If there was ever a man motivated to make his point at the Madjeski Stadium, then it was Lucas Piazon. Senselessly booed by the Reading fans for the crime of completing a loan spell with the Royals during last season’s play-off semi-final and here this afternoon, the Brazilian midfielder seized his opportunity to both ram those taunts down the throats of the East Stand and remind Slavisa Jokanovic of his first-team credentials with a cameo that delivered a precious point for ten-man Fulham.
The visitors found themselves in strife in Berkshire once again after May’s heartbreak. It happened a lot quicker this time but the cause was another controversial refereeing decision. For last season’s Yann Kermogant handball, see Simon Hooper’s interpretation of a clumsy challenge by Tomas Kalas on Mo Barrow. The Czech centre back dallied on the ball and was duly robbed before bringing down the Reading forward on the edge of the box. Barrow was going away from goal and had Ryan Fredericks and the excellent Tim Ream to contend with if he was to work his opening into a genuine goalscoring opportunity but Hooper, many yards behind the play, was so quick to pull out his red card after 31 seconds that he failed to flourish it properly. The official then neglected to punish several overzealous Reading challenges with a card in the remainder of the first half, leading one wag to quip that he’d left his yellow in the dressing room.
It took a while for Jaap Stam’s side to make the most of their numerical advantage. Ream repelled almost every cross and Denis Odoi, employed as a centre half following Kalas’ dismissal, was resoulute alongside him whilst Reading’s short passing looked laboured rather than precise and fashioned few clear cut chances. A combination of David Button and Oliver Norwood redeemed themselves to block Liam Kelly’s shot after a short goalkick went awry, whilst Joseph Mendes failed to profit from two free headers in the home side’s brightest moments of the first half.
Fulham were largely focused on smothering Reading’s attacking intentions but produced a fine flowing move shortly before half time then saw Ryan Sessegnon and Stefan Johansen energetically move the ball into a position for Oliver Norwood to strike – and the Northern Ireland international nearly marked his return to the Madjeski with a spectacular dipping effort from 25 yards but Vito Mannone tipped it over the bar.
Reading attacked with renewed vigour after the interval, but Fulham – perhaps buoyed by some stirring Jokanovic words – also showed more ambition. Both Sessegnon and stand-in skipper Sone Aluko burst past the Reading back line but couldn’t extend Mannone, whilst at the other end Button fielded an ambitious effort from Tiago Illori and then made a magnificent diving stop to claw away John Swift’s curler from the edge of the box.
The game was becoming much more open than a rather staid first period and that spelled danger for the ten man. Reading did duly puncture Fulham’s brave resistance on the hour when Mendes expertly laid off a deep Mo Barrow cross for Royals’ academy graduate Liam Kelly to drive home his third goal in two games into the bottom corner. Stam’s side should have doubled their advantage immediately but, with Button stranded, Mendes headed wide an inviting Tyler Blackett cross when it seemed simpler to score.
After Swift also sent a good chance wide, Fulham began to gamble – prompted by their head coach sending on Aboubakar Kamara in search of a greater threat up front. Piazon, already on for the limping Floyd Ayite, immediately offered himself as an energetic runner down the left and Reading failed to heed the warnings offered first by a Norwood volley that was well gathered by Mannone and a slalom run from Sessegnon through the centre of the field.
Fulham’s goal arrived in the blink of eye but owed much to Piazon’s presence of mind and composure. Substitute Joey van der Berg slipped after being played into trouble by Tyler Blackett and the Chelsea loanee the midfielder, outfoxed Paul McShane before resisting the temptation to power a shot and picked his spot inside Mannone’s far post. Piazon’s ear-cupped celebration enraged the Reading supporters but his delight at offering Fulham a reward for an afternoon of determined defending was more than understandable.
There was still a frenzied final ten minutes to get through. Both sides looked likely to nick a winner – with Norwood, who never stopped running, bravely blocking a Kelly piledriver at source and referee Hooper somehow missing the fact that Liam Moore repelled Kevin McDonald’s goalbound strike with his arm in the Reading box. In five heartstopping minutes of added time, the game surged from one of the field to another but Mendes’ optimistic overheaded kick sailed high over Button’s bar and the travelling Fulham fans were able to acclaim an excellent point in adversity.
READING (3-4-1-2): Mannone; Illori (Clement 73), McShane, Moore; Gunter, Blackett, L. Kelly, Evans (van der Berg 58); Swift; Barrow (Popa 83), Mendes. Subs (not used): Jaakola, Quinn, Rinomhota, Smith.
BOOKED: Illori, Moore, Swift.
GOAL: L. Kelly (61).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen (Kamara 76); Kebano (Odoi 5), Aluko, Ayite (Piazon 50). Subs (not used): Rodak, Djalo, Edun, Cisse.
SENT OFF: Kalas (1).
GOAL: Piazon (82).
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).