Sunday, October 02, 2005

COLIN Reading 2-1 Sheffield United

There are characters in football. Quirky people who are real eccentrics, those who can make you grin just by uttering a little soundbite or coming up with a piece of nonsensical hyperbole. There was something endearing about Brian Clough, and these days we have unique people in football management such as Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen and Ian Holloway. Win lose or draw, those two are always ready with a quip and a smile even in the most contentious of circumstances.

Neil Warnock most likely sees himself as a character as well, but the man has little charm and no class. Given his side's recent form of 10 successive wins in all competitions we have been spared his rabid rantings recently, presumably the refereeing whenever Sheffield United win is completely spot on. When everything doesn't go his way, Warnock has no grace in defeat. He can be found mouthing off during and after games, running onto the pitch waving his fists like a caveman as he did at full time yesterday. Sheffield United were denied a clear penalty second half by referee Hegley, that much is fair to say. But given that even one-eyed Warnock himself agreed afterwards that his goalkeeper should have been sent off in the first half then surely he hasn't got an awful lot to complain about?

There is no doubt that referee Hegley had a major say in this 2nd vs 1st place clash with drew a 22,000+ crowd to the MadStad as well as major national media interest. It was a chance for Reading to put on a show and prove that we are a force to be reckoned with outside the over-hyped Premiership. We started well, in fact not so much like a house on fire but an entire avenue ablaze. Glenn Little, the Luis Figo of the Championship, had am angled drive deflected round the post and our gangly winger took the flag kick himself. The ball came out to Brynjar GUNNARSSON whose sidefooted effort took a slight deflection to wrong-foot Paddy Kenny and roll into the corner of the net. 1-0 with less than two minutes played and the home crowd naively chanted that EA-SAY chant which Floyd on Football finds utterly moronic.

The game had come alive early on and typically rough-house Sheffield tactics whipped the crowd up into a frenzy; Convey was mown down on the touchline early on prompted hysterical invisble baton-waving from Warnock and the first booking came barely ten minutes in as the clumsy Alan Quinn left stud marks in Makin's chest. These bumps and bruises may have unsettled Reading a little and the league leaders levelled after a quarter of an hour. Ifill got the better of stand in left back Steve Hunt for once, bamboozling our man before sending ina deep cross which landed the other side of the penalty area. The dirty bastard Quinn hooked the ball back for Steve KABBA to score with a diving header.

Lita threatened at one end and Kabba was almost hailed again at the other but this frantic game was beginning to settle down a little when all hell break loose after just over half an hour was played. Montgomery, under pressue from Convey, panicked and header past his own 'keeper who had advanced outside his box. As the home crowd screamed for handball there was a slight pause as referee Hegley didn't see to want to give the clear decision but the linesman flagged and Hegley then called Kenny over. It would be a red card, and with no goalkeeper on the bench for the Blades it would be a clear advantage to Reading with around an hour still to play. Except it wasn't a red; inexplicably Hegley, who didn't even consult the linseman who had apparently seen more than him, booked the United 'keeper and as the resulting freekick was charged down the follow up cross into the box was comfortably taken to the sound of angry booing by the man who should have been sent off. Floyd on Football is of the opinion that this kind of injustice could only happen to Reading in such an important game.

There would be more controversy to follow in the second half, but not before Kabba rightly had a penalty appeal waved away, Doyle looked menacing for Reading with a shot from distance and Alan Quinn headed over in reply. Sheffield United gradually got a stranglehold on the game and pinned Reading back for long periods without overly threatening Hahnemann. Despite the visitors territorial dominance, it was Reading with the better chances particularly Oster's rasping first time effort after fellow substitute Baradji's neat lay off. It was with less than ten minutes to go that referee Hegley made his second telling contribution to this big game; he waved away United's vocal penalty appeal as Gillespie crashed to the floor after Harper's challenge on the edge of the box after the Blades winger had seemed to knock the ball far too far ahead of himself. Cue another touchline paddy from Warnock, but his mood would be worse by full time.

With the home crowd urging them on, Reading enjoyed a concerted spell of pressure after that penalty (non)decision. Oster looked lively on the right as Reading won a series of throw-ins and free-kicks. It was from a free-kick that the crucial winner came. Quinn handballed, Baradji whipped in a gorgeous dead ball with pace and accuracy which GUNNARSSON met with a glanced back-header for a goal remniscent of Lawrie Sanchez for Wimbledon in the '88 cup final. As it came in the 89th minute of such an important game and with the sense of injustice about the first half decision not to send off Kenny, the goal sent the home supporters into fits of spasticity. With the triumphant noise level loud enough to frighten the M4 traffic, Reading got through the injury time without ever looking remotely threatened and there was another almighty roar at full time. And an almighty kerfuffle on the pitch.

Warnock and his assistant and several Sheffield players surrounded the referee, gesticulating wildly like the northern monkeys they are. Warnock is likely to be charged for his behaviour, which is absolutely right. For however angry he was about the Harper and Gillespie clash inside the penalty area, Reading were equally aggrieved with the decision not to dismiss Kenny. Two wrongs don't make a right of course, but they do cancel each other out. Controversial incidents one apiece, legitimate goals for Reading 2, for Sheffield United 1. Three points to Reading, Sheffield United's lead at the top cut to three points. Satisfaction immeasurable.

Reading: Hahnemann, Makin, Hunt, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Little (Oster, 46) , Gunnarsson, Harper, Convey (Baradji, 68), Lita (Obinna, 77), Doyle. Subs not used: Federici, Osano.

Floyd's Favourite: Hunt. Tough job to fill in at left back in his first league start and having to face Paul Ifill. Won that battle on points against the Blades winger.


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