28 February 2004: LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
READING 2 SHEFFIELD UNITED 1
(25 mins), Goater (34 mins, pen).
Sheff Utd: Gray (10 mins).
| Half Time: 2-1
| Reading: Hahnemann, Murty (Newman
85), Williams, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Hughes (Murray 65), Sidwell, Harper,
Salako, Goater (Kitson 78), Owusu. Subs not used: Brooker, Young.
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, Whitlow (Allison 89), Robinson (Peschisolido 74), Montgomery, Tonge, Gray, Ward, Parkinson (Ndlovu 71). Subs not used: Cryan, Shaw.
| Reading: Owusu, Sidwell, Williams.
Sheff Utd: Montgomery, Page, Whitlow.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Northumberland)
Following report from John Wells:
United were given a scare early in the game when Sidwell swept a free kick across to Shorey who immediately delivered a good early ball into the near post which gave Goater a half chance and had Kenny scrambling to gather. In the opening ten minutes Reading stamped their authority on the game and then against the run of play conceded a goal. It came from United's most effective ploy - the long throw. The ball fell to new signing Gray who hammered the ball home through a crowded area. There was not much anyone could have done to prevent it. The reaction from Reading was admirable.
Spurred on by Harper and Sidwell in particular, who were dominant in midfield, the Royals went about their task with purpose and determination. It was Harper's tenacity which forced United to stop his progress with a trip on the edge of the box. Shorey curled the free kick inside the post with a superb left foot strike. Reading were prepared to match United in the physical battle to gain control and eight minutes before half time, it was another Harper surging run which produced a penalty. Goater stepped up and drove the ball high in to the net to the 'keeper's right. As hard as the visitors tried they could not force Reading onto the back foot. The referee was worryingly looking out of his depth and making some strange decisions.
Play became stretched in the second half as United pressed for an equaliser. Reading were looking dangerous on the break but failed to make the most of some promising opportunities. Reading found it hard to keep the ball but were not allowing United time on the ball so possession was being lost frequently by both sides. United increased the pressure on the Reading defence towards the end of the game but when Gray's header hit the post on seventy six minutes I began to feel it was going to be our day.
Reading seemed to sit back to protect their lead and had to endure some unpleasant challenges and poor refereeing. The referee was quite happy to allow Salako and Shorey to be elbowed in the head right under his nose, and yet saw fit to book several players for what appeared to be petty offences. Ironically all this helped Reading in the end. As we know it takes a lot to get the Madejski crowd going but, the anger at United's tactics, the injustice of the refereeing, and the gritty response from the Reading team, brought the home crowd to the boil. Today I am sure the noise they made inspired the players and intimidated their opponents. It was a pity that Kitson, who came on for Goater for the last ten minutes, did not put the icing on the cake when he only had the 'keeper to beat, but I have a feeling his time will come.
United must have found it very difficult to play against Reading today. Ingimarsson and Williams solid at the back, Shorey and Murty a threat going forward, and Goater and Owusu combining well up front. In the centre of midfield Sidwell and Harper were superb. Sidwell won possesion so convincingly and so often there were occasions when some United players seemd to lose their appetite to compete with him. Harper's work rate was phenominal and his attitude was an inspiration to everyone. He really wanted to win, a feeling he expressed in his play and in the way he commincated to everyone around him. If there was weakness it was Hughes. He provided defensive cover intelligently when Murty surged forward but times he just didn't seem to know what to do on or off the ball, so it was no surprise when he was replaced by Muray for the last twenty five minutes.
This was a very important and satisfying result which
keeps us in play-off contention. What was encouraging was the attitude
within the side today. With some really tough games coming it is determination
that is going to count as much, if not more , than playing good football.
However as United found to their cost today, you can't kick your way into
the promotion places. They simply did not have the guile or the power
to overcome Reading. The result at Rotherham upset quite a few people,
but maybe that performance has taught us a lesson. We have picked up seven
points from three very tough game since then.
Following report by Matthew Williams:
After a fairly even opening 10 minutes Sheff Utd scored a route-one goal as Ward used his strentgh to control a (foul) throw from Kozluk. He played the ball back to new signing Gray, who thumped an unstoppable shot passed Hahnemann. The fans knew that it would be how Reading reacted to this goal that would determine the rest of the game. Too many times this season have we seen the players drop their heads and play cluelessly for the remainder of the match. Maybe it was because Reading were playing a highly placed team, maybe it was because Warnock was managing the opposition side, or maybe it was something else, but Reading stayed positive and got on with playing the game at their pace and the rest of the half was dominated by the home side.
Fifteen minutes after United took the lead Harper, who was showing signs of last seasons form, managed to win a free kick about 25 yards from goal. Nicky Shorey stepped up and memories of his free-kick versus Walsall earlier in the season came flooding back as the ball sailed into the top corner. The next big question for the Reading fans was how Reading would react to this equaliser. Would they relax after clawing their way back into the game or would they continue with this upbeat tempo? Even before I had sent my jubilant 'we have equalised and are still the best team in the world' text the question was answered. Reading won the ball back and much to the crowds delight attacked again, and again, and again. This part of the game pushed memories of Burnley out of every fans mind, and when Harper produced another mazy run into the box Reading had a chance to double the lead after he was tripped by a United defender. Now penalties haven't been one of Reading's biggest strengths this season but Goater slammed the ball home confidently, putting Reading ahead for the first time in the game.
The second half was nervy, and United pushed for an
equaliser, but even when the referee joined United's attack they still
couldn't find a way through. Hahnemann produced one excellent save tipping
a shot over and although my vision was obscured by a crowd of players
I'm also pretty sure that United hit the post towards the end. But Reading
hung on well as the defence looked more solid with Williams back. Kitson
could have even put the game beyond doubt in the final minutes but Kenny
stopped him opening his Royals account. So, with almost the whole crowd
uncharactaristically joining in with a chant of blue-army that sent shivers
down my spine, the referee finally gave up on trying to force an equaliser
and ended one of the best team performances of the season.
FANS' POST MATCH OPINION
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