READING 2 BRISTOL CITY 1 Attendance: 13,348
Scorers: Brebner, Crawford Date: 7 August 1999
Team: Howie, Gray, Polston, Hunter, Gurney, McLaren, Caskey, Brebner, Hodges, Williams, Scott.
Subs: Bernal, Casper, McIntyre (for Scott) Crawford ( for Brebner) V.D. Kwaak
Audio: 1-0 (Brebner) - 1-1 (City) - 2-1 (Crawford) - Full Time Match Hero: Hunter

Report by Steve Rudd:

A bright sunny day heralded the start of the new season and what a start. The opponents were a Bristol City team eager to put last seasons nightmare behind them and start with a positive result. The pre-match tension was high leading to a good atmosphere, something we didn't see too much of last season. However the worries about violence erupting between the two sets of supporters did come true, only in isolated incidents it's true, and it has to be said that the Reading fans were as much to blame as the City fans.

The game started at a frantic pace (something sadly lacking at the mad house last season but a pleasing change non the less.) It was Reading who started the better piling on the early pressure, but being kept out by a determined City defence. Keith Scott seemed to be putting himself about quite a bit and Martin Williams didn't seem to know the meaning of the phrase lost cause, chasing every ball played to him. After fifteen minutes this determination payed off. Williams seemed to lose the ball on the edge of the area but somehow managed to get a toe to it to send it looping into the penalty area. The City defence seemed to stop thinking the ball would go out but Scott managed to keep from crossing the bye line and headed it back towards the edge of the area. Waiting was Lee Hodges whose cross come shot was headed in six yards out by Brebner. Despite the city protestations about offside it was 1-0 to the Blue and whites. Just the start we wanted and deserved from our early pressure.

Now the atmosphere was really humming, unfortunately the game couldn't continue at the pace it had started and Reading started to drop back. City seemed to pick up and started to look a bit more useful. In particulare Akinbiyi looked very dangerous, but Hunter and Polston coped admirably.Hunter winning most of his aerial duels with the £4 million rated City forward. On one occasion Akinbiyi did break free of Hunter's tight marking, but blasted high and wide.

Then on thirty two minutes the crucial incident of the day. The ball went out for a throw in to City down the Reading the left following a tussle between two players ( I can't remember who) and as the referee tried to sort that out Gerard Lavin came over to take the throw in. Rahter than picking te ball up to take the throw in though, he twatted the ball as hard as possible towards a section of Reading fans. Immediately all the reading players rushed over and at one stage it looked like things could get really nasty. Then Keith Scott came over to act as peacemaker. He pointed out to the loyal Royals that the linesman had seen what happened and for them to calm down. In due time the ref went over to the linesman had a chat that seemed to last forever before calling Lavin over and sending him off, much to the delight of the Reading fans. Now I don't know what the Reading fans were saying to Lavin, but this sort of behaviour is unforgiveable by the player and I hope the F.A. and Bristol City act swiftly and impose a severe sentence on Lavin. This sort of incident can't go unpunished as it was an act clearly designed to incite the Reading fans. Anyway the reast of the half flew past in a blur and at halftime it was 1-0 to the Royals.

The second half started in the way we have come to expect these days. Reading sat back and invited City to come at them. And that is exactly what City did. They finally looked a decent side, and I was waiting for them to equalise. The only surprise was it took so long to come. Akinbyi had a couple of chances, one of which came when he was clear through on Howie and tried to shoot between Howies legs and Howie managed to get his heel to it and turn it away. However it only seemd to be delaying the inevitible, and the equaliser duly arrived after a long period of City pressure. Burns had already removed Scott ( who had his best ever performance in a Reading shirt and looks like he could be useful this season) and Brebner and replaced them with McIntyre and Crawford!!!! These moves were not greeted with the greatest of happiness by the Reading faithful (though I can't condone booing a player from your own team). However, after seventy seven minutes a careless pass from McIntyre lead to City easily intercepting and steaming forward. A nicely worked move on the edge of the area between Akinbiyi and Brian Tinnion lead to the latter being left unmarked in the box and slotting easily past the stranded Howie. 1-1 and cue lots of chants from the City fans and a few more scffles between them and coppers.

At this stage I thought Reading's heads would drop. They all looked around for someone to blame and started shouting at each other. We had taken off one of our best players (Scott) and our goalscorer, and replaced them with what I would call lightweights. Oh how I wished I hadn't slagged off Jimmy Crawford to my girlfriend. It was a move I was to regret, as she just turned and said "have faith". Just when the fans were hoping we could hold on to the draw and not capitulate to a sorry defeat we changed our tactics. Gone were the come and have a go City invites. Instead Caskey perked up and started spraying passes all over the ground, Williams who hadn't given up all afternoon, despite drifting in and out continued to chase and it finally payed off. An exchange of passes between Gurney (who had an excellent game going forward, but still worries me in defense) and McLaren, who was annonymous for the majority of the game lead to McLaren whipping in a dangerous cross. Williams rose to challenge a City defender but both missed it, only for us to see it fall perfectly for Jimmy Crawford who, with a deft flick of his head, firmly planted the ball in the back of the net. We went wild. I turned to my girlfriend and said "we'll still conced another" to be greeted with the reply " have faith" There were still five minutes to play plus injury time (wich after the ref added on 7 minutes in the first half who knew how long that would be). City immediately launched into attack after attack, but the excellent defensive partnership of Polston and Hunter held firm, and with Gray having another improved performance there were to be no more goals.

So, a Reading side that showed commitment, battling qualities and never let their heads drop. Long may it continue. The majority had good games. Gray Polston amd Gurney were superb in defence, with Caskey and Lee Hodges having excellent games in midfield and Williams and Scott running all day up front. However man of the match had to be Hunter. If Akinbiyi is worth £4 million then how much Hunter? For most of the game he kept Akinbiyi completely shackled and when the big man did break through Howie was in good form to deny him. I would extend Hunters contract now, and not wait until the end of the season when he becomes a free agent again. He was quality and made me realise just what we missed last season.

The only downsides were McLaren, who for most of the game was annonymous and Brebner who, despite scoring on of the goals also disappeared for long spells. Replace these with Murty and Parky and for all those doubters out there who don't think we'll go up, listen to my girlfriend: "Keep the faith".