Premier League Soccer
Reading v Aston Villa. Saturday March 9, 2013.
Though Reading and Villa fans may disagree, it is games like this that proves the strength of the relegation system. In leagues such as the United States' Major League Soccer (MLS), which feature no relegation, matches between teams at the lower end of the league table are meaningless.
Today's match could well decide who stays up in the Premier League and who drops to the treacle of the ridiculously named Championship. A win for either team will take it out of the bottom three.
Villa have the worst goal differential in the Premiership at minus 27.
Reading have been in the bottom four since September 2012.
Villa have dropped 18 points from winning positions this season, but Reading have dropped 20.
One of the players in the spotlight today at Reading's Madjeski Stadium will be Brad Guzan in the Villa goal, as US men's national team goalie Tim Howard may be kept out of upcoming World Cup qualifying games due to a back injury. Guzan has been playing well this season, despite his team's lowly position.
The game starts and it appears Villa are going with a 4-3-3 formation against Reading's 4-4-2 and straight away Guzan has to make a smart save from Le Fondre's header. Worryingly for Villa supporters Le Fondre was completely unmarked at the far post. The poor defending continues as Villa seem unwilling or unable to defend crosses. Yet suddenly at the other end of the field Benteke hits the bar with a header as he outjumps Reading's ex-Leeds United star Ian Harte.
Within seconds of that, there's a very good save by Guzan on the half volley in what promises to be an end-to-end encounter.
14' Guzan comes a long way off his line to make an effective punch; he is a very proactive keeper and he shows this once more as he comes out and makes a clean catch from a Reading corner.
15' Reading are caught offside for the first time in the game, indicating that the Villa defence is getting bolder. Have the players worked this out by themselves, or has the coaching staff given instructions?
Though it is Benteke who looks to be the class act here it is Robson-Kanu who shoots just wide of Guzan's left post with the keeper slightly out of position 'cheating' into the middle instead of fully protecting the near post, seemingly one of this season's fashions. See Manchester City 3 - 2 Southampton.
With a quarter of the game gone, the impression one gets is of a Championship match: passes are made in hope that the defenders won't cut them out, incorrect technique on the ball, and unintelligent runs.
In goal for Reading, Stuart Taylor (who apparently has appeared just seven times in sixteen years as a pro) punches clear as his defence retreats to cover a high diagonal. Good solid keeping.
The pressure comes back on Reading in the form of Andreas Weimann, but the Austrian disappointingly fires wide.
After Guzan gets down smartly again to make a save, suddenly it's 1 – 0. An own goal by Baker after Hope Akpan plays a clever flick in front of goal with his trailing leg.
1 - 1. Just a minute elapses before Weimann dribbles forward in the inside right channel, classically cuts the ball back to the waiting Benteke on the penalty spot. A deflection helps the ball past Taylor.
Guzan makes yet another save. This time from Ian Harte's cross-shot that almost beats the Chicagoan at the top corner of the near post.
44' Suddenly, without warning, possession football breaks out. Villa string together numerous passes, Bannan clips the ball against the post, it bounces out and Agbonlahor rockets an unstoppable ball with his left foot into Taylor's top right hand corner. It's the former England player's fourth goal in 42 Premiership matches. 1 – 2.
48' Weimann is again disappointing in not taking a shot. How different he is from Christian Benteke, whose shot on the turn is deflected out for a corner; little wonder he has scored nearly 50% of Villa's goals this season. Most pundits seem to be predicting a bigger and brighter future for the big Belgian, if such a thing exists.
52' A thriller by Sylla of Villa. He hammers a shot just over Reading's bar. He was anonymous in the game before that shot, and, apart from a hugely wayward second shot, slips back into anonymity once more.
The spotlight on Brad Guzan continues and he confidently clears the ball left footed from a backpass. A US national team call-up is looking increasingly likely.
54' Reading think they're back in it as Hunt nets at the far post from McAnuff's great cross, but he's marginally offside.
68' Guzan makes yet another solid save, this time at the near post. Without this skillful goalkeeper, it's clear that Aston Villa would have lost this game already.
A strange substitution is made by Villa coach Paul Lambert. Bannan is taken off, and Charles N'Zogbia is on. With the increasing Reading pressure, one might have thought adding another defender, rather than an attacker, would have been the best thing to do. Nevertheless, N'Zogbia, so good for Newcastle United before his move to Villa Park, immediately announces his presence by shooting. Perhaps attack really is the best form of defence.
77' In perhaps his best moment of the game, Brad Guzan comes out of his goal as far as the penalty spot to make a clean catch and immediately launches a swift counterattack.
This exciting game finishes Reading 1 - 2 Aston Villa. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Reading's stay in the Premier League, and though we must remember they have performed incredible escape acts in the past, their next two daunting matches are away to Manchester United and Arsenal. Bookmakers are making Reading the favourites for relegation.
© Peter Rodd & Soccerphile 2013