MATCH REPORT: 2008/2009 Season

Reading: -
Sheff Utd: Howard (59 mins)
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 20,756

Pos Team P Pts GD
3 Sheff Utd 42 75 +25
4 READING 41 69 +29
5 Cardiff 40 67 +18
6 Burnley 41 66 +8
Reading: Hahnemann, Kelly, Bikey, Duberry, Armstrong, Kebe (Little 70), Matejovsky (Noel Hunt 78), Cisse (Tabb 43), Stephen Hunt, Doyle, Kitson. Subs Not Used: Federici, Long.
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Halford, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naysmith, O'Toole (Beattie 55), Montgomery, Howard (Bromby 90), Naughton, Henderson, Ward (Cotterill 82). Subs Not Used: Lupoli, Hendrie.
Reading: Armstrong, Duberry.
Sheff Utd: Howard.
Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
The turning point in this crucial fixture came in the fifty-eighth minute when Kebe's cross was headed onto the crossbar by Dave Kitson. If Reading had scored I feel sure they would have taken all three points. Instead, two minutes later United were ahead when a harmless looking cross was headed onto the bar and as Reading pushed out the ball fell kindly for Howard who scored with a deflected low shot past Hahnemann. A minute later Kenny just managed to tip over another great effort from Kitson and if Reading fans had not been feeling it was not their day already, they certainly did then.

Coppell's selection of the starting eleven for this game was unquestionably correct based on recent form, and was justified in the main by Reading's dominance of a United side with little to offer other than good organisation and effort. The inclusion of either Pearce or Harper at the expense of Long on the bench would have provided a better balance, given that Bikey and Cisse are both more than adequate in either central midfield or at centre back. The flaw was exposed when Cisse was unfortunately forced to leave the field with neck injury just before half time leaving no adequate cover for the crucial central midfield role. Had Cisse remained on the field, Matejovsky, who played quite superbly for the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, might well have had an even greater influence on the game. During that spell he could not be knocked off the ball, released some superbly timed and weighted passes, and also was sufficiently quick-witted to steal the ball from opponents as they attempted to gain control of the ball.

The inclusion of Stephen Hunt was justified following his recent international performance but today he was far from impressive, and in spite of Matejovsky giving the ball way carelessly on a couple of occasions before he was substituted, there is no doubt in my mind about who should have stayed on for the final twelve minutes. It was hard to understand where Hunt was supposed to be playing. In the first half he continually drifted inside which meant there was insufficient width in attack. On at least two occasions Kitson was forced to chase the balls down the left wing because Hunt had decided he wanted to occupy a more central position. It would not have mattered had he not continually conceded possession by making the wrong decisions about where and when to pass, turning into trouble, or worse still, simply failing to control the ball. But these are not recently acquired shortcomings. During Reading's best season in recent years he was mainly on the bench, and that in my opinion is where he belongs in team with ambitions to play in the Premiership.

The influence of Bikey cannot be underestimated. It is no coincidence that the defence has conceded fewer goals since his return to the team. Not only is he immensely strong defensively but his ability to bring the ball down and pass it instead of hoofing it aimlessly upfield was a key factor in Reading's dominance of possession today (60% to 40%). Going forward he looked a threat too. Near the end he simply ran through the centre of United's midfield from the half way line to the penalty area to create untold panic in the heart of their defence. In contrast Duberry looked poor. His distribution was clumsy, never more clearly illustrated near the end when his poor first touch forced him into a hasty back pass which bounced awkwardly in front of Hahnemnann who in turn was pressured into a hasty and misdirected clearance. The decline in Reading's season can be traced back to the point where the partnership of Imgimarsson and Bikey was broken up through injury and suspension.

I have to disagree with the commonly held view that results being more important than performances. Today's game provides a clear reason why. United have won and they are now in stronger position to gain automatic promotion, but they are still much further away from being equipped for the Premier League than Reading. Steve Coppell's job is create a squad good enough to remain in the Premier League and he is not there yet, and although it would be good to win promotion this season, it is vital to take a long term view. I am still convinced he is the man to do the job whatever happens this season, but there is still a lot more work to be done. The most frustrating aspect of the season for Reading fans is the way that their team has comfortably beaten nearly all the teams in the top six by playing good football but have not managed to maintain their home form especially against teams in the lower half of the league. Taking a positive stance, which is always harder when letting an advantage slip, we should at least make the play offs. If we do, some encouragement must be drawn from the knowledge that two of the three games at that stage of the competition are away from home!
John Wells

As every minute ticked away in the second half another rusty nail was hammered into RFC's coffin. For many it's become a slow torture ever since Christmas as we stumble along like a headless chicken and continue without any direction or passion towards another humiliating implosion. Forget going up, forget the play offs , this bunch of so called players and regretably the management team are simply way past their selling date and bereft of any ideas , belief , pride and ultimately skill. It's actually quite sad as slowly and agonisingly before our own eyes our beloved football team has become an embarrassing laughing stock . What was once the so called fortress at the Mad Stad has become the easiest away trip in the league where all teams who come help themselves to easy points . From the very top , and that's the chairman , to the bottom we need to get rid and start again . It will take a good few years , the set up and infrastructure is there but we're woefully lacking ability on the field with a bunch of overrated, overpaid prima donnas who simply don't care anymore . Soon we'll hear from Sir Steve the lamentable " I've taken them as far as I can " and JM will spout on about how well we've done, but we haven't ,because the club has been run on a shoesting for years without any investment of the many millions that have come onto the club and now unsurprisingly that shoestring has snapped. Coppell will go down arguably as our greatest ever manager but to me the man is burnt out. It's almost like he doesn't want to be here and cannot wait for the season to end and have a break good luck to him whatever he does. We had a chance to return staright back to the Premiership , a golden chance , but we've blown it and that its very hard to take. It's now the wilderness years for us, maybe we'll be back one day at the top , but never with the club being run like a sunday pub team as it is now.
Nick Newbury

Two average teams who, if either get promoted, will struggle. Sheffield United play to their few strengths, one of which is heading balls out of defence, so why keep tossing it up for practice - we made Morgan look a world beater. However, I felt before the game we would lose, no form, no confidence, my only hope was that we might think, this is it, we've screwed around for too long, let's have a go - we didn't. Nothing to lose now though, so we might as well go down with a bang, forget the nerves, we're no longer favourites for anything other than another season in the same league. The reason for all of this, as I've said before, diminishing returns from a lack of serious investment. We're a half season wonder over the past two years and the squad hasn't really moved on and improved. Is this down to Coppell or Sir JM, the latter I suspect. As with anything in life, you get what you pay for, and we are. Pity though, there's never been an easier season to get out of this league, but we haven't got it to take advantage.
Nick Tilehurst.

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Reading manager Steve Coppell:
"Our home form is a massive worry. It is giving me sleepless nights and I have got to get home for another one of those now. It's something which is bemusing. To be so strong for so long and now we have lost four and drawn two of the last six here baffles me. I don't know what's going on or else I would have changed it."

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