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Southampton 1 Reading 3
SAINTS FANS packed St Mary’s hoping to see a Premier League coronation.
They did, but it was not for the team they support.
Reading all but wrapped up a place in the top flight for next season with a 3-1 win, and are now red-hot favourites to win the title as well as they extended their remarkable run to 14 wins in their last 16 league games.
The situation is not exactly desperate for Saints who remain highly likely to join Reading in next season’s Premier League, but Nigel Adkins’ men know they still have work to do.
Of course, much will depend on West Ham’s weekend result and the pressure they can exert with two away games on the horizon suddenly looking a little trickier.
But for Saints their fate remains well and truly in their own hands and this result, though not what anybody wanted, is hardly reason to start writing them off.
Reading arrived at St Mary’s and were very well organised, very solid and soaked up a lot of pressure.
Saints’ undoing was partly of their own making, as they failed to convert a string of chances and defended uncharacteristically poorly against some quality players to ship three goals at home.
The first half started well for Saints who were all over Reading.
They mixed it up well with some terrific, quick, high tempo, incisive passing and some direct stuff, Rickie Lambert so often peeling onto the full backs.
The diagonal balls to find him in those positions are hardly a surprise Saints tactic as they employ them every time they play but the Royals seemed unprepared for them and they contributed to chance after chance being created.
Saints tested Adam Federici as early as the third minute when Billy Sharp turned the ball into the path of Lambert whose low shot was saved by the Reading stopper down to his right.
A sustained period of Saints pressure ended with another Federici save on 14 minutes, this time Adam Lallana’s effort taking a big deflection off the leg of Kaspars Gorkss before being stopped at the near post.
Just a minute later Lallana cut inside and had a dig but this time straight at Federici while there was a more taxing save than that to be made on 18 minutes as Danny Butterfield’s high, hanging cross from the right found Lambert at the far post but his header was superbly turned away.
Aside from an Alex Pearce header over the bar from one of Ian Harte’s dangerous set pieces, it really was all Saints up to that point.
So it came as a shock when Reading took the lead on 19 minutes.
It came from a combination of some poor Saints play and some real Reading quality.
Danny Fox’s cross field pass inside his own half was probably ill advised, and looked even more so when it was executed badly and intercepted.
Reading quickly worked the ball back out to his wing and Jimmy Kebe, who was allowed a yard to put in a wonderful cross that curled into the centre of the six yard box.
Jose Fonte got lost and that allowed Jason Roberts the chance to convert the chance, heading home from close range for 1-0.
To say it was against the run of play was an understatement.
As the half progressed the story didn’t really change.
Lallana’s chipped cross drifted on target and needed turning over by Federici, Jos Hooiveld should have done much better when meeting a corner six yards out but he headed wide, Lallana couldn’t make a clean connection to Richard Chaplow’s near post cross while Fox’s ball in was headed over by Lambert.
After all the huffing and puffing, creating and not converting in the first half, it took just three minutes of the second period for Saints to put that right and equalise.
Their goal did owe a lot to fortune but you could not argue they didn’t deserve it on the balance of chances.
Lallana crossed the ball in from the left with his right foot, Sharp was alert and superbly chested it back to Lambert who wasted no time in getting in a volley.
Gorkss threw himself in the way to try and block the shot but was only able to make the ball take a huge deflection off of him which left Federici, who had dived to his right to block the initial effort, with no chance.
St Mary’s was lifted by the goal and Saints were again rampant, Chaplow forcing Federici into a save at the near post before Hooiveld spurned another great chance from a corner, failing to make a decent contact with his head when the goal was begging.
After that Saints continued to be the team bossing the game, but the chances started to dry up, Lallana’s misdirected header the closest they came.
But, just like the first half all over again, Reading grabbed the lead against the run of play.
The Royals poured forward, Kebe again delivered the crucial ball, this time a low cut back, and, with the Saints amassing numbers deep and further up the field, it was the on running sub Adam Le Fondre who put a sidefooted shot into the top corner.
Saints knew they had to press to get something out of the game but the best they could manage was a weak Guly do Prado shot that was easy for Federici to take.
Unusually in those situations, Saints never really looked like getting back into it.
It seemed almost as if they knew their chances had been and gone and, up against such a miserly defence, it wasn’t going to be their day.
That was confirmed two minutes into stoppage time when some more poor defending sealed the result.
A long punt up field was not dealt with, either with the first ball or the second as Fonte was held off by Le Fondre who rounded Davis and slotted home.
St Mary’s was stunned. It was not the coronation they had come to see.