Match Report: Jimmy Kebe provides another dramatic Reading finish against Sunderland
Reading 2 Sunderland 1
Danny Graham got only 20 minutes and would have scored on his debut for Sunderland but for an agile save. At £5m, he could prove a snip. So, too, Hope Akpan, the bustling Reading midfielder bought from Crawley for a bargain £300,000.
On Christmas Day, Reading's players must have choked on their turkey. They had lost seven matches in a row – plenty of stuffing there – lay in last place in the Premier League and were six points off safety. Yet five weeks and seven matches on, Reading lie two points above the relegation zone. A fourth victory yesterday, to go with two draws in that period, has given them hope.
Much of their success has been based on gritty resilience, when all appears lost, and then, cobra-like, they have struck at the death. They were at it again yesterday when Jimmy Kebe rose alone at the far post, in the 85th minute, to head in Ian Harte's free-kick via the underside of the bar.
It was the 11th time this season that Reading have scored in the 80th minute or beyond. It may not have been one of their typical fightbacks – Kebe had given them an early lead, with Craig Gardner equalising – but it was an effective display. After all, Sunderland had been in rude form also, with five wins in nine league matches.
"Our dressing room is a very happy place," Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, said. "But it's not just the 11 players, it's the 18 players in the squad and the staff as well. I've had to learn and gain experience in this League and so have the players. We've had to find a way to win and we have done."
After Adam Le Fondre's recent heroics, most notably when he scored twice as a late replacement in Reading's 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea on Wednesday night, a starting place surely beckoned? Not so. McDermott kept him on the bench, a place that Martin O'Neill, the Sunderland manager, had reserved for Danny Graham, his £5 million purchase from Swansea.
Denuded of two prolific strikers, the first half could have been action-free. It wasn't, with both teams trading punches after they had extricated themselves from the congested midfield. Jobi McAnuff, having been booked after 29 seconds for a foul on Steven Fletcher, cut back a pass from the left-hand byline and Kebe lashed his shot high into the net.
From the role of "Comeback Kings", Reading had to adjust to leading from the front. They did not look comfortable with Adam Federici having to make an athletic double save to keep out Alfred N'Diaye and Fletcher. Worse still, Pavel Pogrebnyak commited a silly forward's challenge in his own area and brought down John O'Shea.
Gardner slotted in the penalty and although Pogrebnyak almost atoned, when it needed a superb save from Simon Mignolet to keep out his flicked header, Sunderland deserved their equality. Even more so after the interval, although Adrian Mariappa did nod a Harte corner against crossbar via Mignolet's fingertips.
Graham nearly made a dramatic debut, when replacing Stéphane Sessègnon with 20 minutes left, but Federici superbly stopped his powerful header. "That was a great save," O'Neill said. "To not score then, and then to concede that late goal, was very disappointing."
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