MATCH REPORT: 2007/2008 Season

24 February 2008: FA PREMIER LEAGUE
Reading: Shorey (90 mins).
Aston Villa: Young (45 mins), Harewood (83 mins).
Half Time: 0-1
Attendance: 23,889

Pos Team P Pts GD
17 Birmingham 26 23 -13
18 READING 27 22 -24
19 Fulham 27 19 -20
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Cisse (Ingimarsson 71), Sonko, Shorey, Oster (Kebe 58), Harper, Matejovsky, Hunt, Doyle (Long 71), Kitson. Subs Not Used: Federici, Bikey.
Aston Villa: Carson, Gardner, Laursen, Davies, Bouma, Young, Reo-Coker (Osbourne 86), Barry, Maloney (Harewood 73), Carew, Agbonlahor. Subs Not Used: Taylor, Knight, Salifou.
Reading: Sonko, Matejovsky.
Aston Villa: Gardner
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
The afternoon began with John Madejski punching the air defiantly in the face of relegation and in the match day programme he urged the fans to turn the stadium into a 'cauldron of optimism that will strike fear and trepidation into the visiting teams'. Perhaps it will work next time. Villa were in to mood to be intimidated, and although the Royals huffed and puffed they never looked like getting anything out of this game. As for the 'cauldron of optimism', it was half empty soon after Villa's second goal ended Reading's faint hope of salvaging a point. The home fans were very subdued during the second half. Even when Carson had to react quickly to block a glancing header from Shorey's excellent free kick there was hardly a murmur from the crowd. Harper waved his arms to whip up some enthusiasm but he was flogging a dead horse, depression seemed to have set in. A that point I began to feel sorry for the players who were already facing an uphill struggle.

Although Villa were always in control, Reading did show one or two flashes of neat passing but enough to mount any real pressure on the visitors defence. I was surprised to see Oster start the game and his contribution was negligible. He was ineffective out wide and often not there when he was needed. Doyle continued to work hard but did not even come close to getting into a scoring position. Villa looked dangerous on the break with Carew causing problems in the air and Agbonlahor's pace gave Sonko and Cisse an uncomfortable afternoon. It was the referee who was the centre of attention in the first half making a much higher that average number of awful decisions. His most glaring error was to award a penalty when a fiercely driven shot struck a Reading player in the box and he unbelievably pointed to the spot. I'm no referee but I was sure there had to be at least some degree of intent before a penalty could be awarded! Anyway Barry matched his incompetence by hoofing the spot kick into the stands. Perhaps he felt guilty about the injustice of the decision.

Villa finally took the lead just before half time when Cisse made the sort of schoolboy error which can only be excused because he is really a midfield player who happened to have a couple of good games as a makeshift centre back. He went for a ball he was never likely to reach and allowed Agbonlahor to get goal side. A simple pass to Young found Reading outnumbered at the back, and he lashed it into the net, His task was made easier by Hahnemann who decide to sit down as he shot.

Villa were content to sit back more in the second half and hit Reading on the break. Even Agbonlahor was pulled back for corners. Oster was replaced by Kebe who looked pacy but a bit raw. Cisse and Doyle were replaced by Long and Ingimarsson which made little difference as Reading became increasingly desperate. The home fans were almost silent by now as yet another defeat loomed. The most likely source of the next goal was Villa's counter attacks and in the eighty-second minute Harewood ended a swift foray with a superbly struck curling shot. Kitson wasted Reading's best opportunity created by some sloppy play at the back by Villa. Instead of slipping the ball inside to Doyle he hit a wild shot into the crowd from a long way out. I was beginning to wonder where Reading's next goal would come from when Shorey squeezed a free kick inside the post to give the Royals their first goal at home since December. It was too late too matter.

The harsh realty of the situation is that the current team is not as strong as the team which ran away with the Championship two seasons ago. Not only has the personnel changed but the system which served the team so well has been eroded. There were times today when the team lost its shape and looked very ragged and disorganised. With Little injured, Convey out of action and out of form Reading have lost their cutting edge. Doyle is finding the Premiership tougher this year and Sidwell has never been adequately replaced. Reading can stay up, but today the lack of confidence from players and fans was a real worry. Fortunately we have a manager who will keep a clear head and get the best out of the current squad.
John Wells

Nothing typifies and demonstrates our current dilemma that this abject performance against Villa . It's like somebody has pulled the plug out and everything we achieved and stood for last season has just simply disappeared down the hole . With eleven games left we need at least five wins , not impossible but almost after our eighth consecutive defeat. Anger is the immediate emotion as it's as clear as night follows day that the clubs naive and unbelievable decision not to invest in the squad as backfired with disastrous consequences and will haunt the club for who knows how long ? It's no good JM whirling his arms around before kick off trying to stir the fans up , there's no problem with fans , it's the so called upstairs management of the club he should be firing up with a rocket up their backsides . The likes of Wigan , Bolton ,Sunderland and Birmingham will be laughing their socks off as we go down like a lame duck . All those sides have invested , not breaking the bank in the process and look where they are now . We are simply not good enough and certain players are now becoming a liability , they've simply have run out of ideas and steam and find themselves playing out of position .No point naming names we all know who they are . We now need a miracle to stop this slump and stay up , who can hand on heart say that will happen , not me .
Nick Newbury

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When the local newspaper offers impassioned support to its leading football club, you know the team are in trouble. Thus, the “Keepy Uppy” campaign of the Reading Evening Post says it all. The town’s side are in free-fall and the statistics are damning. Reading’s eighth successive league defeat, against Aston Villa yesterday, set a club record. It was also their twentieth consecutive match without a clean sheet. Until Nicky Shorey clipped in a 25-yard free kick deep into stoppage time, Reading had gone 544 minutes without a goal. The “cauldron of optimism” that John Madejski, the chairman, had called for before kick-off had long become a hush of frustration. If the result was poor, the display barely merited anything better. It was no way in which to mark Steve Coppell’s 800th league match as a manager, though it did at least give him the ammunition to make wholesale changes. His patience has snapped. “Maybe I’ve been too loyal to the players,” Coppell said. “There might be four or five changes for the next game [away to Middlesbrough]. Some players are just not delivering. We’ve got to break the cycle.”
Russell Kempson

...the loss was their eighth on the trot and the foundations for it were set early on. The home side's defence had looked uncertain at the start and it was a sign of things to come as they gave the home fans plenty of cause for concern. Any promise that James Harper's early shot, which stung the hands of Scot Carson, had briefly given the Royals quickly evaporated by a shaky back-line.