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Reading 0 Watford 2 (29/08/2018) 30/08/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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This is, by necessity, a half hour report.  Apologies for consequent scruffiness…

1- There are certain prerequisites when it comes to the early stages of the Rumbelows Cup.  Some of these are met in sunny Berkshire tonight…  a half-empty stadium (albeit a respectable enough 2500 make the short journey from Hertfordshire), much-changed starting line-ups (eleven changes for the Golden Boys in the green away kit’s first outing).  Check, check.

In other respects, Javi and the team haven’t got the memo at all.  This is, notoriously, a high-risk fixture.  For many years we postulated that the first round of the Milk Cup existed in some sort of time warp, a vortex of slow, dull, half-arsed football against interchangeable lower division opposition.  We dip into the same fixture once a year, some of us make it out alive, others lost in action.  Collateral damage, lost somewhere chewing their fists in an abandoned corner of time and space.

Should add as an aside that Reading are hardly cut from the same cloth as the stuff of our nightmares… you can dig around and find match reports from games against Cheltenham, Accrington, Cambridge, Notts County if you’re sufficiently motivated. Not to disparage such clubs or their support but… these games have been atrocious. I won’t provide hyperlinks for fear of sucking in the carelessly curious.  These are things that should only be taken on by those committed enough to live with the consequences.

Anyhow, as above, the Hornets haven’t read the brief.  This is actually rather fun.

2- I won’t dwell too long on the actual cut and thrust.  This was a painfully one sided game for the most part, as a game between the reserve side of a three-years-in Premier League club and a scratch side of a struggling Championship side ought to be, perhaps.  Only at 2-0 down, fuelled by a couple of second half subs, did the home side threaten very much ;  even then McNulty’s gentle lob over the onrushing Gomes gave the impeccable skipper Mariappa time to do a couple of stretches whilst waiting for the ball to drop and be cleared.  By that time we should really have been further ahead.  Make no mistake, this was comfortable and the margin of victory should probably have been greater.

No side is flattered when viewed through the prism of an early Worthington Cup tie of course, albeit that someone was overheard to observe that the Madejski Stadium is greatly enhanced by an absence of Reading fans.  But the place felt very flat, very tatty, and not at all upwardly mobile – an impression not enhanced by their side’s almost complete lack of cutting edge.  Never was the contrast greater than when Abdoulaye Doucouré rolled off the bench to replace the tiring Quina, a true heavyweight in the context of this game with an aura to match.  He didn’t (have to) do a lot, one thunderous run through the centre which was harshly if inconsequentially curtailed for a foul.  But his presence underlined the degree to which these two regular sparring partners have, for the moment at least, drifted apart.

3- Of particular interest was a chance to see the new boys in action, players whose introduction has been particularly cautious in the context of the strong start to the season under the old(er) guard.  It could be argued of course that both Marc Navarro and Adam Masina, both making their first appearances here, have already had an impact in that their presence has contributed to much more disciplined performances by our regular full backs.  Here, both did well enough;  Navarro perhaps the more impressive.  The young full back looked strong and athletic, growing in confidence as the game went on, you wouldn’t worry about needing him in the first team already.  On the other flank Masina contributed the cross to Success’ impudent goal, but was less of a bully than his imposing frame suggested he might be and was beaten to a far post cross by Reading skipper Liam Moore despite being 6’3″.

Perhaps most impressive of the new players was the relatively unheralded Ben Wilmot, who appeared to start at the back of midfield before dropping into the centre of a defensive trio.  He looks slight of frame but almost unnervingly composed for an eighteen year old, a thoroughly encouraging performance from the youngster.  Only during Reading’s late rally did he resort to thumping clearances out of defence, perhaps due to fatigue, but you wouldn’t question his decision making there either in the circumstances.

Ken Sema has featured off the bench, and did an adequate if less flashy job here, a tidy but less conspicuous contribution he seemed to tire early.  And then there was Quina;  conspicuous by his diminutive stature, he was full of tricks in his central role displaying tight control, tenacity, and a degree of healthy arrogance.  His decision making wasn’t always the best, he seemed to rein in a desire to do it all himself after an early touchline conference with his manager, but hell he’s 18 and he doesn’t half have some ability.  And the goal was ridiculous of course, picking up a loose clearance from a corner and shovelling it into the postage stamp with his left foot from 30 yards.  Not dull.  Not dull at all.

