Saturday, February 18, 2006

SINK THE TITANIC Luton Town 3-2 Reading

Hold the back page, gag the fat lady and sink the Titanic - Reading Football Club lost a league game for the first time in more than 6 months last night.

Floyd on Football is realistic enough to realise that even the best team in the division will come unstuck ocassionally and it is some consolation to say that even on a night when we were below par we have only lost by the odd goal to a half-decent Luton side who let us remember also managed to put three goals past Liverpool on the same ground. Injuries to the influential Little and Sidwell did not help, not did the wretched performance of referee Wright but this was a result that was perhaps coming given that in each of the previous four away games in the league we have fallen behind and yet managed to get out of jail.

Kenilworth Road is an odd looking venue, the Pete Burns of football stadia. With one side comprising solely of conservatories passing as exec boxes and leg room in the away end which even an Oompa Loompa would complain about, it's a memorable sort of place. And it was an equally memorable start; 18 whole seconds had elapsed by the time the ball had fallen kindly to DOYLE to slot past Beresford following a slip in the Hatters defence. Reading almost added to that within the first five minutes when Harper's delightful curler went the wrong side of the helpless Beresford's post and we were looking very good at this stage.

It wasn't to last. Vine was proving a menace and the lanky Howard had sliced a decent chance wide as the home side, who had scored three past Liverpool on the same ground not so long ago, caused the Reading defence no end of problems. Ex-Royal Dean Morgan was playing like he had a point to prove and was having an impact, his good work set up that man Howard again and the muscular front man also put a header wide. So it was absolutely no surprise when they levelled after twenty minutes. The goal, as with the second barely five minutes later, came from down Reading's left hand side as Howard and VINE linked up well to leave the latter free to finish beautifully at an angle. Luton, playing catch up in the stop-start race that is the play-off jostle, had their hats at a jaunty angle now and were playing with confidence and it was even less of a surprise when they went ahead as Harper failed to cut out a pass down our left flank and the resultant cross was diverted home by VINE.

And it could have been worse as Luton should have been out of sight by half time, as only the linesman's flag and their own profligate finishing prevented them taking the lead. Nicholls freekick seemed to heading out of play by Howard managed to angle a header across the box for Heikkinen to slot a slitter against the cross bar. Leon Barnett was more accurate with his headed effort but the flag of the otherwise out of touch linesman denied him. The officials frankly looked to be below the required standard of ability all evening and with time running out in the half Doyle appeared to be grounded when through on goal. Nothing was awarded and given that Floyd on Football was behind the goal atheother end annd impartial text messages said that Doyle might have been clipped but perhaps made the most of it, it is probably fair to give the officials the benefit of the doubt on this one.

No excuses for the incident after half time though. Kitson was on to a Convey through ball in a flash and appeared to be muscled off the ball illegally. Referee Wright was having none of it though and quite incredibly the next freekick he gave was against Kitson for a pathetically innocuous looking challenged which earned our top scorer a yellow card; total nonsense from a referee who shirked the big decisions all night. By that stage Reading were already 3-1 down and staring at their first league defeat in 28 weeks. Dean MORGAN finished low past Hahnemann from the edge of the box after a finding himself space with a neat run. Luton had looked a lively side all evening and Coppell was forced into changes; Convey was withdrawn in favour of Stephen Hunt who then unforgivably wasted his three crossing opportunities with woefully inadequate efforts. No excuses whatsoever for the Irishman, nor his colleague on the right wing the equally ineffectual John Oster who showed in his performance just why Glen Little can expect to start each and every week when he is fit.

Reading huffed and puffed to get back into the game but we had left ourselves with too much to do. A combination of our own lack of quality on the night and the home side's doggedness denied us any clear cut opportunities as Luton played like an Iraqi national team under threat of death from a murderous dictatorship. Floyd on Football has a lot of time for their manager, the outspoken Mike Newell who was the first man brave enough to talk openly about those leeches of the game, the football agent. Newell has his team well drilled and willing to die for the cause and coupled with a decent attacking threat they are as good a team as we have seen in opposition this season. In the opinion of Floyd on Football, Coppell left it too late to introduce Leroy Lita who has recovered from stitches in his face following an attack in a nightclub by a typically friendly Bristolian, however we did get one back when DOYLE headed in a centre of rare accuracy from the otherwise abysmal Hunt.

This goal came just as the board for four minutes of additional time was raised and despite a couple of generous looking freekick decision in our favour from the ever-eccentric Mr Wright, we could not find our way past a wall of Luton white. The home side had held out for a deserved win, our unbeaten run had ended and we now have a dozen games to refocus, readjust the team as necessary and sew up promotion. There is a tiny leak in the hull of the SS Reading FC, but there is barely a puddle in the boiler room yet.

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Oster (Lita, 79), Gunnarsson, Harper, Convey (Hunt, 63), Doyle, Kitson. Subs not used: Stack, Makin, Halls.

Floyd's Favourite: Doyle. One of few Reading players to do themself justice.


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