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Reading 2 Watford 2 (04/02/2023) 05/02/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  I can’t claim to have had a close relationship with Oli Phillips.  We met a couple of times, he was kind enough to provide some appropriate words for the back of the book. Others have written meaningful and informed testimonies about the man himself.

I often find my reaction to the passing of people that I didn’t know personally… stilted.  Limited, even if they were people I kind of respected.  I remember my now wife being aghast at my lack of hand-wringing  when Diana passed away, horrible and tragic as that was.  But the passing of someone who…  you rely on in some sense, or have relied on, is different.  When I heard of John Peel’s death whilst driving up to Bramall Lane in 2004 I had to stop the car and sat blinking on the hard shoulder.  All I really remember about the game was that, without fanfare or explanation, they played “Teenage Kicks” over the tannoy pre-match, the memory of which makes me well up.  

And this was kinda similar.  As with everyone above a Certain Age, Oli’s words in the Watford Observer on a Friday were gospel.  On three separate occasions – first when we lived in Germany in the mid-eighties, then at University, and finally when I worked in Vienna in the late nineties (at which point I started writing for BSaD I was the grateful recipient of one set of what testimonies suggest were hundreds if not thousands of copies of the WObby sports pages carefully extracted and dispatched to the furthest reaches of the globe. 

Oli was a very fine journalist, we were lucky to have him.  That much goes without saying, but it was more than that.  If Graham Taylor, another whose passing affected so many very profoundly, moulded how those who watched his teams and the generations to follow thought about supporting their club, Oliver Phillips fashioned how we analysed a game.  The original “critical friend” before that label was even concocted, he encouraged a balance, candour and humour that will have unconsciously and incidentally shaped the attitudes of all of those who read his words.  We have all benefitted from this whether we read his reports and columns or not.   

Cheers Oli, and RIP.

2- It’s been a breathless couple of weeks all round.  A quite dizzying accumulation of new signings even by Pozzo-era standards for one thing…  seven senior-squad players not including December recruit Bacuna, nor the five signed for the U-21s.  That’s an impressive haul for a summer window, quite ludicrous for January.  And, yes, the apparent necessity doesn’t reflect well on preceding windows, nor does the return-to-sender of Vakoun Bayo (to which Daughter 2 reacted with a startlingly vindictive display of celebration).  But…  you can’t not be excited, not even with Burnley and the Blades disappearing over the horizon.

Middlesbrough was a bit rubbish, obviously. We didn’t play well, we’re going to have to put up with a bit of feeling the new players into their roles I think… and, of course, more injuries.  Sorry for lack of report for that one, 50th birthday celebrations now officially Finished and Done With.

But today, visiting a side with a formidable home record we go bold with two strikers, Davis slightly deeper than Araújo, flanked by Sarr and Martins with – count them – three more forward on the bench in the shape of Tobi Adeyemo, Britt Assombalonga nd the returning João Pedro.  And this feels good.  Yes, injuries have been cruel this season but given the relative luxuries we have in the context of the division there’s no reason not to be bold.  We should be a scary proposition.

3- There’s something distinctly half-arsed about Reading, in their perfunctory stadium and lack of any discernible character despite the many years of us being regular opponents.  They probably feel the same about us but they’re wrong and I’m right, obviously.

In any case it’s striking, in the same way that it was striking after walking away from the pit of trolls behind the goal at Elland Road last season, that football fans are football fans pretty much wherever you go and whatever the circumstances.  Dressed in colours, pausing for food or beer at the (half-arsed) fan zone that we wander through.  Slowing to a not-quite-stop to get a feel for what’s going on in the Everton-Arsenal game.  As for the team, Paul Ince has cobbled together a bunch of gnarled old pros not good enough to get them promoted but wily enough to be a banana skin for the incautious.  We have history with many of them… Shane Long, Junior Hoilett, Jeff Hendrick, Tom Ince…  and several of these will have an impact today.

The start to the first half is quite stodgy.  We’ve seen this game a million times of course…  lots of Watford possession, lots of passing around the back, the opposition doing as much with their 30% as we were with our 70.  Indeed, for all that Watford do have more of the early play, Bachmann is the first of the keepers to be called upon, pushing Ince’s low drive around the post.

