Sunday, September 24, 2006

THE TWO RONNIES Reading 1-1 Manchester United

When last these sides met, an FA Cup a little over ten years ago, Reading competed very nicely for a while but Manchester United ran out comfortable winners in the end. Their side - Cantona, Keane et al - went on to The Double that season, whilst Reading were a gnat's bollock away from relegation from Division One. Elm Park still had two more years of shabby life left and the gulf between the two clubs was wider than Michelle McManus's waistline.

Yesterday, 24,000+ packed inside the all mod-cons MadStad to watch Reading show that we have began to close the gap - nay, yawning chasm - between ourselves and the most commercially successful club in world football. We competed, hassled, harried. Led for twenty five minutes, silenced the feisty away following and proved our point. The world was watching Reading FC compete with one of the big boys as league equals for the first time and they can't have failed to have been impressed.

In the end, we were only denied a Red Letter Day by the Red Devils finest; by the end of 94 minutes our illustrious visitors had a forward line of Rooney, Saha and Solskjaer out on the park but it was only a sublime piece of individual brilliance from the greasy haired cheating spick Ronaldo which rescued a point. We saw the two differing faces of the Portuguese winger yesterday evening; we saw the fragile, wailing gamesmanship which has become all too familiar over the past few years and also those skillful, quick feet which brought about a deserved equaliser for a team assembled for many millions of pounds. Ronaldo in many ways is a very typical modern footballing superstar - undoubted ability to spare, but a nasty arrogant piece of spit to boot.

United were looking to go back atop the league which they have dominated since its inception in 1992; all football before then of course being declared null and void by the SKY TV generation. Hahnemann showed a few nerves in parrying Rooney's early shot but looked more measured in getting easily behind another effort from the pug-faced Oompa Loompa and equally competently dealt with a Ronaldo drive. At the other end, the hard working Lita fired speculatively wide and later drove a cross across goal which no-one could reach. We were looking composed, calm and measured in our approach as we allowed United plenty of harmless possession with the ever dynamic Michael Carrick slowing the pace of the game down to a tempo more befitting of a charity match.

The best chance in the half fell to Reading. Convey's cross deflected into Doyle's path in front of goal. The young Irishman seemed to want a nod and a thumbs up from the linesman, delayed and Van Der Sar smothered. A little more awareness and we would have led, but Doyle's big moment was to come. United rallied with several testing balls across our goal but Ivar and Ibrahima kept the visitors largely in check; the Icelandar cooly clearing to safety as Ronaldo led Seol a merry dance, crashed to the ground in all too typical style and lashed a free kick towards the near post which Hahnemann could only parry. Half time arrived with the scoresheet blank and a triumphant cheer of a moral victory for more than holding our own against Champions League standard opposition thus far.

The cheers were even louder shortly after the break. Seol and Murty worked the right hand side and a searching centre from the captain struck the arm of the gormless Gary Neville who could only gurn with despair as referee Walton pointed to the spot. The spotlight fell on Kevin Doyle, a boyhood Manchester United fan whose meek penalty kick in the midweek shout out with Darlington was saved. Taking the ball in his hand, placing it on the spot and with the usual protests and shenanigans delaying proceedings he had plenty of time for the significance of the moment to pray on his mind. Van Der Sar guessed correctly plunging to his right and got a claw to the penalty kick but the power which DOYLE had put on the shot took the ball beyond the Dutchman's grasp and pandemonium abounded.

Reading then enjoyed a good period of possession and territory which in truth failed to draw much in terms of threat and chances but there was plenty of good work as we kept ball tidily if not incisively. United had a guilt-edged chance when Rooney slotted across to the Craig Charles lookalike - and presumably playalike - Kieran Richardson who put a variation on his theme of smashing hopeless efforts over the crossbar by this time swiping and missing altogether and it must have been a relief to the perplexed travelling support when he was substituted before the hour. United were desperate to get back into this match and much of the final 25 minutes was played on the edge of the Reading box but - happily - there was a thou shalt not pass attitude about Ingimarsson and the biblical miracle that is Ibrahima Sonko, although Paul Scholes deflected effort followed a rare moment of uncertainty caused when we made a hash of a high and harmless looking cross served as a warning.

Into the final twenty minutes and the red tide fianlly swept Graeme Murty away; he had battled gamely with some success against RONALDO but was beaten all ends up on this ocassion as the Portuguese pikey cut in and arrowed a thumper past Hahnemann. There was a fear that this may be cue for a collapse after so much brawn had complemented the brains we had showed all evening thus far, but Coppell made some adjustments, Rooney's frustrated and vain appeal for a penalty was rightly laughed out of town and Ronaldo had a final say with a shot wide of goal. United won in terms of possession and shots on goal, but Reading had the edge in terms of heart and desire and in the end our famous visitors - who have won almost every major honour going in their proud history - can boast that they were the first team ever to take a Premiership point away from the Madejski.

Another triumphant cheer - more a roar in reality - greeted the full time whistle. The Reading faithful delighted at a well earned draw against a fancied side, the charmless visiting support less than enamoured by the result as proven by some quite pathetic behaviour both inside the ground at the end of the game and some acts of sheer violent thuggishness outside of the ground. You can only imagine the frustration of those brought up on a diet of success at claiming a measly draw against us trophy-starving peasants of Berkshire. It was goodnight from us, and good fight from them.

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty (Bikey, 89), Shorey, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Seol (Hunt, 65), Sidwell, Harper, Convey, Doyle, Lita (Gunnarsson, 76). Subs not used: Stack, Long.

Floyd's Favourite: Sonko. So effective you forgot that Rooney was there.


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