Same Old Story
Attendance: 31, 345
It was the same old story at Pride Park as a promising opening was again undermined by defensive lapses as The Rams fell to a 2-0 defeat against Reading that virtually secured the visitors a play-off place as they look for a first-time return to the Premiership. In fairness The Royals looked a step above the majority of teams who have visited Pride Park this season but it was the slips at the back that ultimately decided the outcome. With Andre Bikey in dominant form at the back they never looked like letting their lead slip after a 56th minute header from Dave Kitson gave them the lead and they successfully tuned around their mini-slump with a forceful display. Shane Long beat the offside trap and comfortably slotted home to tie up all three points and, despite a late flurry, they held on without any real problems to move into fourth in the Championship.
Barry Bannan came in to central midfield and Luke Varney went straight into the starting line-up after returning from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday and took up a role on the right side of midfield. Reading started strongly and had the ball in the net from Shane Long as he headed home from a Liam Rosenior header but the flag was already up for offside. Rob Hulse was then fed by Gary Teale at the other end but his shot from just inside the area was wide of the near post as Derby also looked to get on the front foot early on.
Shane Lone played in Dave Kitson but the strikers` effort was well saved by Bywater and Kitson himself was then flagged offside as he finished well from another Rosenior cross after long had robbed Teale as he looked to clear. Luke Varney cut in from the right and fired in a powerful effort but Marcus Hahnemann gathered comfortably and the big American keeper then came out to clear a loose ball although Michael Duberry had blocked off Rob Hulse but nothing was given by the referee.
Both sides were playing some good football and Shane Long had a chance after a neat build up but he took too long with his shot and it was blocked by the Derby defence before a pinpoint cross from Robbie Savage picked out Rob Hulse but he headed over when well placed. Kris Commons created the last chance of the first half with a good run down the left and his low cross was sent narrowly wide by Duberry who got his toe to the ball as Hulse and Varney closed in but neither side could find the breakthrough before halftime.
Glenn Little fired well wide of the goal with the first shot of the second half before Gary Teale hit a fierce effort that Hahnemann couldn`t hold but as the ball spun over him he turned round and the ball bounced luckily straight into his hands again. Kris Commons then hit a dipping volley that went narrowly wide with the keeper beaten and the visitors find themselves in front ten minutes into the second period. Jimmy Kebe was given far too much time to turn inside and clip a right-footed cross into the area that was met by Dave Kitson who easily beat his man to the ball and headed home with Albrechtsen looking flat footed behind him.
Rob Hulse got his head to another Robbie Savage cross but couldn`t get enough behind it to trouble Hahnemann and Reading, who had begun to dominate the match, broke away to score the second on 72 minutes. A simple ball over the top release Shane Long, onside this time, and he ran in on goal and calmly slotted the ball home although Bywater did get something on his shot.
Luke Varney threatened from a Lewin Nyatanga header into the area but Hahnemann came out to meet him and spread himself well to save the effort. Commons and Varney switched positions and Derby`s number seven picked the ball up in the middle of the park before fizzing in a 25 yarder that Hahnemann did well to touch over. Andy Todd left the field with a tight hamstring to be replaced by Stephen Pearson who went to left back with Nyatanga covering in the middle and Tito Villa replaced Hulse minutes later with The Rams leading scorer leaving the pitch with a head injury.
Jimmy Kebe had a low shot well saved by Bywater with the last real chance of the game and the four minutes of injury time failed to produce any further efforts of note as Reading comfortably saw the game out to take all three points to boost their search for a play-off place.
Looked to be the creative midfielder The Rams have been missing with his clever use of the ball and retention of possession, his size means he perhaps isn't an automatic choice at this level.
Stephen Bywater 7
Paul Connolly 6
Lewin Nyatanga 6
Martin Albrechtsen 6
Andy Todd 6
Luke Varney 7
Robbie Savage 7
Barry Bannan 7
Gary Teale 6
Kris Commons 7
Rob Hulse 6
Stephen Pearson 6
Tito Villa 6
Nacer Barazite 6