By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At half-time at St. James' Park on Saturday, few would have predicted that Newcastle would let their 1-0 lead slip against Reading. They had dominated the game, created several chances and deservedly held the advantage through Yohan Cabaye's superb free-kick.
But after a somewhat flat opening to the second period, the visitors eventually came into the game and Adam Le Fondre scored twice to inflict a desperately disappointing defeat upon the Magpies.
And United manager Alan Pardew was left to reflect upon a proverbial game of two halves which saw the Royals climb out of the relegation zone and move to within just two points of Newcastle.
"It's been a tough, tough game for us," he told nufcTV. "First half, we've probably played as well as we've played for a long while. (We had) control of the game, many chances and perhaps could have been been two up.
"Our message second half was to do the same but we couldn't get a grip second half. We were losing too many tackles, too many second balls; we couldn't get a foothold in the game and it was starting to drift away from us - and unfortunately we couldn't change that."
Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici had made a great save from Cabaye and twice denied Papiss Cisse with excellent stops before Newcastle took the lead, and Pardew admitted that if his side had scored a second that may have been a killer goal.
"I think it would have been but unfortunately it wasn't and that's been our problem for a long part of the season - that second goal, or a set play goal," he said. "
We just can't get ourselves a little breathing space and when Reading got a goal when perhaps we should have done better defensively, we had a kind of negative feeling around the team and around the stadium as well.
"The substitutions that were made were greeted with jeers and I have to accept that. One of them - Yohan - I had no choice with because he had an injury which was something that we were worried about but fortunately it doesn't look too bad."
Cabaye - making his first start since mid-November - was replaced by Gael Bigirimana shortly after Syvlain Marveaux had made way for James Perch and Pardew admitted: "In hindsight, maybe I should have took Yohan off at that point and kept Sylvain on, because we lost two flair players at that point.
"I actually thought Yohan would get through the game today with the work he's done so that just rebounded on me in a way I couldn't foresee."