Reading FC Match Report: 2012/2013 Season - Premier League


Reading: --
Man Utd: W Rooney (21 mins).

In the pub before the game there was a grown man wearing a t-shirt with ‘The Republic of Mancunia’ emblazoned on the reverse over a hammer and sickle symbol. If ever a club failed to live up to a Socialist ideal it is Manchester United! You walk to the ground past dozens of stalls pedalling tat-merchandise, half-and-half scarves to flog to the day-trippers who visit this footballing theme park. You pass tourists posing next to statues carrying their Manchester United Megastore carrier bags. Visit, consume, leave early to beat the traffic. The match tickets – costing an extortionate £45 - even carry the legend ‘The Theatre of Dreams’. Vomit-inducing naffness, branded without hint of irony given the disgracefully poor leg room afforded at the venue. That said, there is so very much to admire about Manchester United. They have a good track record of bringing through home grown British talent – Arsenal and Chelsea take note – and for the past twenty years it has been United who have played consistently the most attractive football. Again, forget Wenger’s trophy-shy Arsenal who are flat-track bullies – scoring seven and five against weak sides like Reading isn’t the sign of a top side - Ferguson’s teams are easy on the eye and have a ruthlessness which makes them a threat against any side in Europe.

They also respect and look after their staff at Manchester United. Scholes was brought out of retirement, Giggs given another contract at the age of 40 with Ferguson himself promised a seat on the board when he finally decides to retire. If only the new regime at Reading Football Club valued their employees quite as much. Leading up to this game, McDermott was sacked with a mere 9 games remaining in this failure of a season. Had such decision been made in December with a transfer window in which to operate, you could at least understand the logic behind it. To make the change now is rather unfair on the man who was responsible for so much success in the recent past, and it is worth remembering that Coppell was given an opportunity to take his 2008 relegatees back up from whence they came. Most damningly, there wasn’t even a strategy in place for a replacement and we rolled into the back yard of the champions elect with a caretaker manager in Eamonn Dolan who made his own case for the role by re-adopting the 4-5-1. Hunt led the line, ALF was dropped, Jobi switched to the middle of the park, HRK back in the side and Dolan’s own academy graduate Jem Karacan replacing Akpan.

Adopting this formation at least allowed Reading to stay in the game throughout and ultimately we were only beaten by a deflected Rooney strike which looped over Taylor off Pearce’s thigh after Rio Ferdinand was unforgivably allowed time to bring the ball half the length of the pitch following a misplaced pass by Garath McCleary. There was little by way of clear cut opportunity for either side throughout this tepid match, HRK’s fizzing first time strike whistled just past De Gea’s upright and McAnuff should have fed the ball through to Hunt when possession was conceded by United deep in their own half. Taylor himself made a fie save from a well struck second half freekick and Carrick and Rooney blazed half chances well over the bar but generally quality chances were few and far between, for which Reading deserve some credit. You could argue that had Reading levelled, United would most likely have kicked up a gear but from our point of view this was a tidy enough performance which at least keeps us off the bottom of the division, if only perhaps for another fortnight.

One of the less endearing aspects of the whole ‘Republic of Mancunia’ insularity is the chip-on-shoulder attitude towards officialdom which this club has adopted throughout the Alex Ferguson era. I refuse to use the handle ‘Sir’ Alex, as this Knighthood for ‘Services to Football’ is a complete non-sequitur given the disdain for referees at this club over the years. Ferguson has always tended to have English referees in his pocket – see his histrionics at a Turkish referee dismissing Nani in a European game recently – through his demonstrative actions. Recently he referred to an assistant referee at Tottenham who had failed to flag for a United penalty as having had ‘history’ with his side before. Who even remembers the identity of assistant referees from months and years ago? The man is an absolute footballing stalker, presumably he keeps a spreadsheet of perceived injustices.

These kind of mind-games are contemptible and when you’re modest Reading turning up to play against the best side in the country you’re also competing against a team of officials who have been groomed into favouring the big boys. I have made it a policy to refer to officials sparingly during these reports this season, but referee Lee Mason at Old Trafford was truly appalling. In a game which failed to moved out of 2nd gear, Reading were never given the rub of the green on marginal decisions. Neither were we given any clear cut ones of any magnitude, a push on Mariappa by Vidic in the United area was as obvious as it was crude. Mason was well positioned but there was no hope of whistle being drawn to mouth. We also had glaring inconsistencies, a late challenge on HRK not challenged on the touchline nearest the gathered away support, two minutes later and Kelly was cautioned for a similar challenge. To be fair to the assistant referee nearest us, the thought of running past the marauding Ferguson on the touchline must have been enough to ensure he keep his flag down whenever a Reading player hit the deck.

ALF and Blackman were introduced as time went on, 4-5-1 and hard work having kept us in the game and earned us the opportunity to try and stretch the home side. We won a number of corners and Blackman troubled Smalling repeatedly with his pace but in all honesty despite the huff and puff we were never going to blow The Theatre of Dreams down. Some pride was at least intact at the end of an uncomfortable week for everyone connected with the club, but the whole atmosphere and general lack of inspiration was indicative of a club in mourning for the loss of a respected leader. As we made our way away from the Stadium in the rain it felt as if visits to venues such as these were slipping away from us. At least next season it is unlikely that we will be paying £45 for the privilege of being poor relations to the main attraction.
Neil Maskell

This Premier League game took place 3616 days ago in the 2012/2013 season.