Town 1-1 Reading
Saturday, 9th Aug 2003 18:32
An injury time Tommy Miller penalty saved Town's blushes as they rarely looked at their best against Reading in the opening game of the season at a sweltering Portman Road. The visitors had gone ahead through Steven Sidwell in a game of few chances at either end.
Town lined up with all three signings in the expected 4-3-3 formation, and one of them, Drissa Diallo was quickly in the thick of the action, picking up a yellow card for pulling back Nicky Forster on the Reading right in the first 10 seconds. Surely the quickest booking of any Town league career.
In the second minute Steve Brown became the first Reading player to enter the book when he went through the back of Pablo Couñago's legs on halfway.
On nine Richard Naylor put in a fine challenge on Andy Hughes on the edge of the area after Chris Makin had given the ball away. Had Naylor not challenged then the Royals could well have gone one ahead.
Town's first chance came in the 14th minute when Darren Bent's header from a deep Jim Magilton freekick on the right was deflected wide. The freekick had been awarded after Marcus Bent had beaten a defender and had been pulled back in a very similar way to Diallo earlier. However, on this occasion referee Brian Curson, who refereed the two sides at the Madejski Stadium last season, felt no card was warranted.
A minute later a fine Town passing move ended with Marcus Bent teeing up Tommy Miller whose shot was deflected away. Half the Town side had been involved in the build-up down the right.
Pablo Couñago made a trademark strong run on 23 but he perhaps took the ball too far and was unable to put in a shot. The game was almost entirely all Town at this stage but with the Royals, with just one man up front, defending stoutly and preventing serious scoring opportunities.
Miller had another try a couple of minutes later but saw his shot fly over Hahnemann's goal while New Reading signing Scott Murray appeared to bundle a cross from the left wide with his hand after getting away from Chris Makin.
On the half hour Fabian Wilnis timed a challenge on Forster well inside the area as the striker ran on to a Goater through ball.
New keeper Kelvin Davis impressed his new supporters in the 34th minute with a fine save to his right from a Forster shot from a tight angle on the right after the striker had got away from Richard Naylor.
Reading were starting to get their passing together in the closing stages of the half and in the 36th minute a neat interchange saw the ball fall for Hughes just inside the area. Sadly for Reading fans he belted his shot into orbit, wasting perhaps the best chance of the first half.
For Town, Santos in the centre of midfield, went close with a 25 yard shot from a Couñago lay-off. His well-struck effort flew just wide of the Reading goal.
Just before the break Marcus Bent twisted and turned before hitting a shot over the bar.
Town hadn't been at their best with the numerous Reading defenders making it difficult for the three-man Blues attack.
After only two minutes of the second half Joe Royle decided to make a switch, Martijn Reuser coming on for Darren Bent and moving to a left midfield role, Tommy Miller moving to a wider role on the right.
Almost immediately Reuser was provided with a chance to take one of his custom freekicks. Encroachment by Steven Sidwell after a foul 30 yards out saw the kick moved in 10 and Sidwell awarded a yellow card. The Dutchman's effort struck the wall and the danger was gone.
On 54 Sidwell was again in the thick of the action as an aerial challenge with Jim Magilton left the Town skipper on the ground and receiving treatment for some while. No action other than a freekick was taken by referee Curson.
Sidwell continued to hog much of the attention with a late tackle on Fabian Wilnis as the defender tried to bring the ball out of the Town area. When Mr Curson called him over a second yellow card appeared likely, however a lengthy lecture was all that was administered.
Two minutes later it was Sidwell who would put the Royals ahead from a Forster cross from the left. Forster had been allowed to get away down the Reading left and Joe Royle will be unhappy with the way that Sidwell was left unmarked in the centre, Chris Makin just failing to get back to cover as Sidwell beat the blameless Davis.
Four minutes later Sidwell was subbed to widespread boos, John Salako taking his place.
Town were making little headway up front and Reading could have gone two-up through Andy Hughes, Drissa Diallo heading his shot over the bar.
Joe Royle decided to bring Matt Richards on for Fabian Wilnis who may have been suffering the effects of the earlier challenge by Sidwell. Richards moved to left-back with Chris Makin swapping to the right.
With 15 minutes left Georges Santos hit a shot over, one of few actual attempts from the Blues. All too often the ball was passed about on the edge of the area only for a Reading toe to clear.
On 77 the game swung dramatically Town's way. Tommy Miller played an inch perfect pass through for Pablo Couñago to chase only for Nicky Shorey to pull him back just before the Spaniard entered the area. It was an easy decision for the referee to make with Shorey the last man and there seemed little argument, although the Reading players did their best to find one.
Matt Richards, Town's only left-footed player, took the kick but sent it high and wide, wasting a good opportunity.
The latter stages of the game were punctuated by a number of Reading players going to ground and requiring treatment. As a result there was little flow while Town periodically pressured without creating too much of note, crosses flying either too high or too deep or to the first Reading defender.
Joe Royle threw on Dean Bowditch for Georges Santos in the 86th minute as Town went after an equaliser against the 10 men..
Brian Curson's four minutes of stoppage time hardly seemed adequate for the number of injury stoppages (extended by much-required drinks breaks all round) and the amount of time Marcus Hahnemann took over his second half goalkicks.
Town continued to push and, just as it seemed a goal wouldn't come, captain Jim Magilton skipped past Steve Brown on the left inside the area only for the defender to clip him, and send him to the ground. Reading protested, Graeme Murty too much, referee Curson producing another yellow card.
Tommy Miller looked as calm as ever despite the lengthy protests and tucked his kick away to Hahnemann's left, the keeper going the wrong way.
Shortly afterwards the whistle went, prompting more protests to erupt amongst the visitors , sub Jon Mackie lucky not to get himself in the book or worse with an extensive burst of vitriol aimed into the referee's face.
Not the best performance the Blues will put in this season and the lack of chances created will be something which Joe Royle may be concerned about. That said, Reading are one of the more fancied sides in the division and the Royals were also restricted to few efforts, Shaun Goater, playing a surprisingly deep role, not even having a shot on goal.
Town: Davis, Wilnis (Richards 72), Makin, Naylor, Diallo, Santos (Bowditch 86), Magilton, Miller, Couñago, M Bent, D Bent (Reuser 47).
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