MATCH REPORT: 2003/2004 Season

31 January 2004: LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
Reading: Goater (2 mins, 51 mins), Sidwell (41 mins).
Johnson (59 mins).
Half Time: 2-0
Attendance: 14,382

DIVISION ONE 31 Jan 2004
Pos Team P Pts GD
7 West Ham 29 45 +12
8 READING 29 45 0
9 Preston 28 43 +8
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Brown, Williams, Watson (Harper 70), Hughes, Sidwell, Salako, Goater, Owusu. Subs not used: Kitson, Ingimarsson, Young, Morgan.
Grant, Edwards, Vincent, Johnson (Jackson 68), Mawene, Costa, Reich, Huddlestone, Osman, Tudgay, Manel (Whelan 46). Subs not used: Camp, Bolder, McLeod.
Reading: Hughes.
Johnson, Mawene.
Referee: M Cowburn (Blackpool)

Lifted by a superbly taken Sean Goater goal in the second minute, Reading turned on an impressive first half display of positive attacking play. Further goals either side of half time sealed a deserved victory which was not as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest. Derby pulled a goal back with about thirty minutes left to play and for a while there was a nagging doubt about the outcome as the visitors threatened on more than one occasion to reduce the deficit to one goal.

Goater's opener was stunning in its quality. Owusu was bundled over wide on the right. Shorey whipped in an inviting cross which Goater met with a perfectly timed run and powerful header at the near post. Derby responded positively but Reading were looking sharp in every area of the field. Watson and Sidwell were working particularly hard denying Derby the time and space they needed in midfield to build attacks. Owusu was winning everything in the air. Owusu and Goater had chances in quick succession to increase the lead when Hughes put Owusu through, but the ball was scrambled away. More chances soon followed. Owusu glanced a header just wide from a Salako cross, and Hughes was unlucky not to find the net when he met another Salako cross with a well struck shot which flew wide off the 'keepers legs. Owusu shaved the post with a firm header from the corner. The football was not flowing but some of the passing was slick and incisive.

A series of poor refereeing decisions helped to relieve the pressure on the Derby defence but the Royals were finally rewarded for their efforts on forty one minutes. Watson showing tremendous control and deft footwork, kept possession under pressure and slipped the ball to Sidwell just outside the area. A typically fierce strike hit the back of the net in spite of Grant getting down well to get a hand to it. Goater had a chance to make it three just before half time when Hughes cut the ball back intelligently, but his shot ballooned high into the stand.

Derby stuck to their task well and were unfortunate not to pull a goal back just after half time. Hahnemann was relieved when a shot which thudded against his post rebounded kindly back towards him as he was picking himself up. Reading heeded the warning and went on the offensive. Murty was put through by a superbly weighted pass from Hughes, but he ignored the obvious option to cut the ball back and a good opening was wasted. Reading were in no mood to let this game slip. On fifty one minutes Shorey played a diagonal pass to Goater. The big man received the pass with a good first touch and made space for a shot which rifled across the goal into the far corner of the net from just outside the box. Someone sitting near me announced "That was a Premiership goal" which just about summed up my feelings too! Unfortunately he missed his chance to complete his hat trick when he was put through by Sidwell moments later. With only Grant to beat his shot hit the keepers legs. He probably should have scored.

Undeterred Derby pressed forward and, with just over half an hour left, Johnson headed a diagonal cross firmly under the diving Hahnemann who was perhaps a little slow to react. Encouraged by their success they pressed forward looking for second. Reading had lost their grip in midfield and Watson, probably weary from his fantastic effort in the first half, was replaced by Harper after seventy minutes. Owusu nearly scored the goal his performance deserved when he beat Grant to a long ball and lifted the ball towards the unguarded goal, but there was insufficient pace to carry the ball over the line and the ball was comfortably cleared. Hahnemann pulled off a couple of good saves from long range efforts as full time approached, and Derby had a goal disallowed for offside, but in the end the result was never in any doubt.

This victory keeps Reading's play-off hope alive, but perhaps more important was a performance which I beleive reflects Coppell's style. The passing was direct and accurate, everyone was prepared to work hard for each other, and there was a lot more determination and commitment in the challenges. I would find it difficult to pick out a man of the match, but I was particularly pleased with Hughes' performance. He seemed far more composed on the ball today. Not only did a high percentage of his passes find a Reading player, but he was timing his passes well and picking the right options. There were no weak links today.
Report by John Wells


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