A game of two halves…

March 8, 2010

‘Gutted, but proud.’ It’s difficult to find better-placed words to sum up a game in which the Reading fans could almost taste the Wembley air than the ones that Brian McDermott chose after a second-half capitulation saw the Royals surrender a 2-0 half-time lead. Complacency set in at the Madejski Stadium, both on the pitch and in the stands, after a first-half display so dominant and commading that every blue and white shirt let their mind wander to thoughts of a famous semi-final.

Aston Villa had other ideas though and came flying out of the traps, stepped up the pace and Reading were unable to cope with the immense pressure that our illustrious opponents put upon us. We had worked brilliantly as a defensive unit in the first-half, keeping the likes of Carew, Young, Milner, Downing et al very quiet, but they exploded into life in the second. The big Norwegian John Carew, in particular, tore our defence to shreds with his power. Although we fought back bravely after being heavily rocked in a 15 minute spell in which Adam Federici had to pick the ball out of his net three times, lady luck was not on our side and Villa hung on before winning a last minute penalty to make it safe.

Reading needed to keep it tight for ten minutes or so after the restart to make it more difficult for Villa, but the early goal gave them the confidence boost they needed. Martin O’Neill had clearly given them a rollicking during the interval and they were well up for it. As Henry Winter said on Twitter, the best managers earn their corn at half-time and O’Neill is a very good manager indeed. It’s easy to be wise after the event, but perhaps we should have gone 4-5-1 to squeeze the game a bit more after that first goal and congest Villa’s talented midfield. As I say though; it’s a lot easier to say that when you know the final outcome.

Let’s not dwell on the negative points though because, in truth, we lost a very good quarter-final to a very good team and there is no shame in that whatsoever. What’s more, we produced a first-half performance that will live in the memories for a long time to come. We outplayed our more illustrious opponents and were thoroughly good value for our 2-0 half-time lead. Jimmy Kebe was outstanding, Shane Long clinical and Jay Tabb a human dynamo in the centre of midfield, keeping Villa quiet.

The second goal in particular was a great piece of play by a team that Brian McDermott has given belief to. Sigurdsson’s ball through to Kebe was sublime and the Malian is playing out of his skin at the moment. The old Jimmy might have run into a blind alley, beat the defender and fallen over or overhit a cross past the back post. Not now though. He used his pace to soar away from the full-back, but also got his head up to pick out a pass to Long who had peeled off in the centre and made no mistake with the finish. A great breakaway goal and one that nearly took the roof off the stadium.

The atmosphere in the Madejski stands was probably the most bouyant since those heady days back in the record-breaking season and not just when we were winning. The fans were in great voice up until the point where Reading had the stuffing well and truly kicked out of them and it was great to see the stadium full again and fully behind the team. It’s not been an easy season, but the fans had something to cheer and be proud of once again.

Even though the result didn’t go our way, we can be truly proud of the performance the team displayed in our first quarter-final for 83 years and this years cup run altogether. We played good football throughout, scored good goals and made a few people sit up and take notice of this side. It won Brian McDermott both the job and his burgeoning reputation. It revitalised the team’s league form and gave several players, not least Shane Long, the confidence to hit form. It’s been a very welcome tonic.


Five a day keeps relegation at bay

February 27, 2010

Guest post from Helen Bullen, football tweeter extraordinaire

After Wednesday night’s heroics at the Hawthorns, I arrived at the Mad Stad today wondering if it had been a game too far for us – would we be able to keep up this rich vein of form?

Yet all of a sudden, Jimmy Kebe, a player ridiculed on a regular basis for his supposed lack of strength and scoring ability, is on fire. So too ‘The Sig’ and our very own Welsh Wizard, Simon Church. However, as those of us who follow the best league in the world know all too well, the form book can go sailing out of the window at any point in proceedings.

The game started well enough, but despite forcing corners at an alarming rate of knots, Reading couldn’t make their early dominance pay. It soon became apparent that Sheffield Wednesday had come down for a wrestling contest; looking as if they’d have been more at home in the ring with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks (ask your Dad, folks), whilst the referee was clearly on some sort of bonus scheme for managing to keep his cards firmly in his pocket.

