Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reading 1 Leeds United 0: Le Fondre strikes cruel late blow to deny Leeds

Yorkshire Post 19/9/13
by Leon Wobschall 
at the Madejski Stadium
BRIAN McDERMOTT already knew plenty about late finishes involving former club Reading and his current one at the Madejski. And one man in particular.
Step forward Adam Le Fondre, who after breaking 10-men Leeds’s resistance with two goals in the final six minutes to put the Royals within touching distance of the top-flight in the pair’s last fixture on Good Friday 2012 when McDermott was manager, produced another choice late offering.
Last night’s decisive denouement arrived even later in the piece than the former Rotherham United man’s late blast that spring Friday.
With almost the last kick of the game, the man they called Alfie won it from Royston Drenthe’s free-kick – all this coming after big defender Jason Pearce spurned a golden chance to do just that at the other end for Leeds.
It was Reading’s evening on what McDermott hoped would be his special night back ‘home’ in Berkshire.
The game looked like boiling down to a tale of two centre-halves, with Pearce’s miss adding to three occasions in which 6ft 4in defender Sean Morrison spurned point-blank headers from set-piece chances.
It took a classic old-fashioned goalhanger in Le Fondre to show the pair the way as Leeds’s unbeaten seasonal away record ended in heartbreaking fashion.
It was a blow to Leeds and their manager, who were seconds away from pondering another welcome result on the road – at a far from happy hunting ground.
McDermott never attempted to gloss over the personal significance of last night’s Royals return, but the consummate professional in him always dictated that business was paramount.
Strictly Leeds business, with the former Reading boss only interested in seeing old friends and acquaintances once the final whistle had gone.
For large parts, it was a diligent, if understated performance from his side, perhaps in keeping with McDermott’s demeanour.
Most things in the Championship are unpredictable, but McDermott’s warm ovation from the Reading fans who managed to make it to the ground and beat the congestion in time for kick-off was wholly expected, with the Leeds team and many of their fans also late arriving in Berkshire.
Not that fans who got to the ground belatedly missed a great deal in the early stages, other than an impromptu singing contest between Leeds fans and their Royals counterparts extolling the virtues of McDermott on his big night.
After the appreciation album had ended, the night somewhat ended prematurely for a home player who spoke warmly of McDermott in the build-up to the game in Jem Karacan, stretchered off following considerable attention after coming off second-best in a challenge with Ross McCormack.
It took 17 minutes for the first telling chance to arrive with Paddy Kenny showing good reactions to turn away Danny Williams, with the United goalkeeper then making a more routine save to hold Hal-Robson Kanu’s shot.
Leeds’s first effort of note saw ex-Elland Road loanee Alex McCarthy save Varney’s low shot before Rudy Austin’s blockbuster crashed just wide into the hoardings.
Reading, possessing pace and trickery in the final third in the likes of Robson-Kanu and Drenthe, if no genuine fox-in-the-box, upped the ante before the break and forced the United back four into overtime.
Two excellent chances were forged in quick succession, but fortunately the beneficiary on each occasion was a defender with a wonky radar in Morrison.
The home captain, who came of age in a loan spell at Huddersfield in 2011-12, twice found himself unmarked in the box following free-kicks, only to head both efforts off target.
After a half in which Reading brought more to the table and showed more poise, if not too much punch, up front, Leeds had a question or two to answer in the second period.
But it was the Royals who carried on from where they left off, more especially Morrison with the stopper heading another decent opportunity over when well placed.
After struggling to piece together any cohesive moves for much of the contest, it potentially looked a long second half for the visitors, whose previous win at Reading arrived at the now long-gone Elm Park when the late Billy Bremner was Leeds manager in December 1987.
When scant offerings did arrive with Leeds attacking a considerable presence in the away end, either the wrong option was made or a clearing defender nipped matters in the bud, although you still got the impression that Leeds could make the profligate hosts pay if they could manufacture one good opportunity.
That finally arrived in the 65th minute and to the player Leeds fans would have wished it to in McCormack, who benefited from a split-second of hesitancy in the Reading backline before firing a 20-yarder a whisker over the crossbar.
In a bid to sharpen up Royals’ blunt attack, Nigel Adkins threw on a natural-born goalscorer United knew plenty about in Le Fondre.
But it was Leeds, who had thrown on a speedster in Dominic Poleon for Noel Hunt on the hour, who suddenly started to find some belated assertion, with the hosts’ fires starting to fade.
A header from Varney flashed over, while substitute Hope Akpan went close at the other before Le Fondre took centre stage.
leon.woschall@ypn.co.uk