But there’s a difference here, and you feel it quite quickly.  In the past there’s been a lack of consequence to all of this, a dearth of… not so much ideas as options.  We’re passing the ball around at the back because there’s no obvious way of progressing it.  Not so here.  Here, slowly and a little bit clunkily, squealing through lack of use, a screw is being turned.  A good move that flows from right to left sees Davis – who we still don’t really see enough of throughout – use his strength well to release Sarr.  The opening twenty minutes or so has seen the hosts focus on depriving him of the ball, but here, finally released, he cuts inside and curls a high shot across the face of goal and narrowly wide.

This will be an impressive outing from the winger.  “Sarr will tear you apart” is getting an airing before we take the lead, and though he’s a little quieter in the second half in an attacking sense he remains diligent and surprisingly aggressive defensively, as he needs to in a formation one man lighter in central midfield.

Increasingly the game is concentrated in the Reading half as the first 45 progresses.  The goal arrives on the half hour… Mario Gaspar, who has as good a game as he’s had a right back, dinks in a beautiful chipped pass to where Araújo is alert to the space in the box and pulls across from the byline for Sarr to tap in.  It’s a fine, fine thing all round.

We’re the better side for the rest of the half by some distance and come close to extending our lead when a quick throw from Kamara – whose excitable start to the game saw him on the receiving end of one of Hamza’s ever more frequent double barrels – releases Araújo to drive into the side netting.

4- The undisputed star of the first half, however, is Ryan Porteous who has the slightly wild look in his eyes of someone who is up for a fight.  His performance is nonetheless disciplined, and within 20 minutes of kick-off Shane Long has had quite enough of being beaten up, arms thrown around and wails at the referee.  Indeed, Cathcart and Porteous make a promising start as a pairing in the classic talker/doer mould exemplified by Roeder/Holdsworth, Cox/Demerit or Galli/Brown.  “Kick that son”.  “Head that son” and so on.  “Port-e-ous” is “won-der-ful” (“even though he comes from Scotland”) long before his eye-catching start to the second half…  Sarr screams in on the right Lumley blocks and Mario Gaspar’s follow up is deflected away for a corner.  Martins sends the ball in and Porteous does a fine job of feinting and darting into space at the near post where we’re close enough to see his neck muscles as he thumps a header past Lumley before roaring in celebration in front of us.  Legend already.

The other two almost-newbies have mixed afternoons, but all will get better.  Araújo looks like a… not a lion cub, maybe a baby velociraptor.  He’s not there yet, he needs to be a bit more robust and to give back more than he does, but he will be terrifying.  He’s alert to everything, he moves incredibly well and his touch is mostly magnetic, although as above he’s too vulnerable to the buffeting of Tom Holmes.  Martins is also extremely likeable – willing, direct and involved throughout his decision making isn’t always the best – too often he dribbles into trouble and finds himself surrounded by hooped shirts crowding him provocatively like a bunch of lads spoiling for a fight at a bar.  His withdrawal ten minutes from the end is probably also overdue, as he’s wound up by ongoing heavy treatment and risks adding to his yellow card.  Nonetheless his set piece delivery is excellent and he’s involved in most of our good things.

The other prominent figure is referee Steve Martin, who has a shambles of an afternoon.  Seeds are being sown in the first half where he repeatedly calls back play for fouls when Davis or Sarr or Martins have navigated their kicking and escaped into space.  Overall he lets too much go, particularly favouring the home side, and in so doing loses control of the game and lays the ground for the barney in the closing minutes.  Admittedly there are easier gigs than knowing you’ve got Paul Ince and Alex Rae bawling at you from one dugout and Slav prowling like a tiger in the other, but one hopes that he’ll have better afternoons.

On the game’s two pivotal decisions I’ve got some sympathy however.  We’re completely on top by the midway point of the second half, an impressively straightforward away win, box ticked, job done.  Reading provide no threat until Yiadom plays a ball into the right hand channel (Kamara again possibly culpable for allowing him the time to do so) and Long… doesn’t dive, but doesn’t so much draw the foul as create it.  It’s a Vardyesque tactic, the sort of thing that Saša Ćurčić was pilloried for all those years ago.. Craig Cathcart is watching the ball, not Long, who speeds into his path and then slows to draw the contact.  His expertise at the deceit isn’t praiseworthy, but it’s difficult to blame the officials for being duped by it.  The only remedy I can see is to kick the little sh!t up in the air as often as possible, on which further kudos to Ryan Porteous.

