Reading 1 Hull City 1

Reading 1 City 1

To the Madejski, dull and unimaginative, the most colourless of the stadiums newly built round the country these last twenty years. Outside they sit in the September sunshine on friendly wooden benches, laughing and joking, shoving down burgers on the concourse, gulping chemical lager, tasteless and bland as the out of town concrete landscape. Inside they blare out Sweet Caroline over the tannoy – Sweet Caroline, what in God’s name has that to do with the football? What has any of this to do with football? A day out for the kids, ice cream and chocolate biscuits, and fixed glassy grins whether the team wins, loses or draws.

Passion and emotion are strangers on the pitch too. This is a dull game, a game full of players of limited ability and contested by two teams frequently cancelling each other out. The only excitement of the afternoon features our stubborn attempt to hold on to a lead that would have delivered the relief of a first away win in the league for fully thirteen months. But Reading equalised late, as they (as a minimum) deserved to on the overall balance of possession.

Casting a humdrum shadow over a bright blue day in Berkshire:

McGregor

Aina Tomori Dawson Hector Kingsley

Bowen Meyler Irvine Larsson

Campbell

A 5-4-1, then, with a sturdy looking pairing in the centre of midfield, and Campbell preferred to Dicko for the thankless task of running around hopefully up front on his own. No place for Kamiel Grosicki, who’s not on the bench either, and rumoured explanations for his absence ranged from ‘tweaked a muscle playing subbuteo’, through ‘interviewing for a new agent’ to ‘poring over Mrs May’s Florence speech to see if it gives him an excuse to flee the country’. Meanwhile the hooped home side carded the indomitable Paul McShane, the reliable and well-liked Vito Mannone, and the resurgent Sone Aluko, plus another eight folk ranging from the gnarled (Chris Gunter, Gareth McCleary) to the tyro (Tyler Blackett and a diminutive midfielder name of Liam Kelly – sounds Irish, may be so, born in Basingstoke – whose demeanour and stature immediately put the drooling away fans in mind of the sublime Paul Wharton). Football time! And off we go!

Crikey this is poor fare.

The game is congested, with no space at all in the cramped midfield, and the quality is low low low.

It would be unfair to say nothing happened during the opening 27 minutes of the match, because a lot of passes were misplaced, a lot of touch was found, Stephen Kingsley wasted possession several times (on this evidence we’d be better off with Charles Kingsley) and quite a few people went to the toilet. What was not on show was any hint of footballing creativity. Until, all of a sudden, what’s this? It’s Seb Larsson playing a delicate and exquisitely beautiful through ball which splits their defence, allowing Fraizer Campbell, making an intelligent run, to hare into the created space. He doesn’t even need to break stride before sliding a confident shot past Mannone for the game’s first goal.

I’m going to confess here that, in the ground, with this moment of sorcery taking place at the far end of the pitch from the watching City support, I convinced myself it must be Jarrod Bowen who had delivered the killer pass, because I simply didn’t think Larsson capable of such joy and magnificence. But Larsson it was, and more of that skill and dash will have him firmly in our good books.

On 33, Reading advance, a slick move down our right, their left, opens us up calamitously, the ball is transferred inside and crossed to the back post, where Aluko must score.

But doesn’t. He shovels it wide of the post from close range, and turns away ruefully.

Thanks Sone. I’d like to think he did that specially for us. Except he did, when he played for us, from time to time do that sort of thing specially for us. Admirable player. No predator.

The first half has offered little, but we lead 1-0, and a dour Reading side look unlikely to hurt us. In fact the most alarming aspect of the play has been a profoundly erratic linesman, who appears to be attending his first ever football match. At one point he signalled that the ball had gone out of play (which it certainly had) and indicated that it was a Reading throw (it was ours, in fact), but, after a couple of seconds during which the ref failed to notice the raised flag, the lino simply lowered it and carried on scooting up his touchline. I’d’ve been quite cross had Reading scored after this moment of bizarre behaviour.

Second half.

And it begins with a fizz.

Aina, marauding with intent (he’s no Harry Maguire, but I like this lad carrying the ball forward a lot, and much more than I like his defensive positioning), draws a foul just outside the box, in the inside left position. Tempting. Larsson hovers over the ball, and so, peculiarly, does Stephen Kingsley (on this evidence we’d be better off with Ben Kingsley), but Larsson it is that takes it. Up and over the wall, and WHUMP the ball crashes off the angle of bar and post, and bounces back into play.

Do it again. A couple of minutes later Bowen surges forward thrillingly, plays in Campbell, who can’t get a shot away and is tackled, the ball spills to Meyler who is fouled on the edge of the box, this time in the inside right position. Larsson again. A scuffed low shot which takes a wicked deflection which, for a moment, seems likely to squirt it past Mannone’s left hand as he is moving to his right. But Mannone’s footwork is swift and agile and he adjusts to stop the ball just before it crosses the line.

Did we fear that our chances to seal the deal had come and gone? O yes, we did. We are, after all, Hull City supporters and we know despair like a pair of comfortable old shoes. It fits.

