MATCH REPORT BY Anne NOBBY Newbery. (Cheers!)
Leicester City -v- Reading
16 September 1995
Poole; Grayson; Whitlow; Willis; Walsh; Parker; Joachim (Robins 74); Taylor; Lowe; Roberts; Gee (McMahon 58). Sub not used - Hill
Sheppard; Bernal; Gooding; Holsgrove; A.Williams; McPherson; Gilkes; Thorpe; Nogan; Lovell; Jones. Subs not used - M.Williams; Kerr; Quinn
Attendance : 19,103
The visit of the mighty Royals attracted Filbert Street's biggest attendance of the season. Nineteen thousand people can't be far wrong; what impeccable taste!
The aggro that was promised from the Reading contingent didn't really amount to a great deal but the visiting support was certainly the more vociferous of the two.
The home fans had more reason to feel proud of their team to begin with, however, as much of the early pressure was their's with the ball being knocked neatly around the park and worked out of defence intelligently. In fact it took the visitors 4 minutes to make their first foray into City's half when Gooding regained possesion in the centre, broke through the sea of blue shirts and fired a shot at very short range.
A minute later a low driven Parker free-kick from 25 yards out gave City a serious attempt at goal after a poor clearance fell to the feet of Willis who shot at close range. Adrian Williams, Reading's promising young centre-half (so promising, in fact, he was under close scrutiny from Coventry City not so very long ago!), - and a Welsh team-mate of City's Iwan Roberts - required treatment on the sidelines for a leg injury sustained in the resulting melee. He returned to the fray in the seventh minute just in time to see Gee just failing to connect at the farpost to a Joachim right-wing cross across the face of goal.
Reading's 'keeper Simon Sheppard, receiving alot of criticism this season for his performances (and not totally unjustifiably I'm sorry to say), picked this game, of *all* games, to have the match of his life. In the tenth minute he was called into action to collect from a Joachim effort after a through-ball from Roberts into space.
Joachim felt one of the more unpleasant aspects of the game a minute later when he was upended by Reading's speedy winger-cum-left-back, Michael Gilkes, to halt a good run down the flank, for which the Reading man was cautioned by referee Uriah Rennie. (This has got to be a stage name!) Joachim himself was booked 13 minutes later for a similar challenge on Gilkes, a former Leicester trialist.
Much of the first half play belonged to Leicester and Sheppard was forced to pull of some very fine saves, a number from former Royals team-mate, Scott Taylor, who was clearly relishing the occasion. Sheppard, a reluctant replacement for the departed Hislop, had, till now, failed to impress the Elm Park faithful this season; indeed even his performance during the pre-match kick-in had raised alot of questions about his ability.
The imminent arrival of Bulgarian, folicly challenged, hair-piece sporting international shot-stopper, Borislav Mikhailov, was clearly the motivation Old Shep needed and the delay in the Bulgarian's work permit (sounds familiar?!) did not present the problem the Reading fans had feared beforehand. In fact, the new signing - known simply as Bobby - must be wondering what he's letting himself in for and will certainly find that Sheppard will be harder to win the number 1 jersey than many originally anticipated.
Taylor himself was enjoying the opportunity to shine in front of his former colleagues and the chants of "What a waste of money" only spurred him on more resulting in his best performance for City to date.
However, it was Reading silenced the home crowd in the 25th minute when they took a lead. An excellent ball from Holsgrove, a late and totally unexpected inclusion to the side, to Gilkes opened play on the left and caused some panic in the home defence leading to Joachim's booking. A freekick eventually found it's way to Bernal who side-footed home from short range to record his first goal for the club.
City came close to levelling the scoring just 2 minutes later when a Parker cross from the left found Roberts well placed at the farpost but his effort was punched clear by the impressive Shepherd. Joachim too had a good opportunity within minutes after a strong right wing run saw him play the ball inside and unleash a low driven shot from just outside the area which skimmed inches past Sheppard's lefthand upright.
Just after the half hour mark Sheppard leapt to thwart the efforts of both Taylor and Roberts. In the 35th minute the Reading defence came to the rescue to clear after a Gee cross from the right saw Taylor and Roberts both approaching through the centre to make contact.
Reading almost built on its lead a minute later however after Jones dispossessed the usually faultless Taylor, the pass falling to Holsgrove who struck firmly from 25 yards out, his shot just short of the target.
On the stroke of half-time a City backpass, slowed considerably by the surface water that was fast accumulating, almost let Welshman Nogan in for another chance but on this occasion it wasn't to be.
Reading could consider themselves a trifle fortunate to be taking a goal-lead into the break; on a normal day Sheppard may not have been quite so impressive and some of the many chances that City had produced in the first half might usually have found the back of the net.
Minutes after the re-start Holsgrove again came close when Poole was forced to collect his fierce 40 yard volley.
Parker became the third player to have his name taken by the referee after Taylor was (seemingly harshly) penalised for a challenge on ex-boss Gooding and the City skipper protested excessively about the decision.
Grayson almost joined the ranks of "Men most unlikely to get on the scoresheet" when, 11 minutes after the break, he unleashed a powerful shot from the right hand corner of the box. Sheppard coolly palmed the shot away as if he was swatting flies then calmly saved at the feet of Gee after a Walsh header into the goal area. Gee again comes close a minute later with a volley from a Taylor cross from wide right position after Willis intercepts a pass deep inside City's own half.
