MATCH REPORT: 2006/2007 Season

19 September 2006: CARLING CUP ROUND TWO
READING 3 DARLINGTON 3 (AET, 4-2 penalties)
Reading: Lita (31 mins, 35 mins), Mate (86 mins).
Darlington: Johnson (19 pen), Joachim (34 mins, 52 mins).
Half Time: 2-2
Attendance: 10,353

Pos Team P Pts GD
4 Chelsea 4 9 +5
5 READING 5 9 +1
6 Aston Villa 4 8 +3
Reading: Stack, Halls (Harper 102), Bikey, Mate, De la Cruz, Little, Gunnarsson, Oster, Hunt, Lita (Doyle 69), Long. Subs Not Used: Hahnemann, Hayes, Osano.
Darlington: Stockdale, Duke, James, Holloway, Hutchinson (Close 89), Johnson, Ngoma, Rowson, McLeod (Cummins 60), Joachim, Carlos Logan (Wainwright 64). Subs Not Used: Russell, Armstrong.
Reading: Bikey
Darlington:-. Sent Off: Duke (72 mins).
Referee: L Probert (Gloucestershire).

Reading struggled to a penalty win against ten man Darlington, after coming from behind three times, to reach round three of the League Cup. The visitors played nearly twenty minutes of normal time and the entire of extra time a man down but held out with an impressive defensive performance to take the game to penalties. It was Reading that got the luck in the penalty shoot out after Darlington sent two sailing over the bar and Hunt scored Reading's first kick after a retake when his first was saved. Bikey stepped up to fire home the winning spot-kick and wrap up the night's entertainment.

Reading fielded essentially a full reserve side - and they took a very long time to get going. The Royals looked very weak in defence with the entire back line swapped out for Halls, Bikey, Mate, and De la Cruz. The latter three of those players were making their first team debuts. Although it is unfair to judge on one performance none of the players suggested they had enough to win a first team place with Mate very disappointing. Bikey is a powerful player and showed potential with some excellent cross field balls that were fired down the pitch directly to targets. Mate on the other hand stuck to simple balls across the back four and sometimes even got those wrong. De la Cruz seemed to get better the more the game went on without doing anything that spectaular. The only member of defence with first team appearances already in the bag was Halls - and he had a shocker with nearly everything that touched his boot spinning out of play for a Darlington throw.

Darlington looked nervous to begin as they failed to break out of their half for long periods but they got the break through after a shirt pull in the area saw them make it 0-1 from the penalty spot. A defensive header that went badly wrong allowed Lita to equalise when he was gifted the ball. However, Darlington had realised they could more than compete against Reading's trial eleven and the game came to life as they immediately hit back making it 1-2 when Reading's defence went entirely missing. Moments later Lita scored a second with an excellent finish to make it 2-2 at half time. After half time Darlington again took the lead with a corner from the right fired in from the near corner of the box as Reading's defence was left lacking again. In truth, every time Darlington came forward you thought they might score and they were giving plenty of reasons for the travelling fans to get excited. There was no arguing with the value for money element of this fixture with chances and goals at both ends - not much more than a pound per goal or less than that if you included the penalty shoot out! Hunt lifted an excellent free kick just over the crossbar and Long might have done better with a close range effort as Reading started playing some better football as Litte came to life.

Doyle replaced Lita up front, when perhaps Long - all effort and no end product - should have gone. Doyle had an immediate impact and a few minutes later looked to have broke clean through before being pulled back on the edge of the box. There was no doubt it was a red card for the Darlington defender and the game shifted Reading's way. We had to wait until four minutes before full time to make it 3-3 when a corner from the left managed to reach the far post where Mate managed to bundle it home. There were plenty of chances for Reading to seal the victory inside extra time with the game permanently in the Darlington half. With time running short Darlington looked the more composed side as they continued to frustrate Reading's attack. Little was firing over plenty of crosses and Doyle, Oster and Long all went close but couldn't stop the game going to a penalty shoot-out.

Following report by John Wells:
In a game packed with incident and lacking in quality Reading eventually overcame a spirited Darlington side reduced to ten men after Doyle was hauled down by Duke when he was clear of the rest of the defence. The game went into extra time, but in the end Darlington's nerves probably got the better of them as two of their players ballooned their spot kicks over in the penalty shoot out. Only Doyle, of all people, missed for Reading. Bikey applied the finishing touch with a confidently taken kick which completely deceived Stockdale.

For Reading this was not a performance of any great significance. It was an unfamiliar line up and they looked like a team that were still getting to know each other. Oster caught the eye with some subtle and effective play in the centre of midfield and Lita looked sharp but there were plenty of things for the coaching staff to get their teeth into for a while. Wally Downes in particular has got a lot to do to bring Mate and Bikey to the point where they can slot into the first team in the Premiership. It was alarming how often they allowed long high balls to bounce which is always bad news. Better opposition would have made them pay heavily for that particular weakness but also their passing across the back was very risky at times. De La Cruz looked up to the job particularly when going forward. Halls was awful. It would be generous to say his passing was erratic and defensively he looked extremely vulnerable. He allowed players to cut inside him and leave him for dead on several occasions. If he struggles against Division Two forwards how can he be considered adequate cover in the Premiership?

The game had no real pattern and its main appeal was its unpredictability. Reading started looking confident to the point of complacency while Darlington looked edgy and hesitant. Before either 'keeper had been troubled Darlington were awarded a penalty out of the blue which Johnson converted. The Quakers enjoyed the lead for about ten minutes before an appalling mix-up left the 'keeper stranded and Lita's quick reactions presented him with the chance to slip the ball into an unguarded net. Three minutes later the visitors were back in front. Joachim's pace took him away from Hunt and although his run was halted on the edge of the box Reading defended poorly and gave the back to him and he calmly planted the ball in the net. The lead disappeared even more quickly this time with Lita finishing well although Darlington will feel they might have cleared the ball sooner. Reading then created three good chances which they failed to convert in the closing stages of the first half.

The Royals put Darlington under pressure for the first five minutes of the second half and then against the run of play some slack marking and a great strike from Joachim put Darlington ahead again. Long was battling away up front but his play lacked subtlety. With Saturday in mind Lita was taken off a replaced by Doyle who made a real impact with his positive running on and off the ball. When he broke clear of the defence in the seventy second minute Duke felt it necessary to haul him down and received a red card for his trouble. Hunt took the resulting free kick which drifted over the bar. Reading got the goal they probably deserved when Little's corner was bundled over the like by Mate, and from the big screen replay it looked very much as if he used his arm.

In extra time I lost count of the chances Reading created and wasted. Darlington to their credit never gave up and on one occasion might have regained the lead but penalties seemed inevitable. Hunt stepped up first and made a real mess of his kick. Fortunately he was given a reprieve by the referee who ordered it to be retaken because illegal movement by Stockdale. He converted his second attempt. The pressure eased when Darlington missed their first kick and then Little made it two-nil. Darlington brought it back to two-one and although Doyle missed his kick, Long and Bikey, assisted by another Darlington miss, sent Reading into the next round. It was nothing more than an appetiser before the main course on Saturday.
John Wells


Six goals, six penalties, three missed penalties, one sending off, 20 loyalty points all for 8! So good to see Darlington get clapped off the field from the Reading fans after this epic encounter and they were certainly very unlucky and gave our reserves a great fright. On the plus points Bikey looked ok and De la Cruz showed glimpses of what he's capable of has did Shane Long, but I think we all know what he's capable of. On the minus side Halls looks one of the most inept players ever to wear a Reading shirt, not even looking fit, but all in all a good starter before the main course on Saturday.
Nick Newbury

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