The game unfolds now with Reading in possession most of the time, yet unable to show any spark of creativity in midfield and incapable of creating space up front. The defensive shape fashioned by Mr Slutsky is strong and it is sturdy. Five across the back, four suffocating midfield. Dawson is commanding, Irvine committed, Meyler tireless. Come on, Reading, show us what you’ve got. Not much, it seems.

But you can’t help thinking we’re being too submissive. It only takes one error, and the win is squandered.

Campbell is replaced on solo patrol up front by Dicko, while Larsson gives way for Toral. Toral, again, offers nothing at all. Stephen Kingsley, meanwhile, is getting his head down and working hard and effectively, which is fortunate because I have run out of people with the surname Kingsley with which to berate him. The lithe and pacy Tomori produces a brilliant crossfield run on 84, culminating in a left foot shot that slips just beyond the far post. Deal not sealed, again. But the clock is ticking, as referee Michel Barnier notes, and we’re gonna hang on here, yes?

No.

As above, only takes one error. It’s Dicko’s, and it arrives on 87.

He receives the ball inside the Reading half. His job is clear. Hold possession. Wait for team mates to arrive in support. Pass to one of them. Retain possession in the Reading half, and squeeze the life out of their thinning hopes.

Dicko loiters and lingers, dawdles and dangles. Team-mates are arriving in faithful support, but he doesn’t feed them. He clumsily coughs up possession. Reading break, our defensive shape has been stretched, and all of a sudden the home side find a bit of space that has previously been ruthlessly denied them. Sub Bodvarsson races through the inside right channel and flays a low shot across McGregor and just inside the far post.

Bah.

Two more minutes are left and then an added three, but a stalemate descends. A melee in our box is the final moment of action, and the referee blows the whistle on a draw that had its quirky and lively moments but was largely forgettable. The clubs on show were, remember, in one case, in the Premier League last season and, in the other, just a penalty shoot-out away from reaching it. Neither looks likely to trouble the upper reaches of the Championship table this season.

Steve Weatherill

Reading 3 Hull City 1

City travel to Reading and suffer periods of extreme pressure as well as periods of parity. However a bad 90 seconds sees two goals scored and City beaten again after Nick Barmby had levelled an early opener.

56 minutes into this game, and Craig Fagan wins the ball in a tackle in midfield. The ball swirls out to the wing, beyond Fagan’s reach, but Mark Lynch, hurtling forward from right-back wins a 50/50 challenge with a nervy home defender, surges to the by-line and, ball under control, looks across to the penalty box. Ben Burgess is there, beyond the penalty spot, and Lynch picks him out with an excellent cross. Burgess heads powerfully back across the face of the goal and Nicky Barmby, typically more alert to the possibilities than anyone else on the pitch, runs in intelligently to intercept the ball and slides a deft header high past Hahnemann, the exposed home keeper.

It’s a truly superb goal. Fast, energetic, plenty of men shoved forward, and we’ve shredded the home defence. It’s an equaliser, and at 1-1 early in the second half we’ve got a big shout in this game. And for almost quarter of an hour, as the cold sky of sparkling blue gently turns roseate before surrendering to the icy grip of winter’s night, we look as capable as the homesters of collecting all three points.

Whereupon a thrilling overhead kick followed by a dazzlingly quick surgery performed bloodily on the belly of over overworked defence makes it 2-1, then 3-1. And we’re doomed.

Fact is, quite a few teams in this Division are better than us. We can fight, we can resist, and we did all of that yesterday at the Madgitski Stadium. But Reading are better than us. And we lost to them.

Plugging away in a worryingly downhill direction were:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Collins Delaney
Barmby Welsh Green Fagan
Burgess Elliott

Sort of? It was, I think, designed to serve as 4-3-3 in our more ambitious moments, and as 4-5 -1 when we needed to stifle, which was more frequent, and so a lot was asked solo of Burgess, while Fagan and Elliott, on the flanks were expected to do a lot of running and, tougher still, a lot of quick thinking and re-positioning. Still, make no mistake about it, our best and busiest player was our excellent goalkeeper. Myhill was – again – splendid yesterday and the scoreline would have been a deal more damaging had he not been.

5 minutes in and, already we’re indebted to Myhill. A well-struck left-foot half-volley from Con-vey ex-tracts a top-class leaping-save from My-hill. The subsequent corner is survived, though only after a hair-raising melee. Busy Convey is repelled for no more than three minutes and on 8 he sprints into space clear of our bemused and tattered defence and sends a hugely confident shot flying beyond Myhill to billow the net. Short of standing in Wiltshire, I could not have been worse positioned to judge whether the scorer was offside, but it seemed significant that our fans were more incensed than our players, and I suspect that one or both of Cort or Delaney had loitered to leave Convey safe from the flag.

