MATCH REPORT: 2005/2006 Season

Reading: Lita (16 mins), Doyle (38 mins).
Southampton: -
Half Time: 2-0
Attendance: 23,845

Pos Team P Pts GD
1 READING 33 82 +53
2 Sheff Utd 32 69 +27
3 Watford 32 58 +19
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Sidwell, Harper, Convey (Hunt 81), Lita (Kitson 76), Doyle. Subs Not Used: Oster, Stack, Gunnarsson.
Southampton: Bialkowski, Ostlund, Lundekvam, Powell, Higginbotham, Potter, Wright, Chaplow, Dyer (Surman 70), Rasiak, Madsen (Jones 81). Subs Not Used: Smith, Baird, Blackstock.
Reading: -
Southampton: Ostlund.
Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).

The phrase "routine win" has already been used a lot of times this season, but this game definately fitted the expression as Reading put in yet another thoroughly professional performance to sweep Southampton aside. Unlike some previous games this season we didn't dominate the fixture throughout, but Reading always retained the upper hand and were extremely comfortable winners in the end. After going a goal up, the visitors appeared to have the better of the game, and probably should have pulled level with two good chances, but it was clear Reading had plenty in reserve and could step up a gear if required. The second goal killed off any challenge from Southampton and the second half turned mostly into a non-event with the points already wrapped up for Reading, and Southampton settling for damage limitation.

Southampton weren't the worst side to visit the Madejski Stadium this season but they lacked Reading's quality and ability to play fast effective football. Reading got off to the sharper start, with Southampton rarely getting past the half way line. A few wayward passes from the Saints compared to a few crisp passing moves from the Royals. Southampton's defensive weakness was exposed in the sixteenth minute when Reading moved ahead. The ball was played through the defence to Little on the right, who always looked second best to meet the ball. The defender appeared to slow up leaving Little a gift, to cut inside and play a straight forward low cross to Lita. Lita, despite having three Southampton players in close proximity was left with a easy tap-in from close range to put Reading on their way.

Southampton weren't dead and buried at a goal down and hit back with an effective attack of their own as the ball was played through leaving a clear run on goal. Hahnemann came off his line, but the forward had the whole goal to aim at before somehow managing to roll the ball wide of the far post when he looked certain to score. Convey and Sidwell gave the ball away a couple of times as Reading showed they're not always perfect. Little was having another excellent performance down the right but Convey seemed out of sorts down the other wing. A period of scrappy play saw Southampton see a glimer of hope. Moments later a cross into the box saw a clean header appear to beat Hahnemann before coming off the corner of the post and crossbar. If that was bad luck for Southampton, more was to follow seven minutes before the break. Hahnemann pumped a long ball upfield and Doyle intercepted it while surrounded by red and white shirts on the edge of the box. His control was spot on and the keeper must have been unsighted as Doyle rolled the ball just inside the post to make it 2-0. The goal might have been against the run of play, but it was far being from a suprise.

We expected Southampton to come out fighting for something in the second half, but it never appeared. Instead Reading looked calm and collected as time drifted away. We threatened to increase the lead but there wasn't much urgency in the game. Convey relaxed and started to improve and his runs through the centre kept Southampton on their toes - but the defence wasn't as generous as the first half and we found shots restricted. The home crowd were left to scream "shoot" at Murty everytime he got the ball hoping to see him hit his first goal of the season, but he never had an opportunity despite the ball spending most of the time down the Southampton end. Kitson and Hunt's introductions towards the end did little to change the balance of the game as both sides seemed content with the 2-0 score-line. At full time, it was another excellent result for the Royals that sees them pull thirteen points clear of second placed Sheffield United.

With Southampton strengthened by addition of Raziak and Chaplow, the visitors started in confident mood. Part of the game plan was clearly to get players behind the ball and close Reading down quickly all over the field, and to certain extent it worked. The Saints back four presented a real challenge for the Royals. Reading dominated the game in the early stages although some of the passing was not as sharp as usual. We did not have to wait too long for the breakthrough however. Some slack defending by Dyer allowed Little to win the ball inside the box and slide in a great low cross. Lita had been lurking around the penalty spot and timed his run to perfection to finish from close range with the 'keeper stranded.

Reading gradually allowed Southampton to regain their composure and string a few passes together. The warning came when Raziak's good touch took him behind the Royals defence, but with the goal at his mercy he dragged his shot wide. Having survived an optimistic appeals for a penalty when Convey's shot hit Ostland's, arm Saints came close to equalising again. Again Ostland was involved meeting a cross from the right to send a header against the bar. It was to be their last real chance of the game. Seven minutes from the interval Doyle settled everyone's nerves with a superb finish. Hahnemann launched a huge kick upfield and as happens so often, Doyle reacted quickly and was first to the ball. His first touch was excellent, and although surrounded by Saints defenders he somehow managed to spin and sweep the ball low into the net from the edge of the box. It was enough to send a stream of Saints fans off for an early cup of tea!

The second half was dominated by Reading. As the game wore on, Southampton tired and could not match Reading's passing. Little continued to taunt the Saints defence with his ability to take players on and deliver crosses. He was outstanding this evening getting involved all over the field and linking play between defence and attack. Tactically Coppell got it right again in avoiding too many long balls, but even when the ball was in the air it was remarkable how well Lita and Doyle won the ball against bigger men. Kitson in contrast when he came on seemed unwilling or unable to get his feet of the ground to win headers. He did not have long enough to get into the game and is going to have to work hard to win his place back again with Lita and Doyle looking so sharp. Hunt on the other hand always gives the side a lift no matter how brief his appearance.

There was a lot of post match debate about the multi-ball system and the efficiency of the ball- boys/girls. George Burley was particularly making a big issue of it. If he is looking to improve his results, he might be better off investigating reasons for his players dwelling on the ball in their own penalty area, or asking why Kevin Doyle was able to score when surrounded by four defenders. Or maybe they just had an off night because as Harry Redknapp pointed out earlier in the season - Southampton are a much better side than Reading! Sadly for them they may have to wait a season or two before their next opportunity to prove it. Talking of whinging mangers, I hope we are treated to another victory and a rant from Mr Warnock on Tuesday night. I would not like to predict the outcome but it is going to be a hell of a game.



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