Hull City struck late to defeat Reading at the KC Stadium and move within two points of the top of the Championship table again.
The Tigers produced a markedly improved second half performance to take the three points having toiled badly before the break. It was easily the worst half I’ve seen from them this season – having dodged the bullet at Leeds. However the players turned it around to do three things we’re not well known for: a) win on the telly, b) come from behind to win, and c) score a late winner.
Moses Odubajo – Harry Maguire – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – Jake Livermore – David Meyler – Sam Clucas
Abel Hernandez – Chuba Akpom
Hull City were sluggish right from the start. The options for the man on the ball were limited time and again and it resulted in possession slowing every time and the ball going sideways and backwards before someone tried to force an opening and gave Reading the ball. There was no-one individually to blame because the players waving their arms in frustration at not having a pass available were the same ones strolling around when their mates were put in the same position seconds later.
In addition to the lack of invention on the ball, City were wide open when Reading crossed half way with the five men in their midfield making intelligent runs between centre halves and full backs and our midfield not tracking them. Without Michael Dawson there was a lack of cohesion in the back four and a lack of organisation. Reading eventually punished this sloppiness but could already have been in front. Allan McGregor saved well from Danny Williams in the opening minute as the defence was pulled across leaving space down our right for Williams to get in behind and then a tremendous pass from McCleary split Maguire and Davies but Odubajo tracked Vydra and nicked the ball just as the Watford loanee was about to pull the trigger.
There was no such luck on the half hour as the defence got pulled across the pitch again and this time Nick Blackman produced an unerring finish into the far corner to leave McGregor stranded. It was lovely play from Reading as McCleary attacked Robertson on the left, passed across the box and both Williams and Vydra laid the ball off to leave Blackman free at the far post. Elmo had to be the one to track him as each of the back four moved across to meet runners [0-1].
City failed to produce a response to the goal as frustration grew amongst the crowd. Reading are a better team than their league position suggests and have a host of good players but they weren’t overly ambitious, had a centre half in midfield and were happy to waste time from early on and the game was easy for them. They were able to get men behind the ball very easily because we were slow to work the ball into their half and once it got there options were so limited that we just passed around in front of them. Davies had a toe-poke saved from a Maguire knock down and Blackman clipped the bar with a free kick for Reading.
It was a shocking half. The front two weren’t strong enough to hold on to the ball and were slow to show. Elmohamady was as ineffective as he has been for most of the season but he somehow evades criticism. Some people were surprised that time Steve Bruce dropped him but it was deserved then and he couldn’t argue now. Clucas was a willing runner but never looked like doing anything with possession and we rarely held on to the ball long enough to get our full backs over half way. David Meyler had his worst game of the season by some distance with loose touches and forced passes. Only Livermore showed anything like the bottle required in tough games and he made poor decisions in the final third and got himself booked in a frustrated stupor.
Half time: Hull City 0 Reading 1
Steve Bruce chose not to make any subs at half time. He rarely does but, given the unbelievable strength of the bench, he definitely should have in this game. He did send the players out after what Moses Odubajo succinctly told David Burns was a “rocket up the arse” and it showed with a little more urgency in possession and the creation of some chances.
Odubajo received a throw-in from Elmo, attacked the pace on the wide edge of the area and, after a 1-2 with Hernandez, got in behind the centre half but save the keeper smother his shot. Hernandez then beautifully took down a Robertson pass and instantly volleyed wide. In between Livermore struck from distance but the keeper held it. Momentum was growing but our play was still being undermined by those slow passes allowing Reading to recover their positions. The crowd sensed the shift though and began to get behind the players.
Bruce was preparing a double substitution with Snodgrass and Maloney getting ready when City broke through. Clucas was freed in behind, saw his path to goal closed and his shot blocked but found Elmo with a cut back and after his shot was blocked on the line, Hernandez poked the ball home from three yards [1-1].
It was all City from that point. I can’t recall a Reading shot in the second half. Akpom hit the side netting after Maguire brilliantly switched the ball to Robertson. Their keeper Bond (the goalie whose woeful performance for Watford against Leeds sealed our promotion three years ago) then handled outside the area with Elmo pressuring him and somehow only received a yellow card. I’m not sure I understand why it wasn’t red. It was on the left edge of the area rather than down the middle but if he hadn’t used his hands, Elmo would have had the ball and an empty goal. They were panicking at this stage. They were trying to kill time and turning every nothing situation into an argument to try and half our momentum.
Akpom should have punished them when he played a 1-2 with Hernandez and strode into the area but tried to left a shot over Bond and the keeper got something on it to send it over the bar. A fine save but he shouldn’t have had a sniff of it. Akpom then threw his toys out of the pram as he was substituted. The fourth official originally indicated that Odubajo was being withdrawn but Steve Bruce had a fit and the correct player was hooked. You’ll have to ask said official how he managed to mix up numbers two and nineteen! Snodgrass and Maloney replaced Akpom and Clucas before Diomande came on for Hernandez shortly after.
With stoppage time looming, Reading were reduced to ten men when the replacement left back stuck his head in low and got a slight kick off Odubajo. Then followed one of those situations were a player receives treatment on the pitch when he’s three yards from the touchline and well capable of walking. More time being eaten up. Just as we were wondering whether the referee would punish the time wasting, City won it. Odubajo received from Elmo and skinned their centre half. His pull back was controlled by Snodgrass who calmly laid off to Maloney. He cut inside and shot at goal, it was saved and from lord knows where, Jake Livermore arrived to smash the ball home [2-1]. Typically the board then went up with seven minutes on it! Fortunately, stoppage time passed without incident.
Full time: Hull City 2 Reading 1
The players deserve credit for turning a losing position into a winning one. That’s not something we do anywhere near enough and should be recognised when it happens. The second half performance was much improved and we dominated an opponent who looked frightened once we turned the screw.
It was still a worrying performance overall because there could be little argument over the team selection or system or personnel. Michael Dawson aside it was our best team and we toiled badly. Missing Daws’ leadership at the back is understandable but that was no excuse for the lack of bravery and sheer effort from attacking players. Too often this season we’ve struggled because we’ve not got performances out of players who are capable of much better. I thought we were over that but it’s obvious that it’s still our Achilles heel. The manager has to solve that problem. We can’t rely on a “rocket up the arse” half way through games to get results.