Finally! Finally we manage to hold onto a lead and win a game. Oh, and not just win a game, but win a game away from home! Only the third away league win of the season. Says a lot.
Anyway, delighted with the three points, so here's my summary of what turned out to be a decent day.....
As usual with Reading fixtures, I was joined by Patrick. The missus decided she'd go shopping in Reading which made perfect sense to me as it meant avoiding the two hour train journey from Romsey! Engineering works. Pah.
We were joined for a quick pint in town ahead of the game by Hammy - another regular at Spurs-Reading fixtures now, although being a Reading fan, I can't see that he'd have been too happy with the scoreline, or indeed their predicament.
Team news when we got to the Madejski was rather a surprise. No Berbatov in the starting line-up. Not even on the bench. We speculated that maybe he was negotiating his next deal somewhere, but the truth was far less mysterious. A groin injury ruling him out and allowing Bent to make a rare start.
Also missing were Lennon and Chimbonda. A strange sort of line-up then, particularly with Jenas starting down the right side. Not much chance of many incisive moves down that wing then.
On a warm day Reading started the better. It lasted all of one attacking move, pretty easily snuffed out and with two minutes on the clock we got into the usual tempo of games of late - dominating.
I wrote it last week, and I'm writing it again this week. This was a first half of complete and utter dominance for Spurs. It was thanks in very large part to the fact that Reading played three up front. No doubt Coppell was acutely aware of their inability to score and hoped that loading up the front line would help. Sadly for him - and I do quite like the guy - it didn't ever look like it was going to work because Reading were hopelessly short in the middle of the pitch.
Time and time again we had what seemed like an eternity to decide where and how to play the ball into and out of midfield. Within ten minutes it was clear that despite lacking real width on the right Hutton was going to have a field day getting forward. I lost count of how many times he was able to advance totally unchallenged, twenty, thirty, forty yards. The next ball was lacking from that side of the pitch, but the omens for Reading were bad!
Early on Bent forced a save from Marcus Hahnemann and we didn't have to wait too long to make out dominance tell. A move started down the right with Keane receiving the ball also ended with him slotting in with the outside of his right boot into the far corner. It was a really good goal, particularly from Keano's point of view.
As he received the ball and flicked it off he was scythed down by Michael Duberry - can't believe he's still playing! No worries. He got straight up, darted diagonally to the far edge of the box, received the ball, skipped past two challenges and finished with the assured cool that he's displayed more this season than ever before (at least as far as I can remember).
One-nil! Come one! Only problem was that in recent weeks - even though I've not been to many games - we've squandered that lead all too often. Want to know the actual statistic? We've dropped - wait for it - a massive 33 points from a winning position this season. 33 points! That's ridiculous. Now, no way that I'm saying we should be 33 points better off, but I do remember a study done years ago that showed 80% of the teams that take the lead in a game go on to win it. 80%. 80% of those 33 points would see us 26 points better off. 26 points better off would put us in fourth place!
God. Its so frustrating.
Let's not dwell though. We'll see how we fare on that front next season!
Back to yesterday's game them. 1-0 was easily a fair reflection in the early stages of the game. It could so easily have been more. Keane could have added to his tally but for a good save from a free kick on the edge of the box by Hahnemann. Not to mention that we had a perfectly good, and really well worked, high quality goal, chalked off for offside.
Another lovely cross-field move culminated with Keano playing Steed in and the winger firing superbly past the Reading keeper. Only for the lino to rule it offside. From the opposite end of the ground it was impossible to tell. After the game Hammy reckoned it was definitely offside. Match of the Day tells a different story! How that was given offside is quite simply beyond me. Steed was at least a yard on and unfairly denied a superb goal.
Steed was actually having an absolute blinder. One of his very best performances on the season. Always involved, holding the ball, beating Reading players, not once that I counted misplacing a pass.
How Reading must have wished for similar fortune! On a day they were ineffective in the middle of the pitch they also managed to misplace pass after pass, usually putting them out of play on the touchline. Such shoddy passing was not what they needed if there were to get anything out of the game.
On the odd occasion they did manage to get the ball forward, it was still somewhat wayward, and Lita in particular expressed his frustration more than once. I suspect, however, that the Reading supporters also bemoaned some of his lack of application in the first half!
So, a goal to the good at half-time, and a very comfortable one-nil indeed. As we retired to the beer servery we reminded ourselves of how little space there actually is for away supporters at Reading! It took until five minutes before the restart before we finally got a beer.
It took so long, in fact, that we missed the restart and a miss by Steed at the far post, sliding in on a fired cross from Keano. Watching the replay on the screen showed that it was a poor miss. Another chance to go two up squandered.
No matter though, for we still maintained our dominance although Reading began to impose themselves a bit more. No doubt Coppell was disappointed with their application in the first half. Very bizarre given the position they found themselves in at the start.
While the chances weren't quite there in the numbers for us that they had been in the first forty-five, we rarely looked threatened.
With about twenty-five minutes left though we seemed to ease up. Enough for Reading to sniff a chance and start to assert themselves up front a bit more.
Suddenly we were seeing ourselves pushed back for the first time in the game, and with it, the nerves of the (once again excellent traveling support) started to get tested. Poor closing down and inability to just stick a foot in let Reading get themselves back into it.
It was with Keano's withdrawal, though, that things got a bit more hairy. Boateng replaced him, and although Keane accepted it with good grace, his replacement once again failed to deliver in the fifteen minutes or so that he had on the pitch. Sure, he ran around a lot and had a decent stab at shutting down, but he didn't get the ball to pass, and he managed one (that I can remember anyway) decent interception.
As Reading pushed more men forward though they left even more space in the middle. I mean you wouldn't believe that you could get that much space in a Premier League game! So much that O'Hara (on for Huddlestone with half an hour to go) had all the time in the world to break from the edge of our box, run probably fifty or sixty yards, set Bent free for the striker to see his rifle-like shot drill back off the near post, all the way along the line and roll out of play. It was a great shot when nothing had looked on.
As the minutes ticked down we had to be thankful at least twice to Cerny, once diving at Kitson's feet to save, then doing even better to palm away Rosenior's drive very late on. Possibly one of the best saves I've ever seen. Not quite up there with the Espen Baardsen full length dive to turn the ball away in 1998 (I think), but a bloody great save in any case.
And that's the way it finished. A thoroughly deserved win that puts us within one win of the Irons - although I can't really see us beating Liverpool (I do fancy it to be a high scoring end to the season though!). Reading were shocking. For a side two games from relegation they just didn't cut it and I fear for them next week. With Fulham putting a couple of decent results together and Bolton all but out of any threat of going down, Reading have their work cut out.
I'd like to see them stay up. Its always an entertaining away day. Easier for me to get to than The Lane! But it'll be down to them to maintain their Premier League status.
For us, well, another game we dominated, another where we could've ended up dropping points, but thankfully ended with all three points.
Of particular note yesterday were the performances of Keane and Malbranque. Superb. While we expect sheer application every time from Keane now, Steed's effort yesterday was beyond reproach. Coupled with his generally excellent possession play, passing and wrongly ruled offside, he was brilliant.
Defensively we were rarely troubled and Dawson had a solid, confidence-building game. Partnered with Woodgate he is a different proposition to when he had to lead the back four early in the season. Whether he can regain his form from last season? Only time will tell.
Hutton again did well, although he seemed a bit lost when allowed to advance as far as he did with the ball on the right with no right winger as an outlet!
In the middle, Huddlestone frustrated, while Jenas had a decent game.
Those were the players of note then. A great end to the away trips for another year. Fingers crossed that next season we'll manage a few more than three away wins in the top flight!