The first goal came out of nothing, three minutes before half time. Kebe strolled with the ball up the right towards the Wednesday goal and let fly, the shot deflecting past Lee Grant, who was shortly to be picking the ball out of the back of his net again, this time courtesy of Grzegorz Rasiak.

Two up at half time, results elsewhere were also looking good and I started to believe that just maybe we were going to stay in this game and possibly even see it through to a clean sheet. The only person in the ground at this point who didn’t want to see more goals was my friend who sits behind me. Well, she did have money on Reading winning 2-0 and Kebe scoring first at about 30-1.

Sure enough, seven minutes after the re-start, poor old Lee Grant was once again left high and dry when Simon Church slotted the third past him. That said, I was about to take the Lord’s name in vain when he didn’t take the shot in front of goal – he wandered out to the right and we were all wondering where the hell he was going!

There was a feeling now that Wednesday were in for, in the words of that Norwegian commentator, ‘a helluva beating’ and Rasiak obliged by scoring the fourth after 65 minutes, ably assisted by our Jimmy, who completed the rout himself on 70 minutes and was promptly subbed to quite possibly his first Mad Stad standing ovation. Despite the best efforts of Nigel Gibbs and the East Stand, he declined to ‘give us a wave’ though. Probably because he can’t understand a word anyone’s saying!

At this point, Stavros Fatley in the away end decided even he’d had enough – having missed our first two goals while cleaning the South stand out of pies – and exited stage left. Well, it’s a long way back oop North, t’int it?

Twitter for Reading fans

February 26, 2010

Like Reading FC? Confused by Twitter? You’re (probably) not alone. When it comes to following our club on the social networking site, there is a lot to be got out of it, but when you first sign-up it doesn’t always feel that way. Here is a guide to getting the most out of Twitter in regards to our club.

So you’ve signed up, chosen a username and a shiny new avatar for yourself. Now what? Well you’re probably staring at a blank screen urging you to share your thoughts with a world that doesn’t care as you don’t have any followers. Here are a few good users to follow to get you started.

  • @TheReadingFan:Well, obviously. Match updates, opinions, blogs etc…
  • @JonnyFordham: Reporter on Reading F.C for the Reading Post. Adds colour to the games you can’t make, behind-the-scenes information and is very good at interacting with his followers.
  • @106points: Opinionated tweeter and keeper of the 106 points blog.
  • @boyhunt: Well, because it’s Noel Hunt. Probably. I was sceptical at first, but everyone seems to accept that it’s the real deal so that’ll do for me.
  • @PAN1F: Loves the football, loves our club and loves Twitter. Always good for a bit of matchday banter and, boys, she’s single…
  • @urzz1871: Works with STAR and never seems to miss a Reading game, come rain or shine.
  • @rayvonchong: Reading fan and lover of #followfriday so that you can always find new Reading fans.
  • @BusyJordo: Another big Reading fan and a friend of Brendan Rodgers (but don’t hold that against him…)
  • @readingfc: Aggbot that posts links to news about Reading FC from all around the web. Useful for getting the news first.
  • @backtheboys: The official Twitter account for the PA team at the Madejski Stadium, they post everything you need to know and more from the home games.
  • @stevejourno: Student journalist and Reading fan, Steve likes to share a strong opinion or two on our boys.
  • @Urzzz: The name gives it away and he absolutely “workships” Jimmy Kebe (may be sarcastic…)
  • @Brownie1871: He’s an accountant, but he’s not boring. More than just a football poster too.
  • @MeganDouglasx: Twitter addict and Reading lover, although she tweets on much more than just us!
  • @BrianDavisRFC: Reading FC season ticket holder and an American Football fan to boot
  • @allow_this: Reading fan and talented photographer by the looks of his Flickr profile
  • @jhoneyball: Local guy and good for matchday updates.

