Reading 2-0 Nottingham Forest
A RARE league goal from Chris Gunter added to Garath McCleary’s first-half opener as the duo shot down former club Nottingham Forest to secure Reading a second league win on the spin.
The last time Welshman Gunter found the net in the league was when playing for the opposition, the winner in a 1-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers back in August 2011.
Reading were arguably victors at Madejski Stadium because they were more clinical in front of goal, with Forest, if not denied by Ali Al-Habsi, spurning a number of chances as Royals looked a little suspect at the back at times – as well as showing sloppiness in possession.
Nevertheless, the impressive run on home soil continues, with these three points moving Jaap Stam’s side back into the play-off positions. They sit fifth on 25 points.
It was inevitable Stam would make changes from the side which started Tuesday’s EFL Cup tie at Arsenal, and the Dutchman did not hold back, making six from those who took to the field at The Emirates.
First-team regulars Chris Gunter, following a suspension, captain Paul McShane, John Swift, Danny Williams, Roy Beerens and Yann Kermorgant all returned, with Tennai Watson, Jordan Obita, George Evans, Liam Kelly, Dominic Samuel and Callum Harriott dropping to the bench.
The contest began on a non-descriptive note, yet from the first moment of goalmouth action the deadlock was broken by the home side.
Leading the attack was Swift, who was never going to pass up an opportunity to go for goal with space opening up in front of him.
The midfielder’s drive, from some 20 yards, was powerful, clean and on target – and too hot for Forest ‘keeper Vladimir Stojkovic to handle.
Although the Serbian got behind the strike, he could only parry it back into trouble, where an unmarked McCleary lurked, and he was on hand to drill the rebound low into the corner.
It was clearly a bittersweet moment for the winger, who chose a muted celebration having netted against the club he spent four years with prior to a free transfer switch to Madejski Stadium.
The goal meant the visitor’s record of conceding in every game this season continued, and although the opposition had some hairy moments at the back, the closest Royals would go to doubling their lead would arrive from a corner.
It was an awkward opportunity for Yann Kermorgant, but the Frenchman still did well to get under the ball and then arc it up towards the far post, where Forest’s Henri Lansbury was on hand to nod the ball away from trouble.
Also Williams, urged to shoot whenever the opportunity arose from the home faithful given Stojkovic’s earlier failings, rose to the occasion midway through the half and would test the shot-stopper once more.
The latter again looked unconvincing, but would get a big hand on an effort which dipped and swerved, and divert the ball out for a corner.
Yet while the away side looked shaky at the back at times, so did the hosts.
Al-Habsi saves the day
And they could count themselves fortunate not having go in at the break on level terms, but equally thankful once again to Ali Al-Habsi.
The Omani would deny Ben Osborn and Patjim Kasami twice as Forest often threatened going forward, although the latter should no doubt have done better from two guilt edge chances as Reading remained statue at the back.
He would play his part, too, in a messy goalmouth scramble.
Liam Moore was also needed on the line to keep out another Osborn strike at the far post before Al-Habsi was bailing out his team-mates once more, this time tipping an excellent Eric Lichaj attempt from 20 yards around a post at full stretch.
The second session will be remembered for beginning with some needless spats between Joey van den Berg and Lansbury. Both were booked for separate incidents, but sensing tempers might flare between the two again, Stam was quick to withdraw his player.
While referee Andy Davies dealt with the two appropriately, failing to deal with a handball soon after almost resulted in Forest getting back on terms.
Osborn was the offender, but the official allowed play to continue, where up popped Lichaj again.
This was from much closer range and the full back appeared destined to score, only to drag his shot wide of the far upright.
While it was a bad miss for the Reds, things would get even worse when up popped Gunter to net his first league goal for the club on 62 minutes.
It would prove a special moment for the defender, as he too was adding to his former employers woes.
It was a tidy effort from the Welshman, who scooped the ball home to finish off some quick-touch football by Royals in the box.
The two-goal lead, however, was almost halved immediately. Intelligent play from Lansbury saw him chip and chase his way past several would-be challenges before one from Moore brought him down illegally.
The referee, following a moment’s thought, signalled for a penalty, only to revert his decision after a chat with his assistant on the near side.
The resulting free-kick would bring about a Royals counter attack and with Forest badly outnumbered as Williams carried the ball forward.
The options were simple, Gunter charging down the right and a team-mate further advanced, but the American continued to keep hold of the ball, and by the time he made the pass, the opposition had recovered and Gunter was blocked off and the move frustratingly broke down.
Forest would huff and puff as the game came to a conclusion and did have the ball in the back of the net, only for substitute Britt Assombalonga to be in an offside position when touching home a Danny Fox cross.
Up next for Reading is a trip to another struggling side, Wigan Athletic, next Saturday (3pm).
READING: Al Habsi, Gunter, Blackett, McShane (c), Moore, van den Berg (Evans 55), Williams, Swift, Beerens (Harriott 75), McCleary (Obita 91), Kermorgant.
GOAL: McCleary 10,
Booked: Moore; van den Berg, Williams.
Subs not used: Samuel, Watson, Kelly, Moore.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Stojkovic, Lichaj, Traore (Fox 60), Mills, Perquis, Worrall, Lansbury, Kasami, Cohen (Dumitru-Cardoso 84), Osborn, Vellios (Assombalonga 58).
Booked: Traore; Lansbury
Subs not used: Henderson, Lica, Grant, Edser.
Referee: Andy Davies
Attendance: 17,093 (1,805 away).