Miles Starforth's match analysis: Reading 0 Newcastle United 0
Eight days, 1,510 miles and seven points.
It’s been a long week for Newcastle United’s players and a longer one for the club’s fans, who have covered mile after mile in support of their team.
That support has been rewarded. Handsomely.
Rafa Benitez’s Championship-leading side only took a point home from the Madejski Stadium last night, where they were held to a goalless draw by fifth-placed Reading.
It had been a tiring seven days, and it showed on an awful pitch.
But that was still a very good result on the back of the victories over Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town last week.
The 1992-93 record of away 13 wins, which the club equalled at the John Smith’s Stadium at the weekend, can be beaten another day.
Newcastle must now rest and regroup ahead of a hugely-important home game against Fulham on Saturday.
Reading manager Jaap Stam, mindful of Newcastle’s 4,000-strong following, had a message for his team’s fans before the game, which saw the biggest crowd of the season at the Madejski Stadium.
“We don’t want to be playing at home and the away fans are louder than the home fans,” said Stam.
United’s supporters, however, had other ideas.
The match followed away games against Huddersfield and Brighton. All within eight short days.
Yet the club sold out its allocation, totalling almost 9,000 seats, for all three matches.
The wins at the John Smith’s Stadium and Amex Stadium had given United a healthy cushion at the top of the Championship, though Benitez was quick to point out in his pre-match Press conference that “everything can change in a week”.
Stam also referenced the “luck” he feels Newcastle have had of late in his programme notes.
But you make your own luck in the Championship.
Newcastle manager Benitez – who left DeAndre Yedlin behind on Tyneside because of a minor injury – handed Jesus Gamez only his second start of the season at right-back, while Ayoze Perez and Yoan Gouffran also came into his side.
Dwight Gayle, again, started on the bench, leaving Daryl Murphy to lead the line.
Reading, like Huddersfield and Brighton, are also a team comfortable in possession, though they weren’t helped by the state of the pitch the club shares with rugby union side London Irish.
The home side had United on the back foot in the opening minutes, but Gouffran had the first chance of the game for the visitors, forcing a save from Ali Al Habsi with a near-post header from a Paul Dummett cross.
Shelvey stung Al Habsi’s hands with a fierce volley in the 14th minute.
The midfielder miskicked from a Murphy pass soon afterwards as Newcastle pressed for an opening goal as the last of the club’s travelling contingent made their way into the ground.
Chances, however, were few and far between until a late rally which saw Gouffran denied again by Al Habsi and Shelvey have a shot diverted wide. Ritchie also struck the inside of the post, but former Sunderland defender Paul McShane was able to stop Gouffran putting the ball over the line.
Reading ended the half without having had a shot on target.
But they started the second half strongly, with Garath McCleary having a shot deflected wide and Yann Kermorgant forcing a save from Karl Darlow.
Newcastle’s fans, sensing their team needed a lift, again came to life at the hour-mark.
Benitez replaced Gouffran – who had come off worse in a challenge with Joey Van Den Berg – with Christian Atsu for the last 20 minutes.
Reading had United on the back foot, and Benitez replaced Murphy with Gayle for the final 15 minutes in the hope that his counter-attacking team, which had retreated deeper and deeper in the half, would get a chance on the break.
Mohamed Diame followed Gayle on to the pitch, but there was to be no late goal.
And Lewis Grabban was denied an injury-time winner for Reading by the crossbar.
That would have been harsh on Newcastle, who had had the better of the game before the break.
United lead Brighton by three points, while Huddersfield, with a game in hand, are nine points behind them.
There’s still a lot of work to be done.
As Benitez said before the match, Newcastle have won nothing. Yet.
But they’re slowly getting to where they want to be, and they showed their resilience, again, against Reading after a tiring week on the road.