A goal in the fourth minute of injury-time scored by goalkeeper Adam Federici rescued a point for Reading and left Cardiff City frustrated at the Madejski Stadium yesterday as two of the Championship's leading promotion candidates traded high and low blows on an afternoon of high-tempo hustle.
Raw was the word that best captured the essence of this encounter – raw of weather, raw of action and raw of atmosphere – as a crowd baying for blood was fed raw meat in the form of a series of wild challenges, physical confrontations and impassioned vocals, notably from the visiting hordes. Their disorder at the final whistle, when both sides had extended their unbeaten runs to seven games, prompted the arrival of four mounted policemen to assist their colleagues.
Until the 88th minute, as Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, said, it had seemed an exciting, but goalless, afternoon was the likely outcome. Then Cardiff's Michael Chopra intervened by taking advantage of hesitation in the Reading defence to angle home a shot that created joyous delirium behind Federici's goal. His very late equaliser certainly changed the mood.
Having been cautioned earlier, for sliding into the keeper in a bid to score and catching him with his outstretched leg, Chopra was one of the villains of this pantomime afternoon – the other being the eccentric referee, Andy Hall – and his success sparked high feelings among the 22,770 spectators. A fiery game indeed, as the visitors' manager Dave Jones described it.
"I gave him a piece of my mind," said Jones, of the referee. "But it was from behind the safety of our dressing room wall – we were next to his room. We have had him before, so we knew what was going on and I am sure he heard what was said." Jones' dissatisfaction with the man in black was caused mainly by the added time. He felt one and a half minutes were unfairly added.
Coppell, predictably, saw it differently. "To be fair, most of the added time was caused by their players' fouls," he said. "I felt we edged the game and we deserved a point. I am grateful for a point because sometimes you don't get what you deserve."
Reading had much possession and most chances, but failed to penetrate with a long-ball approach and it needed a fine save by Federici, from a Roger Johnson header, to keep them level before the final dramas. Cardiff, abrasive and professional, were snappy in defence and sharp on the counter-attack, and threatened several times before Chopra pounced.
His goal came seconds after Michael Duberry, baited throughout by the visiting fans, had reacted by apparently lowering his shorts in their direction. It was a moment of madness that was the prelude to a heated finale of Reading pressure that climaxed with a corner on the right. Stephen Hunt produced an in-swinger with his left foot, Duberry's header was blocked on the line by Gabor Gyepes and Federici met the rebound with a thumping half-volley. "Like all goalkeepers, he is a frustrated centre-forward," said Coppell. "He took the decision to go up by himself and he is a decent outfield player. He took the goal well. And it was something different."
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Rosenior, Duberry, Ingimarsson, Armstrong; Henry (Kébé, 60), Harper, Cissé, S Hunt; Doyle, N Hunt (Long, 62). Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Gunnarsson, Matejovsky.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Enckelman; McNaughton, R Johnson, Gyepes, Kennedy; Routledge, Rae, Ledley, Parry (Whittingham, 87); Chopra, Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Heaton (gk), E Johnson, McPhail, Comminges.
Referee: A Hall (West Midlands)