By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Reading 1
The Albion drew 1-1 with playoff rivals Reading at the Amex this afternoon (8 March).
The Seagulls were gifted the lead after just quarter of an hour – a David Lopez cross headed firmly into his own net by Reading’s Chris Gunter, with both Jesse Lingard and Leo Ulloa near by but under no real pressure from either.
Albion promised much but delivered little even though Lingard, Lopez and Bruno Saltor were all finding space and delivering crosses.
Ulloa was trying his best to hold the ball up and, when able, to try to turn his opponent but was muscled by Michael Hector more often than not.
Royston Drenthe and Danny Guthrie were Reading’s main threat and the former flashed a shot across the face of the Albion goal just before Gordon Greer was booked for a clumsy-looking challenge on Adam Le Fondre.
Albion’s defending appeared resolute, with Bruno able to bomb forward and support Lopez.
Although the Albion went in one up at half time, they failed to muster a single shot on goal from inside the Reading penalty area.
Like many other times this season the opposition started the second half much brighter than the Albion, as Reading conjured a quick attack.
Then a turning point. Greer, already booked, ran across to cover the advancing Le Fondre , but almost ran into and then got tangled up with the forward. Referee Fred Graham did appear to be influenced by the reaction of Reading’s players and sent Greer off with a second yellow and a red.
Lewis Dunk was immediately sent on as cover, replacing Lopez who seemed almost sarcastically to shake the referee’s hand as he left the pitch.
One man down and a goal up, the Albion became very cautious and appeared to want to pack their midfield and defence with two rows of four, with Ulloa up front on his own. But this made them too rigid and at times appeared almost too compact with little space for manoeuvre.
Tomasz Kuszczak certainly thought Albion were too deep and tried his best to organise the players in front of him to push up. But still Albion packed their own penalty area every time Reading attacked.
Eventually it was almost inevitable that the Royals, who were controlling the match, would equalise. And it was Drenthe from the edge of the area who surprised Kuszczak with a shot inside the keeper’s near post and made it 1-1 with 25 minutes.
Although it seemed that Albion would do well to hang on, the introduction of Will Buckley gave the Seagulls more of attacking outlet.
Buckley had Albion’s first real chance of the game but blasted a shot wide after cleverly heading the ball on past the defender.
Reading were still looking for a winner and the introduction of Jobi McAnuff must have caused concern for Albion fans. The now almost veteran attacker scored Palace’s winner back in 2005 at the Withdean. He also bagged a brace for Reading against Albion on Boxing Day 2011.
Not long after coming on, McAnuff out-muscled Bruno and raced through one on one with Kuszczak but the Albion goalkeeper produced a great stop.
Before the end Bruno and Buckley combined, with Buckley forcing a good save from Alex McCarthy but fellow sub Solly March was unable to adjust himself to benefit from the rebound.
Then from a March corner the ball slammed against the post and rebounded back to him.
The teenager was in a great position but the referee blew for an indirect free kick to Reading as no other player had touched the ball. This acknowledged rule caused frustration among Albion fans.
In the six minutes of injury time Reading had a couple of corners but Kuszczak and his defence stood firm to earn the Albion a point and some hope to take into the match on Tuesday (11 March) against QPR at the Amex.
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