There seemed to something terminal about Fulham’s predictable decline at the Madjeski Stadium this afternoon. Felix Magath, a manager with no experience in the Championship and fewer friends amongst the travelling support, sat motionless for much of the afternoon as his side slumped to a demoralising 3-0 reverse after his major transfer deadline day signing Matt Smith was sent off for a dangerous tackle from behind after just 19 minutes. Fulham were already a goal down by that stage – and the rest of the game appeared an exercise in damage limitation.
Magath made a number of changes from the side that had drawn with Cardiff a fortnight ago, bringing in both of his new arrivals. Thirty nine year-old Gabor Kiraly, the former Crystal Palace custodian, replaced Marcus Bettinelli, whilst Smith partnered his old Leeds team-mate Ross McCormack up front. The visitors initially began brightly with their new-look strike force to the fore. McCormack almost give Fulham an early lead, but his rising volley from Smith’s downward header went over the bar. But the defensive frailties that have seen endure a torrid start to their first season outside the top flight in fourteen years were evident from Reading’s first real attack.
The impressive Jordan Obita easily beat Kay Voser for pace down the Reading left and the home side’s own new arrival, Glenn Murray, marked his debut in the ideal fashion with a glancing header from close range having drifted away from the Fulham centre backs. Then came the game’s defining moment. Smith, stretching to retrieve a loose ball after some poor control near the halfway line, lunged in to try and retain possession, but caught Hope Akpan instead. Even before the Reading players had the chance to surround the referee, Mike Jones had reached for his pocket to produce the inevitable red card.
Fulham did respond well to their adversary, with Tim Hoogland almost capping a fine passing move with an equaliser as he burst into the Reading box before being stopped in his tracks by a fine saving tackle from Chris Gunter. Dutch midfielder Chris David also made have levelled the contest but his curling shot from 20 yards was brilliantly palmed away by the diving Adam Federici and the visitors’ numerical disadvantage eventually told during a traumatic second half.
Kiraly, a recent signing from German second division side 1860 Munich, did his best to keep the score down with a string of fine saves, including a fine reaction save from Jake Taylor’s header, but there was little he could do about Reading’s second. Obita was involved again, supplying an inch-perfect delivery for Murray to head home his second of the afternoon from a corner. Worse was to follow for Fulham as, five minutes from time, substitute Nick Blackman ran through the remnants of the Fulham defence, rounded Kiraly, and finished smartly from a tight angle.
The more than 2,700 visiting fans made their feelings clear well before the final whistle, with loud chants of ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ followed by ‘Felix Out’. The only bright spot for the travelling support was another bright cameo from talented teenage winger Patrick Roberts, but the smart money would be on Magath, hired on a firefighting mission in February to try and keep Fulham in the Premier League, not being able to enjoy the England youth international’s undoubted potential for too much longer.
READING (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter, Obita, Hector, Pearce; Norwood, Taylor, Akpan (Edwards 80), Mackie (Blackman 78); Cox, Murray (Pogrebnyak 67). Subs (not used): Andersen, Cooper, Kuhl, Long.
GOALS: Murray (15, 54), Blackman (85).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Kiraly; Voser (Zverotic 55), Kavanagh, Bodurov, Burn; Hoogland, Hyndman (Christensen 45), Parker, David (Roberts 78); Smith, McCormack. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Hutchinson, Roberts, Rodallega.
BOOKED: Voser, Hyndman, Kavanagh.
SENT OFF: Smith (19).
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chester).