Saints surrendered their position at the top of the Championship after suffering a 3-1 defeat to Reading. Nigel Adkins and his players will be wondering how they didn't pick up at least a point, having dominated the majority of the game. It was the home side's best performance all year. Reading sat back and invited pressure, but also looked deadly on the counter and at set pieces. Saints tore through the Reading back line with ease early on. The hosts looked to play the ball out from the back, with Dean Hammond and Jack Cork dropping deep to start attacks. The skill from Adam Lallana and the movement of Rickie Lambert and Billy Sharp was first class. Saints had a number of good opportunities to take an early lead. Lambert tested Adam Federici with a series of powerful efforts, while Adam Lallana was twice unable to find the back of the net following a frenetic goal mouth scramble. It was Reading who opened the scoring however. Saints needlessly gave the ball away in the middle of the park, before Jimmy Kebe beat Danny Fox on the right to cross for Jason Roberts to head in from six yards. Roberts was a handful all night. The veteran striker was superb in the lone striker role, holding up the ball and using all his experience to bring others into play. Noel Hunt, who was playing just off Roberts, also looked fairly useful. Saints regained control immediately after the goal and were on the front foot for the rest of the half. Lallana came close before Lambert headed just over the bar.
The home side's dominance paid off just three minutes into the second half. Lallana's cross was chested down by Sharp in the penalty area for Rickie Lambert, who fired in an unstoppable shot past Federici. Saints continued to pressurise their opponents immediately after the goal. Richard Chaplow won a corner when his shot was parried behind by Federici. Jos Hooiveld headed just wide from the resulting set piece. On 53 minutes Chaplow was replaced by Steve De Ridder. The decision was likely taken because Chaplow had already been booked, having made a needless challenge on Federici in the first half. Saints lost a certain degree of momentum and shape with the change. Reading gradually started to see more of the ball, and looked increasingly dangerous going forward. Saints were still pushing hard, but the Royals were proving a lot harder to break down. On 71 minutes Reading regained the lead when Adam Le Fondre brilliantly finished off Kebe's cut back. Saints could only muster up a few half chances in the final 20 minutes, despite having a large share of possession. Reading put the game to bed in stoppage time when Le Fondre took advantage of a Jose Fonte error before rounding Kelvin Davis and slotting into the back of the net.
A very unfortunate evening for Saints. Nigel Adkins's men completely dominated the play, with 19 shots on goal and 59% possession. We haven't played that well for a long time, but ended up with nothing to show for it thanks to a mixture of bad defending and clinical Reading finishing. Saints fans shouldn't be too downhearted though as there were plenty of positives to take from the game. If we perform like we did tonight in the remaining three games we will almost certainly collect maximum points. Credit must go to Reading for the incredible run they've been on, but we shouldn't give up on the title just yet. With the Royals set to travel to Birmingham on the last day we're still more than capable of finishing top. It should be an exciting last two weeks.
Attendance: 31,892 (3,145 Reading fans)
Davis: 6. Good distribution. Didn't have much else to do apart from pick the ball out of the net three times.
Butterfield: 7. Decent range of passing, and solid defensive work.
Fonte: 5. Not one of his better nights. At fault for the final goal and looked shaky all evening.
Hooiveld: 7. Outstanding in the first half, with some excellent tackles and interceptions. A big dip in the second however.
Fox: 6. A bit of a mixed bag. Made some brilliant cross field passes, but also gave away the ball in the lead up to the first goal. Outpaced by Reading's right winger on a few occasions.
Chaplow: 7. Worked hard up and down the right. Only negative was his booking for a rash challenge on the keeper
Cork: 8. Kept the game flowing with an excellent range of passing.
Hammond: 7. Excellent first half, but gave the ball away too often in the second.
Lallana: 8. Ran the game in the first half. Glided through the Reading defence like they weren't there, and showcased some brilliant skill. Surprisingly quiet after the break
Sharp: 8. Excellent link up play and movement.
Lambert: 9. Superb display. Won everything in the air and scored another fine goal.
De Ridder: 6. One brilliant defensive tackle saved what would have almost certainly been a goal. Little end product going forward however.
Guly: 6. Kept it simple in possession in an unfamiliar central midfield role.