by Bob Lethaby
I went to see an excellent game of football at Reading yesterday that was in stark contrast to the dire performance against Spurs the other week that stunk of relegation, such was the manner of the defeat. Yesterday, the real Reading stood up and decided to be counted with an excellent high tempo 4-4- 2 performance that didn’t get the first victory of the season it thoroughly deserved.
To a neutral, the first half would have been a dull affair to witness, but for Reading fans it was one full of renewed hope as they matched and then surpassed Newcastle for endeavour, proving to themselves and to an increasingly noisy crowd, that perhaps, after the early season’s concerns, they may be able to compete and maintain top flight status after all. The few chances that were created in the first period came Reading’s way and only a fine save by Harper denied Pogbrynak and allowed Newcastle to re-group at half time.
After a tepid few minutes after the break the Royals upped the tempo further, with the impressive Karacan and Leigertwood snapping at the heels of the Newcastle midfield and winning nearly every battle. Equally impressive was Noel Hunt who was rapidly ascending towards one of his best games for Reading, running the Newcastle defence ragged with his bustling no nonsense work rate. Hunt is a player I couldn’t see being a Premiership footballer but it is plain to see that he is a fitter and leaner player this season and determined to take his opportunity. One performance doesn’t make a player, but the signs are good that Hunt may well prove us doubters wrong.
The richly deserved Reading goal arrived in the 58th minute courtesy of some neat work by fans scapegoat Jobi McAnuff and a scuffed finish from the patchy Kebe, still finding his feet after injury and Reading looked to be well on their way to victory. Then suddenly, it was ten seconds of “welcome to the Premiership.” A defence splitting pass from Tiote over the shoulder of Ba and bang, 1-1. It was a goal of the highest quality within thirty seconds of Reading taking the lead. Good God the Premier League is a cruel place, in the Championship that pass would have bounced to the keeper or been sliced into the crowd, Demba Ba buried it in an unerring and devastating fashion.
To their credit, Reading continued to pour forward, swamping all over Newcastle, sending them straight back on the back foot and within five minutes Hunt scored with a really well executed header after more good work by McAnuff; the lead was restored. Still Reading pushed for the third as the atmosphere in the ground intensified but there was always a feeling that Newcastle had the quality to get back in to the game. With quality players such as Ben Arfa, Cisse and Ba in the team, Newcastle will always get a chance and that came on 83 minutes, courtesy of a mistimed header and a handball from Ba that should not have stood. It was a cruel blow.
Reading came back one again, substitute Jason Roberts drew a fine save from Harper and the impressive McAnuff thudded a fine curling effort against the post as time ran out. It was an excellent performance by the Royals that deserved better than just a point but in the end there was some relief that Ben Arfa made a hash of a free kick when well placed, defeat may have just have been an injustice Reading might have struggled to get over. The Royals remain in the bottom three but they will have gained huge confidence from outplaying a Newcastle side that finished fifth last season and will almost certainly be in the top six or seven this time round.
If there is a downside to this match it is the fact that a team that wins trophies somehow manages to win games when they are playing poorly, a team that gets relegated is one that fails to win when they play well.
Games like these are ones Reading need to win!