Derby hold Reading after spirited late fightback

Battling Derby launched a remarkable late comeback to overturn a two-goal deficit and hold Reading to a 2-2 draw on Monday.

Junior Hoilett fired the Royals into the lead with a stunning curling effort to mark his first start since October 2 (37), before doubling the lead with a neat finish from close-range to put Veljko Paunovic’s men in control (56).

The story was far from over, though. Derby assistant Liam Rosenior – in charge in the absence of Wayne Rooney, who missed the game as a precaution after showing ‘cold-like symptoms’ though returned a negative Covid test – introduced Colin Kazim-Richards, who scored his third goal in three games to reduce the deficit (86).

And then in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, Curtis Davies rose to meet a cross from Nathan Byrne and power in the all-important equaliser (90 1)

The teams remain in the positions they started the day after picking up a point each; Reading sit 21st on 22 points, with Derby still rooted to the bottom of the table on 11 points, albeit with 21 games to play.

How spirited Derby rescued an unlikely point

Due to a series of postponements, Reading had not played a single minute since December 11, while Rooney had led his upwardly-mobile side to three straight 1-0 wins and ignited a smidgen of belief that ‘The Great Escape’ might actually be on.

Clearly refreshed by their enforced lay-off, the Royals pressed high and tried to work the ball to Andy Carroll from the off, with the striker denied after 18 minutes when visiting goalkeeper Ryan Allsop produced an excellent diving save to prevent his header finding the bottom left corner.

Derby, meanwhile, targeted the left flank as a point of weakness, with Reading right-back Tyrell Ashcroft, 17, making just the third professional appearance of his career. But other than openings for Luke Plange – who saw a low shot saved and then headed over soon after – and a couple of speculative efforts from Max Bird, Luke Southwood was rarely tested throughout the first 45 minutes.

Then, eight minutes before the break, the hosts took the lead thanks to a moment of magic from Hoilett, who seized control of a long ball forward, took several neat touches and curled a delightful shot home from 20 yards.

It took a sensational stop from Southwood to stop the Rams equalising shortly after the restart. Tom Lawrence had played a neat one-two with Nathan Byrne and taken a swipe at the return pass, with only a strong right hand keeping the ball from crossing the line.

Following that spell of Derby pressure, the hosts doubled their lead. A free-kick from Alen Halilovic was flicked on by Tom Holmes to Hoilett, who pounced under pressure to add his second from a tight angle.

In spite of the scoreline, the visitors were by far the more dominant and, with just under 80 minutes played, had enjoyed 80 per cent of the second half’s possession. All that was missing was a goal, and with a lacking of cutting-edge, it did not look forthcoming.

But then, remarkably, two came within two minutes. Kazim-Richards bundled the ball in after Southwood had dropped a cross, before Davies earned the Rams a precious point by leaping to meet Byrne’s cross from the right and powering a bullet header home to send the travelling fans wild.

Man of the match – Curtis Davies

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Curtis Davies and Colin Kazim-Richards were over the moon after scoring two late goals to save Derby from the loss against Reading

Sky Sports’ Lee Hendrie on Sky Sports Football:

“He defended well throughout the game, but to come up with a goal like that late on is sheer class. It is a header that I’m sure we will watch over and over again.”

What the managers said…

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Reading manager Veljko Paunovic says his side had the game against Derby under control and it was frustrating to drop points after the late equaliser

Reading’s Veljko Paunovic: “It wasn’t a nice game. We didn’t play our best football given the situation and circumstances with Covid and basically having most of the players without a full week of training. It’s comprehensible that in the last minutes we conceded, not that I’m happy with that. We could have not done better.

“I have to praise the team for their hard work, but it is very frustrating when you drop points like today. We must say that, until we conceded the first goal, I think we had the game under control.”

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Derby assistant manager Liam Rosenior says boss Wayne Rooney was proud of his side’s late comeback against Reading

Derby assistant Liam Rosenior: “I spoke to Wayne straight after the game and he said he couldn’t be prouder of that performance or prouder of this group. The character, determination and spirit coupled with, I thought, some outstanding football at times. I thought we dominated the game from start to finish and I thought the game summed up where we are at.

“Both goals came from, I would say, poor decisions from the referee; the first one is a free-kick inside the box and the goalkeeper takes it maybe 10-12 yards higher up the pitch, Andy Carroll heads it on the edge of our box and credit to Junior Hoilett for the finish – it was a fantastic goal – but you are asking people, not to give you a helping hand, but to make the right call.

“The second goal was not a free-kick and we should defend it better, but this group of players – no matter how many times they are knocked down – play with a spirit, determination and desire that, as a coach here, and Wayne as a manager, couldn’t be prouder of.”

What’s next?

Both teams are next in action on Saturday, January 8, when the FA Cup third round begins. Derby travel to the Coventry Building Society Arena to face Coventry at 12.30pm, while Reading face National League North side Kidderminster Harriers at Aggborough at 3pm.