Minutes later Sheppard leapt spectacularly to pluck the ball out of the air after a inswinging Parker corner. Sustainted City pressure leads to another corner which again Sheppard does well to collect. Reading launch a counter-attack which sees a Lovell cross from the right was greeted by confusion amidst the blue shirts. It was eventually cleared where it fell to Joachim on the left who crossed to Roberts at the farpost. His square ball across the face of goal found Lowe whose spectacular scissor kick flew just inches above the cross bar.
In the 74th minute Robins replaced Joachim and he found himself in the thick of things immediately when he was close to latching onto Lowe's left-hand cross.
Two minutes later Reading came close again. A long, cross-field pass to Gilkes on the left flank was played inside to Lovell whose flick-on to Nogan was headed just inches past Poole's left upright.
Reading were tantalisingly close to securing their first away win of the season. However, with just 10 minutes remaining, a cross from Whitlow on the left was punched clear by Sheppard but only as far as Roberts whose header from close range levelled the scoring and left the visitors with a fight on their hands. Roberts, in fact, sustained a minor head injury in the process of scoring and actually admitted after the game that he was so dazed he wasn't aware he had actually scored until he heard the roar of the crowd when he realised that *someone* had just scored! (Perhaps nobody should have told him, he would have been none the wiser, then Reading may have gone home with the much needed 3 points!!)
Within 3 minutes of the re-start the visitors thought they had done enough to secure the win when Bernal crossed from the right into a crowded area, Poole fumbled and clears poorly, and Nogan heads home the rebound from short range but by which time the referee had already blown for an infringement. This, it was later revealed, was adjudged to be a handling offence by Holsgrove but on discussion with the player concerned he swore, quite adamantly, that the ball had in fact hit the inside of his thigh and he could even boast a large bruise to prove it. (Thankfully I'm a trusting sort of lady and therefore did not insist on checking out the evidence!)
5 minutes later Holsgrove became the second Reading player to get booked when he wrestled Robins to the floor right underneath the referee's nose. Bless!
At the death City almost nicked the victory. A Lowe corner was punched clear by Sheppard but only as far as Taylor whose shot was blocked whereupon Robins struck on the rebound only to see Bernal clear superbly off the line after Sheppard had been grounded.
As the match reached its conclusion Scott Taylor was, quite justly, named the sponsors Man of the Match and even the Reading faithful who taunted him throughout with chants of "What a waste of money" would struggle to disagree with that decision.
After the game McGhee was obviously pleased with the draw and was not at all concerned to drop points at home : "Our last 2 results away from home gave licence to draw a game". He was more than satisfied with the team performance and the number of chances they created, singling out the Reading 'keeper for the difference between a draw and a win : "We've heard all sorts of stories about Shep, and how shaky he is, but the lad did himself proud today". You'd have thought he *would* have known though - he did sign the player at Reading after all!
On questioning about the jeers from the Royals' supporters, McGhee seemed unmoved : "I *am* fat, it doesn't bother me. It doesn't interfere with my golf swing" he quipped. (Newspaper reporters *always* say "quipped" in a patronisingly way when the subject is trying to be a trifle amusing so I thought I would too!) He spoke highly of the players, fans and female football TV presenters that he left behind at Reading but said : "They're the ones who got me this job and now they've been here today and had a taste of the place, they can see why I took the job".
Reading's hero was undoubtedly Simon Sheppard who was clearly satisfied with his own game : "It was an important game, we had the bit behind us. This is the team we wanted to beat especially." After all the media hype surrounding the Bobby affair and the extra pressure put on himself by the press he felt a great deal more confident and happy about his own game and coolly stated that he "doesn't want to know anything about Bobby"! Clearly he's planning to hold onto that goalkeeper's jersey more firmly than he does most crosses! He did, however, say how much he is looking forward to working with Mikhailov because of his wealth of international and top class experience and hoped "he's looking forward to working with me as well". Hmmmmmmm, you just never can tell with some people!!
I must admit most Reading supporters - I too have to hold my hand up to this - did write off Reading's chances before Saturday's game simply because of Shepherd's recent poor form. I am only too happy to eat my words now.
On speaking to Holsgrove after the game he revealed that, long before City's interest in him during the summer, Pleat had tried to sign him for the club many years ago. Betcha didn't know that!
Reading's goalscorer Bernal was pleased with his strike : "You've got to score one every now and then!" (he quipped!!!). "As soon as I hit it I knew it was going in ... the swerve on it ... there was no way the 'keeper was going to get it". He was especially pleased to have scored against Leicester of all teams!
Joint player-manager, Mick Gooding, was satisfied with the point but at one point, the way things were going, both he and Jimmy Quinn thought Reading would snatch the win and singled Sheppard out for special praise which he put down to his best performance of the season : "He commanded the box well, came up for crosses well, and made some fine saves". Don't I know it! This has certainly given himself and Quinn plenty of food for thought with Bobby set to join the club any day!
He was disappointed with the referee's decision about the alleged handball incident and felt that he should have given Reading the benefit of the doubt. He was disappointed at the late equaliser but nevertheless said : "We take heart ... we're getting there. Things are starting to take off".
After an uninspiring start to the season Gooding saw the Leicester game, with all the controvserary and passion surrounding it, well-timed and an important motivator for a team who had not, up till then, "been firing on all cylinders". (This most certainly *wasn't* a "quip"!!!)
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