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Title READING’S 2015/16 season fell apart when a freak 4-2 defeat by Fulham put a hand grenade under a highly-promising start to the campaign. Royals never recovered their form, confidence, or their lofty position in the table. Thirteen months on, third-placed Reading will be hoping that yet another freak disaster day at Craven Cottage does not lead to another untimely slide down the table. This one had repeat-fiasco written all over it from the 15th minute when Chris Gunter, under no pressure whatever, stooped to head a cross into his own net. Unlucky Gunts, who appeared as a pundit on Channel 5's Championship round-up later in the evening, explained that the ball came at him through a chink of bright sunlight in the corner of the stand. A few Royals chances came and went before the end of an even half - then it all went pear-shaped in the first nine minutes of the second half.
Last season Fulham won it from 2-0 down on the back of some absolute “worldy” goals - and they snaffled another one on 49 minutes when Chris Martin dredged up memories of his better days with a sizzler into the corner from the edge of the box. Then card-happy referee Oliver Langford showed a straight red to Danny Williams for a coming-together with Stefan Johansen - in a situation which was 50-50 at worst, one of those typical things where the original offender gets off while the injured party is sent off for having a return nibble. And having already booked Paul McShane and Jordan Obita, he added Joey van den Berg’s name to his one-sided collection. Not that it was his fault that day, but he was also in the middle for Reading's previous worst night of this season, the 4-1 crash at Brentford - so let's hope we don't see him again this season! Bizarrely, ten-man Royals briefly had their best patch of the game after going down to ten. Obita saw a goalbound shot deflected wide, and David Button made a smart save from George Evans' header.
Then the wheels came off spectacularly again. Sone Aluko, a half-decent player when he puts his mind to it, made a mazy run down the right and beat Ali Al-Habsi from an angle. Royals claimed heatedly that Martin, in an offside position, got the last touch. But after a long consultation with his linesman, who had flagged the offside, the ref gave the nod to Fulham. Before Royals could get over their anger it was 4-0, Johansen with a "training ground" joke goal, striding into a crowded box before curling one in through a forest of legs with the outside of his foot. And Fulham knew this was a freak day to put up alongside - and even beyond - last season’s result when Martin’s last-minute free-kick found the corner of the net past a poorly constructed wall. Reading’s task now is to ensure that there is no repeat of last season’s adverse reaction by bouncing back at home to Sheffield Wednesday next week. CAPTAIN'S COMMENTS.
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READING FC made it five wins on the spin in a predictably close affair at the Mad Stad. The slight downside was the first goal conceded in those five games, but City have one of the best attacking line-ups in the division, so this must go down as another fine performance by the Royals. Early goals by Garath McCleary - who slotted in the rebound after his penalty was saved - and Roy Beerens (right) with one of the best goals of the season, paved the way, and all was well until the 87th minute when Gary O’Neil scored to set up a tense finish. In the end Royals held out without too much sweat to stay in third place, but now with a seven-point cushion between them and seventh place.
It was all Reading in the opening minutes. Dom Samuel, relishing the chance to get successive games under his belt, almost got on the scoresheet again in the second minute but his fierce strike was deflected away for a corner. Another two corners quickly followed, then a flowing move ended with Frankie Fielding snatching the ball off the toes of Samuel. The young Royals spearhead was not to be denied for long, and when he surged into the area again he was clumsily tripped by Hordur Magnusson. McCleary’s penalty was not the greatest, and Fielding pushed it out, but McCleary kept cool and slotted in the rebound. City were stung into action and Aden Flint was allowed too much room to get in a shot which was only just wide. But while City were working out how they could equalise, they were suddenly 2-0 down. A superb move between McCleary and Chris Gunter down the right ended with a volleyed cross and Beerens volleying in from the edge of the area.
City were obviously a better side than they had looked in the first 20 minutes and midway through the half they piled on the pressure. Ali Al-Habsi made a brilliant point-blank save from Bobby Reid. Danger-man Tammy Abraham had the ball in the net, but from an offside position, then it was Al-Habsi again, keeping out Jamie Paterson’s angled fizzer. Royals did not need reminding that City have one of the most potent attacking forces in the division, and right on half-time Al-Habsi was in action again, parrying Reid’s effort. Reading had played well, but there was no doubt a third goal would have been a handy insurance policy.
City came storming forward and then the ever-dangerous Abraham, surely the luckiest loan find of the season, set up Gary O’Neil for a shot which had Al-Habsi scrambling to save. At the other end, McCleary had a thundering shot which Fielding did well to keep out, and Danny Williams, complete with natty new plaited hairstyle, missed the target from the edge of the area. Royals seemed to have steadied the ship, but Stam introduced some fresh legs for the final push, Yakou Meite replacing Samuel, and Callum Harriott getting a run down the right in place of McCleary. But City were still dangerous and the need for a third Reading goal came into sharp focus three minutes from the end when City pulled one back, O’Neil’s hit-and-hope from the edge of the box somehow threading through at least six players and past the unsighted Al-Habsi. Ironically it had followed a spell of Reading pressure when Meite, Obita and Williams all had chances. Royals traded Beerens for Liam Kelly as they tried, successfully, to close the game out. MANAGER'S COMMENTS. Attendance: 18,778 (3,529 away).