Match Report By Anne Newbery:
Reading -v- Leicester City
Endsleigh Insurance League Division One
24 February 1996
Mihaylov; Booty; Gooding; Wdowczyk; Williams; Hopkins; Meaker; Nogan; Parkinson; Lovell; Holsgrove (Gilkes 66). Subs not used - Quinn; Bernal.
Poole; Grayson; Whitlow; Carey; Walsh; Parker; Lawrence (Lennon 45); Taylor; Heskey (Robins 66); Roberts; Lewis. Subs not used - Willis.
Attendance : 9,817
Ref. : R Poulain
Leicester's new three-quarters of a million pounds signing from Crewe, Neil Lennon, certainly made a lasting impression on his debut for the club. The 45th minute substitute played a part in both goals that sealed the second one-all draw between the 2 sides this season. It was his well-worked cross that gave City a 72nd minute lead but three minutes a questionable penalty, awarded after Lennon was adjudged to have illegally impeded Lee Nogan in the box, lead to Stuart Lovell's equaliser that secured a much-needed point for the home side.
Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill - whose right-hand man at Filbert Street, Paul Franklin, had spent a number of seasons with the Berkshire club during Ian Branfoot's spell there - was a little subdued, if not a little bitter, after the game and spoke of his doubt over the incident that lead to the coverted spot-kick : "The whole game hinged on the supposed penalty. The referee's given it but it was a hard decision because the boy says he never touched him."
O'Neill re-opened the debate about the merits of video evidence which he claimed would prove the innocence of Lennon, in his eyes, "a reasonably honest lad."
On the day Newcastle's Faustino Asprilla was seen by a TV audience of thousands committing - unpunished - far worse offences than the one Lennon was penalised for, it must now be wondered just how much strength there is in the argument for video evidence. O'Neill, for one, will be backing its introduction if today's events are anything to go by.
In what should have been a highly-charged and passionate encounter in what effectively was the AGM of the Anti Mark McGhee Society, a sodden, heavily cut-up pitch made it more of a scrappy affair with few clear cut chances for either side. Indeed the notorious pitch had to undergo two inspections before referee Richard Poulain would allow the game to take place and, by the time it kicked off, there was already considerable surface water making conditions difficult.
With McGhee now out of the way, attention of the Reading contingent was turned to former Elm Park favourite Scott Taylor who followed McGhee to Filbert Street during the summer before the Scotsman's controversial move to Molineux in December, a year after walking out on Reading. It was Taylor now then who was subjected to the taunts of the Royals fans but he appeared undeterred by their attentions and, if anything, he enjoyed his return to the little Berkshire club and put in the effort into his game that has so far endeared him to the Leicester faithful.
Spurred on by their well-timed midweek victory at Wolves, Leicester made just one change to the side that recorded O'Neill's first win; Whitlow returned to the starting line-up in place of Neil Lennon's Northern Irish compatriot, Colin Hill. Reading meanwhile were able to welcome Jeff Hopkins back to the side in his first game at Elm Park of the season. Also in the Reading side was recent signing Martyn Booty who, up till a few weeks ago. had been turning out alongside Lennon at Gresty Road. The connections didn't end there though; on the Reading bench was joint manager, Jimmy Quinn, who had been on Leicester City's books during his nomadic career, and Michael Gilkes, a trialist at Leicester as a youngster. And of course both clubs had briefly employed the same man at the helm!
Within a minute of the start Jamie Lawrence almost created an opening for the visitors when he collected the ball in his own half and made a good solo run up the right before playing a cross into the box, almost finding in space in the middle.
A minute later it was Simon Grayson, in an unusual position, who threatened down the right flank. Soon after Michael Meaker, recently centre of transfer speculation linking him with a move to Leicester, who exposed space on the Reading's right with a strong push up that wing, his move eventually being blocked by Whitlow.
In the eighth minute Iwan Roberts came close to punishing Bobby Mihaylov's hesitance in clearing from a Paul Holsgrove back pass but the Bulgarian recovered in time to avert the danger. At the other end a poor Brian Carey clearance deep in the Leicester half almost allowed Holsgrove through but Carey was able to make amends for his mistake and clear safely. Just a minute later a neat lob over the defence almost gave Nogan the chance to open the scoring for the home side but again Carey came to the rescue of the visitors.
