|This was anything but a Good Friday for Forest as a second half header from Andy Hughes helped loosen Forest’s grip on their play-off spot this evening.
I have to admit, this morning I had a very confident feeling about this game. I started to feel uneasy about it when Ipswich beat Portsmouth 3-0, closing the gap to only two points. Then I started to feel really uncomfortable 40 minutes before kick-off when it was announced that Forest would be making 4 changes to the starting eleven.
Jack Lester, Des Walker, and David Johnson were all relegated to the bench to rest, while Jon Olav Hjelde was not included in the squad. Eoin Jess, Eugen Bopp and Darren Huckerby would all start while John Thompson moved back to play alongside Michael Dawson.
The first half started well enough for Forest, they played some bright lively football and the passing was crisp. Reading on the other hand looked nervous, they were aware of what was at stake and they seemed in awe of Forest’s play.
However, despite the bright start Forest made little headway, their first real chance not coming until the 20th minutes when Matthieu Louis-Jean sent in a great cross. Marlon Harewood timed his run to perfection and slid in trying to get his foot to the ball, but he was half-a-yard short.
The goalmouth action seemed t spur Forest on and they upped the pressure on the Reading defence. Four minutes later Harewood made a good run, beating hi man before turning the ball back for Jess, who fired low and hard straight at Marcus Hahnemann in the reading goal.
Within two minutes Forest had split the reading defence wide open again, though Huckerby had been forced wide and his shot went straight into the arms of the grateful Hahnemann.
As each Forest chance was missed, Reading seemed to gain a little in confidence and their first real chance finally arrived just after the half hour mark when Dawson blocked Glen Little’s shot from the edge of the area.
Forest were definitely in charge of the game, and further chances fell to Harewood and Reid, but somehow they could not make the breakthrough so it was no real surprise when the half ended 0-0.
The Reading manager, Alan Pardew, must have sensed something was not right with Forest and Reading started the second half a different team – quick on the attack, positive in their play - they were not going to let Forest gain control of the game again.
As the second half wore on, Forest did have a few chances, but the found themselves stifled, while Reading increased the pressure and started to create more chances. The balance of power had swung in Readings favour by the time the breakthrough came in the 74th minute.
Ex-Notts County man, Andy Hughes, who had already gone close with two headers, found himself on the end of Graeme Murty’s cross from the right. This time he made no mistake and directed the header passed his ex-team mate, Darren Ward, and into the goal.
Paul Hart tried changing things around and he brought David Johnson on for Eoin Jess while Darren Huckerby dropped back into his more traditional role behind the front two.
With only Michael Dawson having a real attempt (from 40 yards) in the next 10 minutes, Huckerby went off (looking very tired) and Jack Lester came on for the last five minutes.
Lester had one real chance in injury time, as a long throw from Johnson found him on the far post, cruelly for Lester though, the spin on the ball meant it bounced straight into the arms of Hahnemann.
This was still a good battling performance from Forest, and in truth, a draw would have been a fair result on the balance of play. Nevertheless, the loss increases the pressures on a young and tired looking Forest squad. With no wins out of the last four games and only three games left to decide the play-off spots the Reds must pick up every point they can – starting with a very important three points against Burnley on Easter Monday.
As the final whistle blew this evening Paul Hart ran on to the pitch and gathered his team together in a huddle. When asked about it afterwards he said: "I wanted to make sure that they first of all went to salute our supporters, who have been tremendous this year and they were going to do that anyway.
"But I wanted them to go over there with their heads held high because I think they played particularly well," he said.
"John Thompson was at centre-back and he has been playing at right-back and in midfield.
"I was going to give Michael Dawson a week off because he hasn't had a break since he got in the team and I thought he was excellent.
"We didn't score when we were hot. If we had scored, then we're pretty good at keeping the ball. That's the way it goes. We know what we have got to do in the rest of the season."
Hart also took the tactical changes made by Reading as a compliment.
"I thought we took the game to them and we worked very hard and played some decent stuff," he said. "Overall we're disappointed with the result. Reading made a few tactical changes. I think if you make a team change their plans, you must be doing something right."
And Reading boss, Alan Pardew was understandably pleased with the result, saying: "In the first half we were holding on and struggling, they were causing us all sorts of problems.
"Paul Hart can be proud of his team; they were terrific. The game was a fantastic advert for this division.
"They moved us around a lot and no one has moved us around like that since we last played them.
"We were terrific, Forest were terrific. If that was the final, I would be happy with the result. You wouldn't say either of those sides would struggle in the Premiership."