Team: Hammond, Bernal, Swales, Williams, McPherson, Primus, Parkinson, Lambert, Caskey, Morley, Meaker.
Subs Not used: Booty, Wdowczyk, Glasgow
A series a strange refereeing decisions cost Reading at least a point last night as high flying Sheffield United put an end to Reading's nine match unbeaten run. Reading were twice turned down penalties, one in each half. The first was the most obvious penalty you're ever likely to see, everyone saw it except for the referee. Midway through the first half Martin Williams made a run into the box down the right, he cut inside and was looking for either a cross or a shot with a defender just goal side but behind. The defender grabbed hold of Williams and pulled him down by his shirt inside the box. And the referee waved play-on. This was the story of Reading's night - a night when the luck finally turned against us.
Sheffield United, to their credit, played their game well. Although without the ref they may not have taken all three points, Reading struggled throughout the game to break the defence, and United's breaks forward looked likely to break our defence at any moment. Having said that we enjoyed the greater posession and put some half decent moves together, but it wasn't enough to beat an in-form side.
Trevor Morley made a home return for the Royals, and managed to play out a full game. He didn't look his best but he didn't really get much service to show what he could do, a couple of decent touches set up some chances, but I don't remember a Morley on-target shot in the whole game. Nicky Hammond on the other hand was determined to put in a good showing on his home return to the first team. Hammond pulled off some great saves and, despite some over enthusiasm in the second half, looked like a safe replacement for the injured Steve Mautone. The goal was defence error rather than goal-keeping error and Nicky can be pleased with his game. Swales aside the defence was below average. Swales had a blinding game, with some vital tackles and he was one of the most dangerous men up front. Caskey had a decent game as well. But we lacked the power up front.
Caskey had one of Reading's better chances of the first half with a powerful shot from outside the area that hit the keeper. Morley created a good chance with a header down inside the area back out to Meaker in the middle whose first time effort along the ground was closer to the corner flag. Then there was the 'penalty' incident. Hammond at the other end seemed agile enough springing to his left to tip over a ball spinning in with an outstretched right arm.
The second half saw another save from Hammond with a bullet shot. Hammond flung his body in the way and the ball spun high and wide for a corner. About 7 minutes into the second half Sheffield United took the lead. A move down the right, a low cross from inside the area, and the shot was fired under Hammond's body from close range. Poor marking and no one making a tackle.
Reading picked up a bit and went looking for the point. Williams went down in the area again which looked to me like another penalty but not so much as the first one. Swales tried a couple of decent long range shots but failed to find the net. Reading's best move of the game came down the left. The ball was played to Williams who brought it down before laying the ball off to his right to the Meakon who was rocketing into the area. Meaker let rip from the edge of the area and the ball flew against the top of the bar. Quite how Reading managed to pick up all the yellow cards in this game against a very physical United side is beyond me.
And so the game ended amid chants of "One-nil to the referee, one-nill...", and it became all too obvious that Reading's run really did include far too many draws as we slipped back down to 20th.