Yann Kermorgant’s third statement of the week may have been his most significant. On Thursday, the 35-year-old Reading striker announced that he will retire next year; he had also observed, to some chagrin in West Yorkshire, that Leeds United had no plan B if the prolific Chris Wood was not firing. He backed up those words by showing him how it was done. The 21st-minute winner that sent Reading above Leeds into fourth place was brilliantly taken and ensured a fair reward on an afternoon that altered some preconceptions.
It was clear in his own pre-match utterances that Jaap Stam had not forgotten the Leeds fans’ description of his team as boring during Reading’s defeat at Elland Road in December. Their methodical approach has sometimes recalled Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United and the away support started the afternoon with mocking cheers for every Reading pass. They were soon silenced by a performance that deserved more than one goal for its insistence and dynamism.
“If you need to shout about the opposition, maybe it tells something about yourself,” Stam said and, despite spells of second-half pressure, Leeds had offered little to get behind.
Kyle Bartley and Alfonso Pedraza squandered a couple of early half-chances but Reading, who had set the tone for their day’s work with a sharp break that brought an opportunity for John Swift, were only occasionally stretched after Kermorgant’s intervention.
The goal came about through sharp thinking that exemplified Reading’s approach. When Garath McCleary aimed a quick throw-in towards Chris Gunter, who was lurking near the byline and unable to be offside, the Leeds left-back, Charlie Taylor, was caught unawares. Taylor switched on in time to head away on the stretch, but only towards the edge of the penalty area from where Kermorgant, connecting perfectly, found the roof of the net via Robert Green’s fingertips. This was definitely plan A.
“Yann is one of the driving forces in the team,” Stam said of his matchwinner. “That’s how he is as a player, but also with the mentality he’s got. He’s very important to the young players, to drive them and make them aware of the importance of getting in the top six and staying there.”
At times, Kermorgant seemed to be at the point of maximum expression, hitting a post at the end of the first half and attempting an improbable backheeled effort shortly after the restart. A perfectly weighted cross for Roy Beerens in the 56th minute should have brought a second goal but the Dutchman miscued. Beerens had volleyed over an earlier opening from Swift’s pass; Reading, for whom McCleary could also have scored after running clear, were anything but dull.
It counted as a missed opportunity for Leeds, who would have climbed to third with a win, and worse could follow if retrospective action is taken against Liam Cooper for a 75th-minute incident when he appeared to stamp on Reece Oxford’s head. Stam did not see what happened, while his opposite number, Garry Monk, said of Cooper those familiar words: “He’s not in any way that type of player.”
The Leeds manager added of the defeat: “In the first half we made too many mistakes that led to their chances,” and his assessment that a “fantastic effort” in the second half may have merited a point was generous in the extreme. Leeds never turned territory into chances; Wood was shackled and their best opening, which Pablo Hernández steered wide, came before half-time, as brief respite from Reading’s best spell of the game.
By that point, the majority of those in the away end had chosen to focus on their team’s salvage operation. A few had their own priorities, though, and, as Leeds chased the game, Ali al-Habsi had to pour away the contents of one among several plastic bottles sent from behind his goal.
“If the opposition need to go for the win and their own fans are throwing bottles on to the pitch then maybe the referee needs to take some time off [the remainder],” Stam suggested. Fortunately for him, it did not matter; Reading and Kermorgant had already made a highly convincing point.