MATCH REPORT: 2005/2006 Season

Reading: Doyle (60 mins), Gunnarsson (87 mins).
Leicester: -
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 22,061

Pos Team P Pts GD
1 READING 26 65 +40
2 Sheff Utd 26 56 +24
3 Leeds 25 45 +10
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Sidwell, Sonko, Oster (Gunnarsson 83), Kitson (Long 80), Harper, Ingimarsson, Convey (Hunt 71), Doyle. Subs Not Used: Stack, Makin.
Leicester: Douglas, Maybury, Kisnorbo, Hughes (Hammond 73), McCarthy, Williams, Sylla, de Vries, Gudjonsson, Hamill (Smith 73), Gerrbrand (Stearman 73). Subs Not Used: Hume, Henderson.
Reading: Sonko, Kitson, Gunnarsson, Hunt
Leicester: Gudjonsson, McCarthy.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

It might not have been the prettiest display of the season so far, but in the end it was a sound win that took Reading to ten straight league wins and a remarkable 25 games without defeat. There was never any chance that the unbeaten run was at risk against a Leicester side that had come to work hard for a draw, however the draw looked a possibility until Reading finally made the breakthrough on the hour mark. Leicester were quick to close Reading down throughout the game and frustrated the Royals by keeping plenty of men behind the ball and leaving little space for Reading's passing game to begin. In addition, the Royals looked jaded from their recent outstanding league form and the first half was a scrappy encounter with little to entertain from either side. With Glen Little out injured Oster made a start, and Sidwell was back in midfield from suspension to replace Gunnarsson. Oster was determined to get stuck in but, despite his efforts, there was no doubt we missed Little. Meanwhile Gunnarsson might have been the better bet in midfield as Reading struggled to hold onto the ball in the centre.

Leicester enjoyed some better spells of possession with Reading struggling to get going, but the visitors appeared to lack the skill to do anything with it as passes continually went wayward and they failed to look dangerous with just the odd long range effort that sailed wide or high or both. Reading had started brightly enough with a couple of quick attacking moves from kick-off, but these promising moves forward became few and far between as the half progressed. Dave Kitson was put through by Convey on the left and as the keeper went to collect the ball he appeared to bring Kitson down, but the referee pointed for a goal kick when it appeared to be a reasonable penalty claim. Just before the break Leicester got in probably the best effort of the first half - an effort from the edge of the area that needed Hahnemann to make an impressive save.

The second half continued in a similar pattern but Leicester failed to threaten and it fell to Reading to wrap the game up. Kevin Doyle had had a very quiet game up front and looked slightly off the pace, but he still made the breakthrough when Kitson lobbed the ball into the middle of the Leicester half and Doyle ran through. With two defenders hot on his tail we half expected him to lose out, but he paced clear, slowed his run to draw the keeper and then calmly shot it to the keeper's left and into the bottom corner of the net to put Reading 1-0 up. With the decisive goal tucked away, Reading came to live and it was clear there was never going to be a way back from Leicester who were clearly targetting a 0-0 result. Doyle found some energy and nearly cut in again to increase the lead, and Kitson fired an effort into the wrong side of the side netting. Shane Long made his Reading debut off the bench with Kitson tiring and showed some promise despite failing to make a serious impact in ten short minutes on the pitch. He conceeded a great foul with a late challenge and lost out when he was put through by ex-Cork City colleague Kevin Doyle, but showed plenty of enthusiasm. The icing on the cake for Reading came with just four minutes left. Just a few mintues after Gunnarsson had entered play from the bench he scored Reading's second when Shorey crossed from a free-kick on the left and Gunnarsson rose above the defence to power a header into the top corner of the Leicester net.

A well organised Leicerster City, assisted by some inconsistent if not biased refereeing from Alan Wiley (from Leicesteshire I believe!), performed better than most sides against the Royals last night. With De Vries getting the better of Ingamarsson and Sonko in the air and five men denying space in midfield, Reading found it hard to create chances in spite of dominating possession. The referee and his assistants made two crucial errors which might have influenced the outcome of the game.

Kitson was clearly brought down by Douglas when he nipped in to take to ball away from the committed dive of the city 'keeper. A goal kick was given and nothing was said about a Kitson dive. How it was not given as penalty is a complete mystery to me. Later in the half Doyle wriggled past the last defender to chase a long ball and was brought down. As Wiley prepared to deliver his punishment, which surely would have been a red card, he noticed his assistant had incorrectly flagged for off side. City were lucky not to be a man down or a goal down by half time.

Reading started brightly and Kitson and Convey failed to make the most of promising situations by delaying their pass or shot. The Royals were passing neatly but not really opening up the City defence. Williams was making himself available in space to allow City the option of playing the ball out of defence in a constructive manner, and De Vries although isolated, was unsettling Sonko and Ingimarsson. Reading managed to mount pressure towards half time but the best effort came against the run of play from De Vries forcing a good save from Hahnemann.

The second half was not significantly different until Kitson pumped a long ball for Doyle to chase. Having been caught offside a couple of times Doyle timed his run perfectly this time. He was helped by his marker briefly losing his footing, but he raced clear and calmly drew the 'keeper before sliding the ball into the net. "That's why we're top of the league" sang the fans. Absolutely right. High quality finishing is always the difference between the winners and the rest.

There was still half an hour to go and City came back and looked capable of putting Reading under pressure. With just over fifteen minutes left Levein gave his side a transfusion bringing on Steadman, Hammond and Smith, but Reading had already begun to adjust bringing on Hunt for Convey. Kitson and Oster were replaced by Gunnarsson and debutant Long, and the game was more open than Reading would have liked it to be. With a three minutes left Doyle was cynically brought down (no card!) wide on the left. Shorey swung over a cross which Gunnarsson met perfectly to send into the top right hand corner of the net. Leicester fans hastily made for the exit as Reading celebrated their imminent remarkable tenth successive win.

The only blight on the evening was the referee's performance. Wiley somehow managed to book four Reading players. Basically the defence was that when fouls were committed by City players, he spoke to them (at length), but when Reading players committed similar offences, he booked them.

It was interesting to see Long make his first appearance in the first team. He looked similar to Doyle in his attitude with direct positive running and some determined (although mistimed) challenges. Oster certainly did his best but was nowhere near as effective as Little, and Gunnarsson once more demonstrated prowess as a skilful attacking midfield player. With Lita ready to come back soon and the promise of strengthening the squad in January, it is a very happy Christmas for Royals fans!
John Wells


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