By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Reading 2
Ex-Seagulls Striker Glenn Murray returned to haunt the Albion again as he scored twice for Reading , the first after just 35 seconds, as the Amex crowd witnessed goals in the first and last minutes of the match.
Reading pumped the ball upfield from the kick off and as it bounced around the six-yard box, Murray steered it past a hesitant-looking David Stockdale in the Albion goal.
Minutes later Murray had another chance but this time he was thwarted by Lewis Dunk.
Albion looked half asleep as caretaker manager Nathan Jones, dressed in a sharp suit , bellowed instructions from the touchline.
The Seagulls were having little joy getting the ball through to Darren Bent although Danny Holla was finding his range and spraying decent passes around the Amex pitch.
It was clear from their positions that both Elliott Bennett and captain Inigo Calderon had been briefed to swing the ball into Bent from wide positions. Bennett stood almost on the touchline for most of the early exchanges.
Before Albion had any real effort on goal they were two down, as Murray’s exceptional movement allowed him to get free of Dunk from a corner and power a close-range header that Stockdale could only parry into the net.
Hal Robson-Kanu and Murray were scything through Albion’s defence on every counter-attack. Greg Halford looked particularly uncomfortable with the ball at his feet at centre back. However, the giant utility man found his range with some huge thrown-ins.
It was from one of these that Albion found a route back into the match. Halford launched a throw halfway into Reading’s half. It was flicked on by Dunk and tucked home by Jake Forster-Caskey.
Minutes later Adrian Colunga hit the post from a Holla cross.
Before the half ended Darren Bent limped off with a groin strain and was replaced by the recalled Craig Mackail-Smith.
Albion went in 2-1 down at half time.
There was a much more attacking vibe about Albion in the second half with Colunga doing well out wide supplying cross after cross for Mackail-Smith.
Adam Federici made good saves from Colunga, Mackail-Smith and most notably from a Holla screamer that fizzed through a crowd of players at head height.
Solly March, on as a substitute, saw a close-range diving header pushed away by the Reading keeper.
Albion were now throwing everything at the Royals and were restricting the visitors to a few rare counter-attacks.
Colunga and Mackail-Smith appeared to have formed an understanding but Holla and Forster-Caskey are too similar in the midfield. Neither seemed particularly ambitious in going forward with the ball throughout the match.
With ten minutes remaining Halford formed a three-pronged attack with Colunga and Mackail-Smith.
The Nottingham Forest loanee failed to use his height effectively though but did cause some concern for the Reading defence.
With just a minute of normal time remaining, and when it looked like Albion would lose their third home game in a row, good work by Colunga and Paddy McCourt provided captain-for-the-day Inigo Calderon the opportunity to side-foot an equaliser from close range.
Five minutes of injury time saw a half chance for Mackail-Smith after working well with March.
Albion now travel to Fulham on Monday evening (29 December) for their final Championship game of the year. They are now second from bottom of the table with only troubled Blackpool below them.
Five things we learnt from Albion’s Boxing Day match at home to Reading.
1) Even though the transport ran smoothly, the first ever Boxing Day match at the Amex did not produce a huge crowed through the turnstiles despite the announced attendance.
2) Glenn Murray feels at home at the Amex. And so he should. The ex-Seagulls striker still lives just off Preston Drove in BN1. He has now scored four goals at the stadium despite leaving the Seagulls in June 2011.
3) Greg Halford may not be great with the ball at his feet but he has a secret weapon – a huge long throw. Albion fans lapped this up and cheered Halford’s run up each time he launched the ball forward. Albion even employed ball boys and girls as towel bearers so Halford could dry the ball each time and get extra purchase.
4) However, from the delightful one-touch possession football employed by both Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia, Albion now hurl the ball forward to a big man to “flick on” in the penalty area, similar to Stoke City under Tony Pulis and John Beck’s Cambridge United in the early 90s
5) Inigo Calderon has a captain’s mentality. After equalising and instead of celebrating “Calde” retrieved the ball from the net and at least tried to ensure Albion had enough time to get a winner by placing it back on the centre spot. Sadly it was not to be.
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