ATTACKING midfield player Pablo Hernandez attempted to take the positives from Leeds United’s defeat at Reading – a side they might just meet again when it matters most in six weeks’ time.
Leeds arrived for Saturday evening’s encounter with an outside hope of gatecrashing the top two, sitting in fourth and unbeaten in their previous seven games.
But this loss at the Madejski Stadium saw Garry Monk’s men leapfrogged by Reading, who gained revenge for a 2-0 loss at Elland Road in December.
The defeat left Leeds fifth and 11 points off the automatic promotion places, with the eight-point gap that United held to those teams outside of the play-off places cut to six.
Royals striker Yann Kermorgant had stoked the fire earlier in the week by describing the Whites as a one-man team who had no Plan B without Chris Wood, who is leading the Championship’s goalscoring charts.
There were doubts over Wood’s participation at Reading due to a leg injury picked up on international duty with New Zealand, but while the 25-year-old was fit to lead the United line, the striker was kept quiet throughout.
Instead, and somewhat ironically, it was Kermorgant who bagged the only goal of the game as Leeds failed to clear a in 21st-minute throw-in.
A rather lacklustre Leeds improved after the interval, but rarely tested Royals goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who faced just two shots on target.
Even so, Hernandez insisted Leeds would take the positives from their second-half display at the Madejski where United will be returning for one leg of a play-off semi-final if the two teams stay in fourth and fifth places.
“It’s not a good result,” admitted Hernandez. “In the first half, we made some mistakes and they scored from one of those mistakes. But in the second half I think the game changed and I think we can play better. We deserved the draw, but this is football and we have to take it.
We deserved the draw, but this is football and we have to take it. What’s important now is the attitude and the mentality and the seven games in front of us.Leeds United’s Pablo Hernandez
“What’s important now is the attitude and the mentality and the seven games in front of us.
“It’s important that all the players are together, that we keep strong and we give our all on the pitch. I am sure that in the future games, if we play like we did in the second half, then we will win.”
Reading could have taken a seventh-minute lead when John Swift blazed over, but Leeds squandered two potential openings through Kyle Bartley’s header, which hit the side-netting, and through Alfonso Pedraza, who sliced wide.
Jaap Stam’s side punished Leeds when bagging the game’s only goal soon after as United failed to clear a throw-in that fell to Kermorgant, who rifled home a 20-yard drive past Rob Green.
The lively Pedraza was then unable to convert a cross from Hernandez, but Reading missed two more glorious chances when Swift fired over before Green saved at the feet of Garath McCleary.
Hernandez slid an opportunity wide for Leeds and Reading ended the half by hitting a post through Kermorgant.
While Leeds improved after the interval, it was the hosts who initially wasted two more chances with Kermorgant’s back-heel deflected wide before Roy Beerens failed to beat Green from close range.
As United gradually woke from their slumber, Hernandez forced Al Habsi into a low save and Liam Cooper put an overhead kick over the bar from a corner. A long-range effort from substitute Souleymane Doukara almost squirmed in at the near post.
Green was also forced to tip over a header from substitute Lewis Grabban and Reading were then baying for referee Keith Stroud to produce a red card when Cooper clashed with substitute Reece Oxford, who felt the force of the defender’s boot while on the floor.
Leeds face another away day at 12th-placed Brentford tomorrow night and Hernandez admits they are working hard to be more creative away from home.
“I think in general in the games away, the team have more problems creating chances,” admitted the Spaniard.
“But we are working on it. We work all the week to change this.”
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Obita (Oxford 70), Moore, Blackett, Kelly (Mutch 67), Swift, Williams, Beerens (Grabban 60), McCleary, Kermorgant. Unused substitutes: Legg, Meite, Popa, Watson.
Leeds United: Green, Berardi, Bartley, Cooper, Taylor, Bridcutt, Vieira (Roofe 88), Sacko (Doukara 60), Hernandez, Pedraza (Phillips 67), Wood. Unused substitutes: Silvestri, O’Kane, Barrow, Dallas.
Referee: K Stroud (Gloucs).