Soon after a Grayson chip over the defence was flicked on by Emile Heskey into the path of Roberts but his shot was blocked. On the break, Meaker pushing forward well on the right supplied a cross into the box looking to pick out Nogan at the far post but Poole came up well to get to it first. On the quarter of an hour mark it was taylor who came close to opening the scoring when he ran onto a neat Heskey backheel after a Garry Parker right wing cross had switched play. Mihaylov cut out the threat on this occasion.
Within minutes, Parker was again instrumental in a Leicester attack. His free-kick just outside the area on the left was headed out by Williams only as far as Grayson who unleashed a speculative first-time volley from a good 30 yards out which was only just high of the target. Three minutes later it was Reading's turn to set their opponent's pulses racing. Nogan's driven shot from 25 yards out was only palmed away by Kevin Poole onto the feet of Lovell leaving Steve Walsh as the last defender to scoop clear. Walsh was in the midst of the action again minutes later when, in an effort to head clear a Lovell strike from within the area after Meaker's cross field ball to Wdowczyk on the left had lead to the ball in, leaving the Leicester defender needing treatment for a head injury.
With 10 minites of the first half remaining, Leicester could have opened the scoring. A Neil Lewis corner on the right swung into the box and was well left by Heskey where if fell nicely for Roberts at the far post but, from close range, he toe-poked into the side-netting. Just a minute later Wdowczyk forced a fine save out of Poole. Two short knocks from a free-kick on the edge of the area fed the Pole and he blasted a thundrous goal-bound shot forcing Leicester's 'keeper to dive spectacularly to his left to thwart the threat. Meaker also sent in a thumping long range effort from well outside the area just before the break; this too was blocked.
Immediately as play resumed in the second half Leicester replaced Lawrence with Lennon and the pattern of the game was to change as a result, not until after Mick Gooding had tested Poole though with a low driven shot from the left edge of the area.
Gooding again was instrumental in a Reading attack minutes later when he had possession in the middle and played a square ball to the left to find Gilkes. Gilkes' cross in was met by Lovell who did well to hold off his marker, turning and playing a ball across the face of goal to Nogan at the far post but his effort was blocked.
Four minutes later ther visitors got their noses in front. From a move that started on the left, Lennon floated in a cross from the right having worked hard to drag the ball back from the goal line and Lewis, enjoying his revival under O'Neill, got the decisive touch at close range to record his first goal of the season. Within seconds of the re-start a mistake almost gave Reading an instant reply when a seemingly innocuous cross from the left was nearly poked into his won net by Whitlow under pressure at the far post.
Three minutes later though Reading did pull level. Gooding played in a cross from the right and it was then that Nogan went down in the area from the alleged infringement by Lennon and whilst the challenge seemed harmless enough referee, Mr Poulain, made no hesitation pointing to the spot. Reading will have been a little surprised with the decision but Stuart Lovell made no mistake from his spot-kick and blasted home to put the home side on level terms again.
From the re-start a surging run by Taylor down the right almost gave Leicester the advantage again when he cut inside menacingly forcing Mihaylov out of his goal and having to dive at the feet to avert the threat.
It was then that the impetus really hotted up with Reading looking the most likely to score again although, after the game, O'Neill clearly didn't view it like this : ""We were a bit caught out in the last 10 minutes but I thought we'd worked hard enough to have won it by then"!
Gilkes blasted a shot from the edge of the area from a blocked corner but this deflected off the already assembled wall. A minute later Gooding picked up possession in the centre before playing a square ball out to Gilkes on the left who knocked in a neat cross into Lovell at the far post. Reading's goal-scorer came up well to connect with the cross but his header in just shaved the top of the cross bar. With Reading still in possession, Nogan made a surging run into the box but inexplicably delayed his shot in front of a near open goal, instead laying off for Lovell at the near post whose short range effort was blocked. Shortly after a weak Carey clearance deep in the Leicester half dropped to the feet of Nogan and it was down to some quick defending by Whitlow to tidy up. It was Carey who came to the rescue 2 minutes later when he was forced to break down a Reading attack after Gilkes made a strong forward run from deep within his own half.
Roberts came close for the visitors at the death following some crisp, neat passing but it was not to be and the result meant that I can use my "another goal apiece and it would have been a draw" catchphrase yet again!
Full Time: Reading 1 Leicester 1
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