Phew…! That should be enough to get you started and you should soon start seeing a fair few tweets about our fair club seeping into your feed. If you wish to respond to any of these, just prefix your tweet with the persons name and an ‘@’ sign. For example: “@TheReadingFan What a load of old pony you’ve just written”

If you’re writing something Reading FC related then it’s always useful to add an #readingfc tag to it. This means that it will get stored with all the other things written about the club and makes it easy for other people to find tweets about the subject. Should you wish to read what everyone is saying yourself, just enter #readingfc into the search box on the right-hand side.

For further Reading tweeters, here is a full list. If you’re not on it and should be, just let me know. Similarly if you sign up and want to be on it, you know what to do.

The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw

February 25, 2010

From The Guardian’s Classic YouTube blog, Richard Wickson talks about Robin Friday, the greatest footballer you never saw.

You search for it; I blog about it

February 25, 2010

The great thing about blogging on WordPress is that it tells you what search terms people used to find your blog. These are often quite bizarre and make you wonder how on earth they ended up on The Reading Fan and, more so, how disappointed they must have been when they arrived here and realised that, actually, this is neither a book club nor a dating site for potential wags to meet their future footballer husbands. But hey, never say that I’m not a traffic whore, so excuse me as I expand on some of the latest ways I’ve been stumbled upon.

Song for Jimmy Kebe

I’ve heard the East Stand sing ‘Run, run, run, run Jimmy’ a few times. I quite like that. My dad persists with singing ‘Poor little Jimmy’ by, I think, The Undertones. It hasn’t caught on; I can’t think why.

Rodgers v McDermott Reading

Well this is a blog for another day really. I may be selective with my facts somewhat, given that I prefer to count McDermott from when he was given the job full-time, but either way, his record is the superior of the two. I didn’t care much for Rodgers by the time he left and I care for him even less now that I see what his successor has achieved with the same resources. But as I say, a blog for another day.

Tim Dellor Brendan Rodgers interview

Loads of people search for variations on this. See here.

Elm Park Reading

A beautiful, magical place where Reading used to play their football and I, as an idiotic young boy, lost my two front teeth. I still have this image in a frame knocking about somewhere.

reading books fan

This is about Reading, the football club. Not the art of reading. Although you may find this blog post to your liking.

Steve Curtis Reading

No idea how you found me by searching for this fine, young gentleman.

Brian Howard girlfriend Reading

You wouldn’t believe how regularly this appears in my search terms. So much so that it’s actually in my ‘top searches’ box. I’ve no idea whether our dashing midfielder is currently betrothed or otherwise, but he sure seems to have plenty of admirers.

opinion piece Reading class

Thanks very much.

Book review: Steve Coppell: On a Wing and a Prayer

February 11, 2010

Put simply, Steve Coppell was the most successful manager Reading Football Club has ever seen. The architect behind the record-breaking season that saw the Royals promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history and the man who nearly took them to Europe the very next year, Coppell is a true Reading legend. Yet he is also so much more. The flying winger that helped Manchester United to an FA cup victory and represented England at the 1982 World Cup, Coppell was described by fellow profession Martin Buchan as more valuable than Best, Charlton or Law. In management he is not only a Reading legend, but a Crystal Palace one too, having also taken them to the promised land and the FA cup final with a team built up with the likes of Ian Wright, Nigel Martyn and John Salako. Steve Coppell is, put simply, a legend.

Stuart Roach’s biography neatly intersperses Coppell’s playing career with the club management that he began as Crystal Palace boss at the tender age of 29. As a Reading fan, the temptation is always to skip to the chapters involving our club, but the author draws out the interesting back-stories that define Steve Coppell as a player, manager and man from his numerous interviewees. The structure of the book alternates between player and manager, which does disrupt the flow of the story, but also guards it from going stale.

Despite Roach’s connections with Reading, he supports the club and previously wrote Reading between the lines, a diary of the clubs maiden season in the Premier League, it is actually the numerous chapters on Coppell’s time at Crystal Palace that provide the most insight into the man. Not unlike his time at Reading, Coppell gradually built up a team that could compete at the highest level, but struggled to maintain that form as his side began to break up. The gulf between the top teams and the rest was less extreme back then though, and Palace were able to enjoy a third place finish and an FA cup final under Coppell’s tenure.