Ince tucks the penalty away, and whilst previously we were passing the ball snappily and ambitiously, the home side are now back in the game and have their tails up.  We should pause here to acknowledge a quite tremendous game of football, however ultimately frustrating the outcome this was no dull, flat stalemate.  This was a heart-beating fist waving knucklechewer.  Watford didn’t lie down either and had two “goals” disallowed.  The first, which doesn’t even make the extended highlights, looked a more plausible shout to me… Sarr was played through but flagged off before his sharp finish.  It looked for all the world that he’d perfected the Thierry Henry trick of timing a run from well behind the line and moving at such a pace that by the time you receive the ball you are deceptively past it.  I’d love to see it again – it must have been close at worst, since he certainly believed he’d timed it perfectly and his frustration was evident and understandable.

The more eye-catching call though came minutes later… a wave of Watford attack culminated in Martins picking the ball up, edging himself a gap and firing in a shot that passed Assombalonga and fooled Lumley.  From our angle, and even from the replay, it wasn’t at all clear that Assombalonga had touched the ball (though he would probably have been wise not to celebrate as if he had…) but whether he did or not, and irrespective of whether Lumley changed the officials’ minds, he was clearly obstructing the goalkeeper’s view from an offside position.  We benefitted from the same call in the Premier League when Maya Yoshida did the same thing to Charlie Austin’s notorious disgust, hardly balanced to complain about it now.

5- The palpable frustration exploded into fury in the away end as Reading levelled from their next attack.  A corner from their left to where Hendrick was rumbling in under minimal attention at the far post to volley home.  We can grumble about the marking, but to do so belittles the excellent finish in the same way that the home side’s failing for the opener shouldn’t diminish the fine Mario Gaspar chip and brilliant movement from Araújo that had exposed it.

Assombalonga and João Pedro had tagged on for Davis and Araújo in the wake of the penalty, suddenly not just options up front but a whole new forward line.  Whatever next.  Daughter 2 marvelled at Britt’s shoulder-to neck ratio, and his combative approach was evident as he flicked on his first high ball under pressure to a surprised Sarr.  JP skated around a bit, immediately looking like the best footballer on the pitch, but he too got drowned by Reading’s midfield hit squad and had been kicked up in the air twice to little acknowledgement from the officials before the stroppy hack that provoked a large bundle in the dying minutes.  His booking was merited, but quite how Choudhury was the only other player to face censure is a little baffling – he was being forcibly restrained by Loum for the majority of the kerfuffle.

Here’s the biggest problem for me.  At two up and skating the job should have been done.  We needed to be more disciplined in protecting that position – indeed we were screaming for a Tom Cleverley to come on and get everyone to calm the f***k down.

But ultimately, and with the benefit of a good night’s sleep, today was a positive thing.  It’s natural to look at the top two fading into the distance, at our own precarious position with a bunch of teams within their games in hand huddling behind us and feel a bit edgy.  To be frustrated by losing a two-nil lead to a scumbag like Long.  

But we were unlucky today.  With some young, raw, recently recruited players in the team, with others still feeling their way back from injury, it took a mean-spirited penalty, a couple of disallowed goals, the width of the post as Martins pushed through in his last act before being withdrawn.  But this was far more convincing, there was lots to love here.

The plan with all this investment has to have been to fashion a team that will have a good run at the play-offs and be cooking on gas if and when we get there.  Now’s not a time to panic.  Now’s a time to hold our nerve.


Bachmann 4, Mario Gaspar 4, Kamara 2, *Porteous 4*, Cathcart 4, Martins 3, Bacuna 3, Choudhury 3, Sarr 4, Davis 3, Araújo 3
Subs: João Pedro (for Davis, 71) 3, Assombalonga (for Araújo, 71) 3, Adeyemo (for Martins, 81) NA, Koné (for Bacuna, 81) NA, Hoedt, Morris, Hamer



1. Kevin - 05/02/2023

Thanks for this balanced report. Feeling a little less negative now!
How long till Porteus is captain?
Someone at the ground heard the ref asking Britt if he touched the ball to which he answered”yes”. “It’s offside then, said the ref”…

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2023

Don’t know how anyone could have heard that offside either way for me, he’s clearly in front of the keeper and offside.