Reading have the lead, and display no sense of urgency in a quest to extend it. On 17 Elliott and Barmby link well to set up a glimpse of a chance for Burgess, but he’s crowded out. On 19, up the other end, Lita, the former Bristol City player and a handy performer, whips in a clever overhead kick which draws a stretching save from Boaz. A minute later and we’re torn apart down our left, with Delaney AWOL and Green and Elliott scurrying in vain to cover – a cross is whipped in low, a shot is blasted goalwards, a save is made superbly to his left. It’s Boaz. He’s terrific.

Good job too. We’re second best.

Reading’s strength lies largely in a tight and tough midfield. Sidwell is, I understand, rated as tidy a player as you’ll find outside the Premiership. Well, I like to argue with orthodoxy, but I’m not bothering here. He’s a sensible player. He does his job. He doesn’t do daft stuff, or fancy stuff. I was very impressed. I like young Welsh and if with a couple of years more experience he’s as well organised and influential as Sidwell, I’ll be well ‘appy (as I believe the Redknapps would have it).

On 25 Burgess heads the ball back across the face of the box and a Cort shot is well blocked by baldy tough guy netman Hahnemann, who also leaps to his feet to stop Burgess pushing home the rebound. On 38 a well-constructed move results in a cross from the right and a looping Barmby header clips the outside of the far post. A couple of decent if sporadic efforts. But we’re a goal down at half-time and I heard no one arguing that was about right. Had I done so, you know, gentle people, I would have remonstrated with them.

The Marjoriedawski is a very fine stadium. I was a shade surprised, I’ll admit. I had it pegged as an indentikit New But Dull Stadium. After all, Elm Park was as ordinary a ground as you’d find. Perfectly pleasant, if functional – but without any single feature out of the ordinary. But the Majmahal is a steep –sided ground on three sides with a well-planned main stand to add provocative assymetry on the fourth. An engineer may be able to contradict me, but it felt steeper than St Mary’s – and certainly it seemed to be a more intense and honest arena for football than Southampton’s dull bowl. Sure, the Mahjongski scores badly for inaccessibility but once you’re inside, you’d like it, I think.

I lived in Reading in the 1980s and I like the place. Good new ground, too. Nevertheless I wish ill on the club. Music after goals. It’s unforgivable, it really is.

Out for the second half, and our chance to hurt them early on. Barmby is playing more centrally now and his influence is waxing. Elliott has a brief glimpse of goal but is foiled by a truly splendid nerveless tackle in the box by Sidwell. I was impressed by him, as I may have hinted. And then we equalised. A seriously good goal, as I’ve already told you. But then they get a second off Myhill’s fingertips and the underside of the crossbar, and, with our team looking horribly dispirited and short of a leader, they promptly scythe a path right through the middle of our defence and slide a shot across poor Boaz and inside his far post.

More bastard music.

We throw some substitutions at the problem (Fry, Paynter, Ellison), but Reading kill the game with practised expertise. The game is up.

We should, by the way, be playing in amber-and-black. Not this unsuitable and frankly undignified dark and pale nonsense.

After 89 minutes, it seems inevitable that the game will drift away as a 3-1 home win, but Lita suddenly surges into our box to convert the easiest chance of the afternoon – but he BALLOONS it high into the night sky. I do like a proper ballooning, and my goodness me this was certainly that. It’s suddenly a shade lively – on 91 Ellison, on as sub, gets no power at all on a free header only eight yards out and Hahnemann catches the effort with ease (Cuh! C’mon Kev! Balditude should be a basis for more, not less, power in a header, just go ask Andy Lochhead and Alan Gilzean), before, in the final flurry, with a knot of City fans down the front showing appealing old-style belligerence towards home fans and officious stewards alike, Myhill produces an extravagantly brilliant save far to his left.

I was back home instructing the batman to mix the pineapple daquiris by twenty past six. That was a pleasing break for me from the norm of long footballing slogs. But, as I slipped on my velvet smoking jacket and lubricated both myself and the gramophone for an evening in the company of Noel Coward, I was still a bit deflated. For the truth is my favourite football team got cuffed flat and got soundly gubbed at the Marigoldglovesski.

Let me be clear. Reading aren’t a great team. But they’re a good team, and, most of all they’re an improving team. Lately they’ve got a bit stronger each season. Likely they’ll go up to Division 1 soon, come back down, re-build, go back up, eventually try to stabilise as what they will doubtless inanely call ‘a Premiership club’. They can’t ever win it, but they can survive once they’ve done the groundwork. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s no small ambition. Outside of Chelsea, everyone’s just trying to survive at the moment. Survive, and then progress a bit. That’s what we’re doing, just less visibly at present than during most of the Taylor times.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Fagan, Green, Welsh, Elliott; Barmby, Burgess. Subs: Fry (for Elliott, 73), Ellison (for Barmby, 77), Paynter (for Burgess, 77), France, Leite.

Goals: Barmby 55

Booked: Fagan

Sent Off: None

 

READING: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Harper, Sidwell, Convey, Doyle, Lita. Subs: Oster (for Little, 76), Hunt (for Convey, 76), Obinna (for Doyle, 84), Makin, Stack.

Goals: Convey 7; Doyle 69; Little 70

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: C Penton

ATTENDANCE: 17,864