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Reading 3-3 Fulham: Player ratings

Saturday’s frenzied final fifteen minutes at Reading was the ultimate test, as a friend of mine put it yesterday, of whether you consider your pint half empty or half full when it comes to Fulham. After a first half where the Whites simply failed to get started (it rivalled the false start on the south coast in terms of effectiveness), Martin Jol’s side came roaring back and looked set for all three points until a fraility that is now becoming familiar – defending set-pieces – reared its horrid head once again.

Schwarzer: Questions are starting to be asked again about our Australian goalkeeper, although the fickle nature of football means that will always happen when you throw away a late lead. Schwarzer could do nothing about Leigertwood’s superb strike that opened the scoring, but he feels to dominate his six-yard box in the manner that marked his arrival from Middlesbrough four years ago and coincided with the dramatic improvement in our defensive record. With all the criticism flying around, it is worth remembering that his injury-time double save from Hal Robson-Kanu prevented a Reading winner. 6

Riether: Just as we were all lauding Riether’s all-around excellence since swapping the Bundesliga for the Premier League, along comes a display to make you thing again. He failed to deal with Jobi McAnuff’s raiding down the Reading right and the Royals’ captain often found gfar too much space in behind the Fulham rearguard. Riether certainly wasn’t the only one culpable for allowing McAnuff to roam infield in the run-up to the opening goal – but he also wasn’t involved in the final third until well into the second half, although he did make a crucial clearance with Jason Roberts baring down on goal. 6

Riise: The Norwegian’s second season back in English football has started far better than his first but he doesn’t have the legs to recover as swiftly from those lung-busting gallops up the left flank as he used to in his Liverpool days. Jimmy Kebe, like McAnuff on the other flank, was afforded far too much time and space – both in front of the back four and, more worryingly, behind the full back, to influence proceedings and Fulham were fortunate not to have paid a higher penalty. 5

Hughes: This wasn’t the Northern Ireland defender’s finest hour and a half. Instead of being confident and assured, Hughes – much like his fellow centre back – looked hassled and harried, competing both with Pogrebnyak, who should have punished some sloppy marking to give Reading the lead early on, and Roberts for possession. There was an alarming amount of space between the two central defenders during the first period – and when one of them needed to be commanding to help preserve the three points with in the closing stages, they were found wanting. 5

Hangeland: Certainly the most error-strewn display we’ve seen from the new captain since Andy Carroll ran riot at Upton Park. Ironically, Fulham appeared to have dealt well enough with Pogrebnyak for the Russian to be substituted with ten minutes to play, but late substitutes Adam Le Fondre and Robson-Kanu found worrying amounts of space in the Fulham box. Calls for Hangeland to dropped are laughable – but he’ll need to up his game for when Fulham face Fellaini, Jelavic and company on Saturday. 5

Baird: Far from his ususal composed self in the first 45 minutes, but few in black emerged from a torrid first period with any credit. He was more involved in breaking up the play after the interval, saw a free-kick that was threatening McCarthy’s far corner deflected just wide and capped a more than competent display with a fine header to give Fulham the lead – although the injury he sustained during the joyous celebrations wasn’t part of the plan. Manfully limped back to the half way line and tried his best to carry on but had to be replaced by Steve Sidwell. 7

Diarra: Didn’t impose himself on the match as match as Jol would have wanted and was certainly outhustled by Jay Tabb and Leigertwood in the first half. His presence on the ball and decision making make the Malian such a vital part of the side Jol’s trying to build, though, and Diarra was much more influential in the second half. Seemed to fade in the final ten minutes or so, which is understandable give his recent fitness problems. You get the feeling that Fulham’s season will be shaped by how regularly he’s in the starting line-up. 6

Duff: Full of eager running, although most of it was sideways or towards his own goal in a dismal first half – and Duff was visibly dismayed to have sent a decent chance to equalise wide from a Richardson cross just before the break. Looked much more effective when he received the ball in advanced areas in the second half and cleverly created the space for Ruiz’s excellent equaliser with a quick give-and-go. The effects of his illness meant he was also likely to be taken off early – but Duff’s been possibly the most consistent performer in a Fulham shirt so far this season. 6

Richardson: My theory on Richardson’s inclusion for this game – and by extension the ignoring of Alex Kacaniklic’s creditable claims for a starting spot for the second week in succession – is that Jol was worried about the pace and threat of Jimmy Kebe. Richardson’s not going to give you express pace or dynamic ability in the final third (especially as he seems to have spent the latter part of his spell at Sunderland as a full back) but he will work hard. Unfortunately, application wasn’t enough on Saturday as Kebe found far too much space and Fulham lacked an outlet on the left to stretch Shaun Cummings. Richardson did deliver a couple of dangerous crosses from which both Rodallega and Duff should have done better, but it was far from a convincing display. 5

Berbatov: Brilliant. I’d be tempted to end my assessment of the Bulgarian’s display there if it didn’t feel like cheating. Very much the leader of the team in forward positions, forever pointing, prompting and cajoling, but the frustration was that Fulham failed to provide him with enough of the ball to make a telling impact until the hour mark. Playing in that slightly deeper role, Berbatov’s control, shielding of the ball and distribution were exceptional – and his finish for what looked like the match-winner was utterly sublime. The way he wheeled away in ecstacy to celebrate with the travelling fans showed that he’s not just at Fulham to pick up another pay cheque or have a laugh with Jol too.9

Rodallega: Frustrating, if you’re being kind, woeful – if you aren’t. Rodallega’s an enigma. When it works, he’s a genius and a bit of a cult hero (see Wigan away) and when it doesn’t, you’re left wondering what all the fuss is about. He scored with a header at his old club last month but sent two tame headers straight into Alex McCarthy’s arms from a similar position this time around. There was little in the wayu of an inventive movement or searing pace in behind to compensate for those misses either. 5

Substitutes

Ruiz: Bryan Ruiz’s introduction was greeted by a particularly foul-mouthed tirade from a ‘gentleman’ a few rows behind me. A single swish of his left foot three minutes later shut that ‘supporter’ up and the rest of the away end enjoyed dancing to a disco ditty in the Costa Rican’s honour for the rest of the afternoon. Playing in the classical number ten role, Ruiz released Berbatov to play further forward and his influence on the game simply can’t be understated. Not content with scoring a goal to rival those audacious ‘scoops’ against Everton and Bolton, he swung over the corner that led to Fulham’s second and must have ended any debate about his quality in the space of a brilliant half hour. 9

Dejagah: Another impressive effort from the bench, injecting pace and a desire to run at tiring defenders just when it was necessary. He wasn’t able to exploit as much space as he had against Aston Villa the previous Saturday because Reading had been able to observe his eye-catching debut, but the Iranian’s impressive start to life in England must have been one of the reasons why Jol felt comfortable with sending the fit-again Kerim Frei to Cardiff on loan. 6

Sidwell: Dropped from the starting line-up to compensate for the return of the fit-again Diarra and that must have been a big disappointment to Sidwell on his return to his old stomping ground. Replacing Baird with ten minutes to play was unexpected and it might have been difficult for him to get up to speed with a game that had just been cranked up to more than 100mph, but it didn’t seem like that. The ‘Ginger Iniesta’ prodded through the pass from which Berbatov seemd to have snatched all three points and the devastation on his face after Reading’s third was matched by the disconsolate looks around the around end. 6