MATCH REPORT: 2004/2005 Season

Reading: -
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 8,570

Pos Team P Pts GD
3 Sunderland 27 49 +24
4 READING 27 48 +11
5 West Ham 27 45 +6
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Sidwell, Harper, Hughes, Forster (Morgan 67), Owusu. Subs Not Used: Convey, Brooker, Newman, Young.
Gillingham: Banks, Nosworthy, Ashby, Cox, Hills, Southall, Smith, Pouton, Crofts, Byfield, Sidibe (Henderson 61). Subs Not Used: Bossu, Hessenthaler, Roberts, Jarvis.
Reading: -.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

'An abominable day. An abominable match on an abominable pitch'. This is how The Independent saw Reading's New Years trip to Kent and it was hard to argue with this damning conclusion. To say there was little to cheer was an understatement. Both sets of players battled gamely in the appalling conditions, but in terms of skill and invention, they all seemed to be suffering from similar hangovers that no doubt many in the crowd were nursing.

Graeme Murty made a welcome return to right back, although he had not been missed, due to the outstanding form of Andy Hughes. Paul Brooker was the natural player to make way as Royals looked to bounce back from a depressing 0-3 reverse at Deepdale three days previously. Nicky Forster continued to partner Lloyd Owusu in attack, the former returning to the venue where he began his career.

With the scheduled match referee unable to officiate due to an injury, Premiership ref Steve Bennett (Kent!) took command. Suffice to say the match was not of a standard he is probably used to refereeing. In a scrappy first both teams largely cancelled each other out, on a surface that was cutting up alarmingly, and difficult to pass on. Not that either team tried to test this much, as the majority of the time long balls were launched, rarely reaching their target as the strong, swirling winds swallowed the ball up, invariably taking the ball away from both sets of attackers and more commonly out of play itself. The ball seemed to spend more time off the pitch than on it - always the sign of a bad game - yet if any team coped with the conditions better it was the home side.

There were virtually no shots on target during the first half. To be fair both sets of strikers suffered from poor service, Owusu and Forster were not clinical when they did receive opportunities, while for Gillingham Sidibe (or 'Big Mutha’, according to the Gills tannoy) showed why he has not scored in four months. The liveliest player was Darren Byfield, watched by celebrity girlfriend Jamelia, although even he appeared anything but a 'superstar' on this forgettable afternoon. So with the most memorable moments of the first half being the linesman's flag flying off it's handle and the ball being hoofed out of the ground a couple of times (will this ever happen at the Mad Stad? With Sonko around who knows?), half time came.

It could only get better we thought. It did, but only just. With the 1000 or so Royals fans now contending with increasing rain in the uncovered 'Open Golf' stand, the game became more end to end, although shots on target were still in short supply. Reading's best moments came when they went back to basics. Simple passing movements lead to Nicky Shorey twice delivering inch perfect crosses to the far post, and both times they were met by the same player - Glen Little. On the first occasion, in front of the travelling Berkshire contingent he powered a header that was saved brilliantly by Steve Banks in the Gillingham goal.

Later he rose above his marker to drive a second header from the same position and this time he beat Banks. As the Royals fans celebrated, the joy was short lived as referee Bennett ruled he Little had won the header unfairly. This seemed harsh, and as Steve Coppell later observed, it would be hard to imagine Alan Shearer being penalised for a similar incident. Close inspection of the replay showed the Gillingham defender making no real attempt to get the ball.

Gillingham had their moments, and Darius Henderson came on with 20 minutes to go to add a bit of punch to their attack. They threatened on two or three occasions, as the increasingly shaky Sonko combined with an uncharacteristic below-par performance from Ivar Ingarmarsson invited pressure.

Dean Morgan offered the only real glimmer of hope as he appeared to actually want to take players on, and along with the aerial threat of Little, were the only real players to emerge with any true credit. Although it must be said the effort in terms of scrapping and defending was good on the whole for Reading.

The final whistle ensured the most likely and deserving result in a pitiful game, albeit played in very trying conditions. Royals fans were left to drive home through torrential rain wondering how damaging this holiday period would be to their dreams of promotion.

Player Ratings
Hahnemann - 6 Solid in everything he did, although distribution was poor at times
Shorey - 7 Defended well and his distribution was better than the other defenders.
Ingarmarsson - 5 Poor distribution, although scrapped well in defence.
Sonko - 4 Following his nightmare at Preston, another dodgy performance, invited pressure with terrible passing.
Murty - 5 Not convincing but can be forgiven after returning from injury.
Hughes - 6 As usual gave 100% and was one of the best of a bad bunch
Sidwell - 6 Tackled hard
Harper - 5 Not his surface or conditions, but didnt do too bad
Little - 7 The only real threat in front of goal
Forster - 4 No real service, but was ineffective when he did get the ball
Owusu - 4 Also ineffective, despite being good in the air.
Morgan 7 Looked more up for it than the rest and genuinly took the game to Gillingham when he came on.

Report by Robert Webb



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