by Bob Lethaby

For some reason, many Reading fans were regarding this fixture as “When our season starts” which is a bit disrespectful towards Fulham who, had they won, would have occupied 4th place. However, when I looked on the Fulham team sheet to see players such as Duff, Ruiz and Berbatov, I was not as convinced as the Reading faithful. Actually, all I could see was a defeat to be honest, particularly when I saw the name of Jay Tabb on the Reading team sheet, a hardworking, mid table Championship player if there ever was one.

As I joined my friends in the concourse, drinking vinegar disguised as beer in unseasonably low temperatures, I got dragged in to the “must win game” conversation and started deluding myself that Reading are actually a far better team than their league position suggests. However the truth is out there when you see that one of our best players is Jason Roberts, who couldn’t get in the relegation bound Blackburn side last year. The table doesn’t lie and neither does the team sheet, which once again featured the on-going disappointment that is Pavel Pogbreynak.

The game itself was something of a cracker, Reading giving it their all in the scrappy early stages before being rewarded with a Leigertwood screamer on 26 minutes. However it was obvious that this would not be enough and Fulham edged themselves towards a well worked Ruiz equaliser on 61 minutes before taking control of a game they would surely go on to win as Reading’s faltering defence, under the languid spell of Dimitar Berbatov, began to resemble an episode of Laurel & Hardy.

What we all assumed to be the Fulham winner arrived in the 77th minute, courtesy of a well taken glancing header from Chris Baird, who left his markers as if though they had temporarily jumped in to quicksand; it was a blow they you couldn’t see the Royals coming back from, the momentum seemed to be all Fulham’s as the cries of “Going down with the Rangers” emanated from Cottagers corner of a slowly emptying Madjeski stadium.

I hate people who leave early, not only do they show lack of faith but they also get in the way as well. I must admit to doing it once as Arsenal rattled a fourth goal past us in a humiliating encounter about five years ago but to do it at 2-1 with 13 minutes remaining is, in my opinion, the act of a cretin. Anyway, these early deserters got what they deserved as what Reading lack in ability, they always try to counter with admirable belief in themselves and as a supporter you can’t help but to be endeared to that.

Fulham have always been a nice club who play in the right spirit, so to make the occasion more entertaining they decided to join in the ‘inept defending’ party by allowing Gareth McLeary to stab an 85th minute equaliser home from close range in a goal mouth melee that would soon be bettered. This stirred the brilliant Berbatov to take a pass from Sidwell on 88 minutes, before scoring with such ease you felt that he had enough time to light a cigar and have a glass of brandy before curling the ball past the desperate dive of Mcarthy.

Surely that rapier strike would leave Reading with no way back, but no, they came once again, salivating at the prospect of attacking the Fulham defence that was now in ramped up to full ‘Keystone Cops’ mode; remarkably, at 3-2 ahead, the Cottagers were there for the taking. The inevitable came with Hal Robson-Kanu poking the ball through the panic stricken Fulham defence on 90 minutes to make it 3-3 and Reading so nearly nicked it with a series of last second chances as total chaos reigned until the final whistle.

Quite what Berbatov made of all the ineptitude around him is anyone’s guess, the quality he shows on the ball sets him so far apart it is almost as if though he has a different colour kit than anyone else. When Berbatov gets the ball it’s like he is saying “Now everybody, stop all this nonsense and let me show you how you are supposed to do it.” Even as an opposing fan I felt privileged to watch him in action, he is a wonderful footballer who, with due respect to Fulham, should be gracing the grass of somewhere like the Emirates or the Etihad.

As for the prospects of Reading? Well, from what I have seen so far, they are obviously a hot prospect for the drop but if they can, from somewhere, find some quality to add to their endeavour, they may just dig themselves out of trouble. As a fan, the big fear is that if the belief starts evaporating, they will be in a huge trouble, as one look at the team sheet will tell you that there is no-one at Reading like Berbatov,  a player who came come out with something outrageous to keep them in contention.

Though there is always Jay Tabb…