His story at Reading makes up the final few chapters and, in keeping with the rest of the book, is told through the eyes of those that worked with him, namely the former Reading captain Graeme Murty and Glen Little. Both have plenty of stories to tell about the man, but still find it difficult to shed much more light onto the private demeanor that Coppell has always maintained. The chapters serve to jog the glorious memories that Reading fans have of the most successful period in their history, but struggle to tell us anything we didn’t already know about the man that spearheaded them.

The one thing that this book lacks is the one thing that Roach admits he had little chance of getting; input from the great man himself. But unless Steve Coppell breaks the habit of a lifetime and writes his own tell-all book, this is the most complete and colourful representation you will ever read of the man who has brought so much to football. And what more could a Reading fan wish for than that?

Buy ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ on Amazon

McDermott’s hat-trick leaves Royals on cloud nine

February 10, 2010

A last-minute penalty hits the back of the net to maintain the new managers perfect record since taking over the club where he has spent nearly ten years working his way up to the top spot. The goal brings them within a point of escaping the relegation zone and it’s three wins out of three now from the man who was only expected to keep the hotseat warm until a new man was brought in to steady the ship. The fans, dubious at his appointment, now sing his name to the rafters. The key player behind this revival? The much-maligned Shane Long, a man whose confidence had been shot under the previous management and most had given up on, has four goals to his name from McDermott’s opening games, having not previously scored all season. It’s a fairytale start for the new man and the light is just beginning to shine over the Madejski Stadium once more.

Brian McDermott was in a tough position when he accepted the permanent role as Reading manager. His team had just 23 points from 26 games and were firmly in the middle of a relegation battle. His own caretaker stint hadn’t brought much more league success, with just two points from the five matches he had been in charge for. His FA cup successes against Premier League opposition in Liverpool and Burnley were what won him the role though and he was given the opportunity to stop the rot that had set in during Steve Coppell’s last six months at the club and exacerbated under the disastrous Rodgers regime.

Although admittedly easier ties on paper, McDermott’s results since taking the job stand for themselves. Reading still find themselves in the relegation zone and will still need to scrap to survive, but there is a more confident air about the club these days. The defence is by no means watertight, but is less leaky than before while the first eleven are a more structured unit that work together. His tactics may be more simple than the ‘world-class’ model adapted by Brendan Rodgers, but they are also more effective, particularly in a team that finds itself scrapping for it’s Championship status. The move to 4-5-1 at Doncaster may have brought about groans, but it was an inspired move that did not allow our midfield to be overran. Then it was back to 4-4-2 for a home game at Plymouth, which again proved to be the right decision, if only just.

The new man is no mug; he has learnt his trade in the reserves league and learnt it well. He knows that to build a team, you need to start at the back and that is exactly what he has done in the January transfer window. The troublesome right-back position has been filled in the shape of experienced Stoke ex-captain, Andy Griffin, whose presence has shored up the back line. Also coming in is the Georgian international Zurab Khizanishvili, who has bags of top-flight experience and provides a much-studier centre-back alternative than Alex Pearce. Whilst it is always nice to see young players given their chance, Shaun Cummings and Pearce were two names that needed replacing for this relegation battle and McDermott wasted no time in doing so.

He has also helped some struggling names to find their form, none more so than Shane Long. Having barely featured under Rodgers, he now has four goals from three games and looks a genuine threat. He still has his limitations, sure, but something has changed with Long since McDermott took over. Brian Howard too has started to show his influence over games more and the team has even managed to cope with the injury of top-scorer and all-round golden boy Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Whilst it’s way too early for bold predictions or to get carried away under the new regime, the signs are looking encouraging. The Royals now find themselves just one point from safety and, whisper it, 11 from the play-offs. If you’re reading, Iain Dowie, switch your phone on. Brian McDermott may just be looking to you for tips if this run continues.