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Charlton 0-1 Reading

Somehow with Reading faltering at home without a win in six they've managed to remain in the playoffs; it's fortunate that they've managed to pick up 16 points from 18 away from the Madejski. A game against Charlton should be a certain three points for The Royals sitting in the play-off places, but as a hard-fought game against Birmingham a fortnight ago showed it's not always that simple.

The first half was completely devoid of any sort of quality, or passion. Drenthe overhit several crosses, and everything was so rushed. Charlton looked like a side who had the ability to cause problems, with pace and skill all over the pitch. Half an hour in and Reading started to take more time in possession, and play the ball around on the floor. There was no way through, and no chances, but it was a much better way to end the first forty-five minutes.

The most excitement came when Gorkss wasn't allowed on the field for a couple of minutes after taking a knock to the head. I've never seen a referee take so long to usher a player back onto the field, it was really quite ridiculous. Made up for by the fact that McAnuff managed to sideline a player in red for a significant period of time, and just as he was ready to come back on the whistle sounded for half time.

The second half saw much more urgency from the away side. A Gunter cross fell to Williams on the edge of the area, but the American could only scuff wide. With Reading showing much better build up there was still nothing to show for it. Danny Guthrie - who should be taking all set pieces on today's evidence - put in a fantastic corner that somehow evaded everybody, including an unmarked Drenthe on the back post.

The pressure was mounting, a ball pulled back from McAnuff into Alfie was shot wide. It may have been better if he'd let the cross run to Drenthe, who looked in a great position to slam the ball home. Then set piece specialist Guthrie lined up a beautiful free kick, but ex-Royal Ben Hamer expertly got to the shot to tip it wide.

McCleary really provided impetus when he came on, driving forward and linking up well with Danny Williams. Numerous times saw the two combine, and the Jamaican's feet unlocked the defence a few times. Finally it was the American who managed to get Reading ahead, expertly lifting the ball over Hamer in the Charlton net to secure Reading's first win since Birmingham.

The pitch at The Valley was truly awful, and players were sliding all over the place - but I think it's clear that Charlton were far more used to the surface, and played very well on it. Perhaps it contributed to the slow Reading start, but we really should have adapted quicker to it.

It's clear, also, that the Le Fondre/Pogrebnyak partnership hasn't been gelling the way it did, and perhaps a couple more games will hopefully see the full benefit. The runs tended to be away from each other, and I can't remember a single piece of link-up between the two. Although, similarly, when ALF makes a run that splits the defence that should be the cue of either Guthrie or Williams to run through the middle.

Yet again Brighton, Forest, and Ipswich all lost - which means that Reading are five points clear of the chasing pack with six games left. With four teams all on 58 points, and Blackburn (possibly with Watford) are on 56 there's still a lot of work left to do. Every game, with the exception of Doncaster, is against tough opposition. Hopefully this is the time that Reading step up. Time to prepare for a massive game at Bournemouth on Tuesday!

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