Van den Berg 16, Beerens 28
By Rick Cowdery
TO no-one’s great surprise, Argyle fell at the first hurdle in the EFL Cup for the fourth season in succession, succumbing to Championship opponents who, at the moment, they can only aspire to emulate.
A double Dutch dose of first-half goals from Joey van den Berg and his fellow Netherlander Roy Beerens, a full international, gave countryman Jaap Stam his first knockout victory since become manager at the Madejski in June.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made four changes to the Pilgrims’ starting line-up from the one which began the previous Saturday’s 3-0 Sky Bet League 2 Home Park defeat by Luton Town.
Vincent Dorel was selected to keep goal in place of captain Luke McCormick, with the skipper’s armband passing to Gary Sawyer; Fox was the preferred David in a midfield three as Ijaha also started life on the bench; and Fox’s fellow Saturday substitutes Jake Jervis and Jordan Slew formed a three-man attacking unit with David Goodwilie, having swapped places with Jimmy Spencer and Ryan Donaldson.
Reading, 1-0 Madejski winners against Preston at the weekend, shuffled their pack even more, making five changes to their starting line-up. Craig Tanner, who played 50 times for the Pilgrims last season, was among their replacements.
It was a Tanner-like run, straight into the heart of the Argyle defence from John Swift, that threatened to undo a solid start by the Pilgrims’ back four but, speaking of things solid, Swift’s progress was halted with little fuss by Yann Songo’o.
Swift quickly bounced up and was able to deliver the free-kick from the Argyle right that gave Reading the lead, Van den Berg timing his unhindered run to the edge of the six-yard box and glancing a header past Dorel.
Argyle had understandably begun with a defensive game plan but the early goal necessitated opening up. That, in turn, encouraged Reading to play with even more impressive fluidity than previously.
Callum Harriott brought the best out of Dorel after Swift had broken against a defence that had pushed up and was therefore wrongfooted when Jervis was bundled off the ball to hasten a Reading counter attack.
Dorel made another good save minutes later, when Reading captain Chris Gunter joined in the home side’s fun from right-back, but the ball fell to the feet of Beerens, who slammed the ball home.
Argyle, to their credit, did not let their heads drop in the face of now insurmountable odds. They worked hard and looked to make the most of what scraps came their way. A Slew-led break in first-half injury-time had the home side on the back foot and showed promise.
After the interval, Jervis broke from halfway and reached the edge of the Reading penalty area but his cross fell a shade short of Goodwillie.
The Scot pounced a wee while later after Graham Carey’s free-kick from the left found its way to him on the right, switching feet smartly before firing a just the wrong side of spellchecker-busting goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola’s post.
Reading substitute Yakou Meite reminded everyone of the natural order of EFL life with a shot that followed a sweeping Royals move and extended Dorel once more.
The Pilgrims sent on Connor Smith – a tenth Argyle debutant this short season – and Spencer for the final 20 minutes, during which there was still plenty of defending to be done, with former Chelsea youngster Swift again asking Dorel to make a save.
Argyle kept going until the end and ended on the up. A move in injury-time, involving the impressive Smith, saw Spencer just fail to get a firm head on the ball, before Sonny Bradley zinged a shot into the side-netting.
Reading (4-3-3): 31 Anssi Jaakkola; 30 Tennai Watson, 4 Joey van den Berg, 3 Jake Cooper, 2 Chris Gunter (capt); 6 George Evans, 8 John Swift, 23 Danny Williams; 7 Roy Beerens, 18 Yann Kermorgant, 15 Callum Harriott (19 Yakou Meite 57). Substitutes (not used): 1 Jonathan Bond (gk), 10 Deniss Rakels, 22 Zak Jules, 27 Craig Tanner, 28 Danzell Gravenberch, 38 Liam Kelly.
Booked: Van den Berg 80.
Argyle (4-3-3): 21 Vincent Dorel; 2 Gary Miller, 4 Yan Songo’o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 10 Graham Carey, 24 David Fox (11 Ryan Donaldson 80); 14 Jake Jervis, 8 Jordan Slew (9 Jimmy Spencer 73), 7 David Goodwillie (6 Connor Smith 73). Substitutes (not used): 16 Ben Purrington, 20 Louis Rooney, 22 David Ijaha, 23 Luke McCormick (gk).
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Attendance: 6.979 (741 away).