getting into the semi final might tilt it for me. The money from a semi final would give the club a massive financial boost for us to put in a really serious challenge for Div 1 promotion next yr (not doing too bad this yr!). Saying that I would love do to both this season. Tough call.

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