The Thursday Preview: Reading Vs Cardiff
Despite my distaste for this simplifying tendency, I apologise that this preview will also centre on a limited cast of characters.
Boxing Day 2008. Reading trail Cardiff City 1-0 thanks to a Michael Chopra goal. Injury Time. A corner. Up pops Royals’ goalkeeper Adam Federici, fully recovered from a Chopra nobbling earlier in the piece, to lash home unblinkingly and send the home support into raptures of relief.
27 months later and the Australian again takes centre stage.
He has more history with regard to Cardiff. As recently as February, one of his trademark kicks ended calamitously at the feet of Jay Bothroyd after a ricochet. That made it 1-1 in a game that was to conclude breathlessly with a Mathieu Manset prod, a Jon Parkin tumble, a right royal barney, a Craig Bellamy free kick and a three match ban for Mikele Leigertwood despite his not being sent off — a thunderously entertaining encounter that augurs well for the Sky Sports subscriber this weekend.
Federici is capable of Gordon Banks style saves and is a bawling presence, projecting his self-confidence on to a defence that excels or crumbles depending on mood. He’s an above average keeper for the Championship.
But when he got injured in the Spring, we saw the emergence of a future £5 million man in his stead — England under-21 custodian Alex McCarthy. As the Guildfordian’s talent crystallized, I was left remembering a time before, when the shot stopping Steve Francis gave way to the other worldly Shaka Hislop in 1993 — it was an epiphany. Suddenly, attacks were launched by way of throws to the full backs rather than hurried kicks, the long ball game was abandoned and, almost radically, crosses and corners were being caught. That scenario was beginning to repeat itself.
McCarthy was in nets for all of Reading’s 8 match winning run in March and April as well as the run to the FA Cup quarter finals. The result: greater solidity and a more pleasing passing game. This could be an above average keeper for the Premier League.
So, Brian McDermott’s decision to bring Federici back in for the regular season’s final trio of games was a surprise — “gut instinct” was the reason and who’s to question a man who has proved himself to be a master of team selection?
Two years ago, Steve Coppell surprised everyone by dropping Dave Kitson and Stephen Hunt for the play off semi final second leg against Burnley. The result, rumours of dressing room dustings down and a consequent lessening of spirit. Reading’s is a happier camp now but McDermott has a key strategic decision to make. I urge him to pick McCarthy.