Wycombe Wanderers eventually succumbed to sustained second-half pressure and were beaten 2-1 by Reading at Adams Park this afternoon.
The Blues more than held their own in a fine first-half performance against the Championship side and were full value for their 1-0 lead at half-time.
The slick passing football they play under manager Gary Waddock was not only entertaining to watch but also enabled the Chairboys to carve out plenty of goalscoring opportunities against a side with realistic ambitions of winning promotion to the Premier League at the end of the coming season.
Wycombe started well, and as early as the 6th minute Jon-Paul Pittman collected a pass from Matt Bloomfield and cut inside before dragging a low shot narrowly wide of the post.
Two minutes later Pittman did put his name on the scoresheet when he darted into the box to receive a quickly-taken free kick from Ian Westlake and slide the ball home past Australian international keeper Adam Federici who was making his first appearance since returning from the World Cup in South Africa.
Blues’ new keeper Nikki Bull was called into action for the first time after 11 minutes when he impressed the home fans by flinging himself high and to his left to keep out a goalbound effort from the Royals.
Undaunted, Wycombe continued to press forward and create chances, with Pittman doing well to out-jump the Reading defence and head a Gareth Ainsworth cross just over the crossbar.
Mid-way through the first-half, the Blues should have gone two-up when Kevin Betsy carried the ball forward before threading a lovely pass into the path of Scott Rendell. If the new-signing had hit it first-time with his left foot he only had the keeper to beat, but instead he tried to work the ball onto his right foot and the opportunity was spurned.
Reading’s Simon Church could have levelled the match after 30 minutes when he found himself unmarked on the left flank and made a bee-line towards goal, but Bull was there to thwart him with a fine double-save, the keeper stopping the initial shot with his legs and then recovering quickly to pounce on the loose ball.
Eight minutes before half-time Pittman and Bloomfield combined beautifully to create yet another opportunity for Wycombe to increase their lead. JP’s cutback was inch perfect for the on-rushing Bloomfield who only had the keeper to beat and will be disappointed in the quality of a shot which Federici smothered with ease.
It was Reading’s turn to squander a couple of glorious chances shortly before half-time, but when the whistle blew for the break, the scoreline was a fair reflection of the two sides’ first half performances.
Wycombe made six changes at half-time and a further two substitutions during a second-period which belonged almost entirely to the visitors.
The central-midfield partnership of unimpressive trialist Liam Bridcutt and new signing Kieran Murtagh failed to compete with the Royals in the way that Matt Bloomfield and Lewis Montrose had in the opening forty-five minutes and the Blues found themselves on the back foot and thankful for some wayward finishing from the visitors.
The only two goalscoring opportunities Wycombe created in the second half were thanks to the tireless Gareth Ainsworth, who fired one fierce shot into the side-netting after an hour and tried a cheeky chip over the keeper with ten minutes to go.
Reading’s equaliser was a superbly placed penalty from Gylfi Sigurdsson after 65 minutes. Tricky left-winger Jobi McAnuff had already caused the Blues’ defence a few problems and when he reached the Wycombe bye-line and headed towards the near post you could sense he was just waiting for the slightest physical contact. Marvin McCoy wisely elected not to tackle him from behind, but Liam Bridcutt fell for it and made the challenge – down went McAnuff and the referee duly pointed to the spot.
Three minutes later the visitors were awarded another spot-kick when Blues defender Alan Bennett brought down Sigurdsson just as he was about to pull the trigger in a one-on-one with keeper Nikki Bull.
Sigurdsson picked himself up to take the spot-kick but this time it wasn’t so clinical and Bull dived to his right to make a fine save.
The impressive McAnuff went off after 76 minutes, but his replacement Hal Robson-Kanu was no slouch either, and when he stole-in at the back post two minutes later to side-foot a Noel Hunt cross into the net, Reading had their winner.
First Half Line Up
Foster Westwood Johnson Westlake
Ainsworth Bloomfield Montrose Betsy
Second Half Line Up
McCoy Bennett Winfield Westlake
Ainsworth Bridcutt Murtagh Betsy (Federico 77) (McClure 86)