4- For me, the highlight however was Nathaniel Chalobah.  No mystery about this, no surprise.  Of all our missing star midfielders he’s the one that you’d still be tempted to crowbar straight into the first team despite our excellent start.  But after a year out, a year that saw an innocuous injury wipe out his season and his chances of going to the World Cup it wasn’t half good to see him on the pitch again.

And he was magnificent, albeit against limited opposition.  Twice he dropped outrageous passes over the bamboozled Reading defence, once onto the head of the industrious Femenía steaming in at the far post, another picking out a clever run from the persistent Success that Reading’s defence hadn’t seen at all.  Late in the second half a rare frustrated challenge by an opponent in a game that was relatively free of such stuff saw the unfortunate aggressor simply bounce off Chalobah, who barely seemed to have noticed.

Only as the game drew to a close was there cause for concern, as Chalobah’s slight limp became increasingly pronounced, clearly hampering his mobility to the point where he signalled to the bench to be replaced.  Our hearts were in our mouths;  cramp has been suggested, it really didn’t look like cramp.  The sight, therefore, of Chalobah making a late solo return to the pitch to acknowledge the crowd, grinning his face off and unencumbered by icepacks or the like, was the highlight of the evening.

5- Onwards and upwards then.  Confirmation of Chalobah’s fitness nothwithstanding this couldn’t really have gone any better. Decent-to-strong contributions from all of the new boys, unquestionably greater strength in depth all round;  our “second eleven” didn’t feature the injury Cleverley, Deulofeu, Britos, Kaboul, the mythical Peñaranda.

We’re in a very good place.  Someone rubbish at home in the next round of the Coca Cola Cup please (“someone rubbish away” – a club spokesman).

In the meantime, the small matter of Spurs on Sunday.  Bring them on.  Yoooooorns….

Gomes 3, Navarro 4, Masina 3, Prödl 3, Wilmot 4, Mariappa 4, Femenía 4, Quina 4, *Chalobah 5*, Sema 3, Sucess 4
Subs:  Okaka (for Sema, 65) 3, Doucouré (for Quina, 82) 0, Hughes (for Chalobah, 86) 0, Cathcart, Janmaat, Gray, Dahlberg

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Comments»

1. Andrew Hinds - 30/08/2018

I remember some of those Carling Cup games and am deeply indebted to you for not providing the hyperlinks.

2. Jeff Lloyd - 30/08/2018

I enjoyed the game as a first ever Milk Cup outing for me (I live down the road from Reading so nice to drive for 20 minutes to the ground rather than my usual 60 mins to the Vic!). Thought Chalobah was exceptional as you pointed out although I thought Masina slightly better than Navarro who seemed to be a bit off the pace. Speaking of which Prodl looked like he’d been the one out for 6 months with a bust kneecap. A 3 was very generous. I was also a bit disappointed in Sema whose brief cameos have had him marked down as ‘useful’ in the league but here I thought he’d set the place alight and he absolutely didn’t. Lastly, Success is one who’ll benefit from game time more than any other player I’d say.
COYH!

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2018

Agree with lots of that Jeff. Seb I thought improved as the game went on but, no, it wasn’t a solid 3. We discussed that Mariappa seems to be the first cab off the rank if needed, simply because Seb always seems to need time to get going. Success. Yes..

3. ukmalc - 30/08/2018

Talk of “slight frames” remind me of a young John Barnes before GT worked his magic. All in all the future seems very bright for the Golden boys. COYH!

4. JohnF - 30/08/2018

I couldn’t go to the game so I listened to Radio Berks (the Reading commentary) instead and it was hilarious. Suffice to say they thought we were brilliant and the quality so much greater. When contrasting the relative fortunes of the two clubs one said we were obviously shopping in different places with the response Watford in Harrods and Reading in Lidl. Much praise for Javi Gracia and the way he has the squad responding.


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