2. jtbodbo - 05/02/2023

Thanks for that. I feel much better now !
Re John Peel et al. I was driving past my Hall of Residence – to a business meeting – when I heard that John Lennon had been shot. To my astonishment , I was overwhelmed. Had to pull over for several minutes. Never had that before with someone I never met. Perhaps the Uni connection just brought all those days back.
Anyway, I’ll be at Turf Moor . I have the feeling we’ll go on a run, and playing better sides will actually help.

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2023


3. Tim Turner - 05/02/2023

I’ve just posted my own tribute to Oli Phillips, but I neglected to stress the quality of his writing – a good point well made.

Thanks for the balanced report, as ever. I was fuming at the end of the game, especially about the second disallowed goal. I heard someone on the way out suggest that if Assombalonga had gone to celebrate with Martins, rather than doing his own thing on the opposite side of the goal, the officials might not have been so readily persuaded by the Reading goalie’s protestations. I still find it odd how long it took the linesman to raise his flag, even if the decision was right. But as you say, we benefit from these things sometimes as well.

4. Ants - 05/02/2023

Excellent as ever Mr R — pretty much the game I saw. Was equally frustrated about the lack of replay on the Sarr offside. It wasn’t even shown in the, errr, LiveHiveLive coverage.

Much more importantly than any of that, I once enjoyed an amiable, chatty and beery urinal moment or two with John Peel. Lovely bloke and not a fan of Noel Edmonds. More I cannot say.

5. Fez - 05/02/2023

Balance and perspective. Two things that the late Oliver Phillips could be relied upon to provide. Often I’ve thought that the emotion of the match clouded my just so I temper my opinions til I’ve calmed down a bit.
Very frustrating on the day, but the thing is you touched on the things that I spotted in the refereeing performance (I refereed for twenty years) that more than irritated me: how on earth “The Blazers” think that the likes of Steve Martin is a PGMO level official is beyond me.
Shocking awareness; failure to sanction correctly, the whole lopsided nature of his decision making. Yet another abject failure by the third team on the pitch. Week in, week out, it seems. And no, these things do not even themselves out over the course of a season (our last promotion season being the exception that proves the rule when we had more than our fair share of decisions go out way).
But I digress. In recent years it’s fallen to you especially, and IG to a lesser extent, to provide the balance and perspective, and I must thank you for this.
And so it reads again, the last three paragraphs especially.
Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday!

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2023

Many thanks on all counts…

6. Nick - 05/02/2023

Thank you for the positivity – when you’re not there it’s easy to focus on what went wrong and overlook how we got into such a good position in the first place

7. Harefield Hornet - 05/02/2023

The novelty of the Elizabeth Line enabled us to be in Reading town centre 30 minutes after boarding at West Drayton and the bus service to the ground after a few pubs made this the best visit since they moved to the No-Soul Bowl! As you’ve said a terrific game of football spoilt by a t****r of a ref! – Porteous – what a prospect – a big Scottish centre back – just what the doctor ordered !

8. heftiehornet - 06/02/2023

Matt, excellent balanced view as usual and, like you, I hope we are the team in the ascendancy when the play-offs come into view. Like Fez, I always feel cheated when the officials seem to affect a game which they are only supposed to control. That said, more positives than negatives and a testing run ahead, which should focus the mind.

9. Alan George Mitchell - 06/02/2023

Excellent report. For the benefit of the uninitiated, could you please explain what a velociraptor is ?

Matt Rowson - 06/02/2023

So speaks someone who has never seen Jurassic Park. What have you been doing with your life, Alan? Carnivorous dinosaur, (depicted as) quick, clever and merciless.

Alan George Mitchell - 09/02/2023

Never seen it Matt, interesting word. I’m sure there are none in the Rookery, where I seem to spend most of my life (but then again….).
As a wordsmith myself (crossword compiler), I should have known it. I’m sure there’s an anagram in there somewhere. Cheers

10. Sequel - 06/02/2023

Changing the subject a bit here. I am currently absolutely fuming, having just read the email from the club regarding the banning of flasks, and felt I needed to vent my frustration.
Apparently, WFC have employed an independent Safety Advisory Group, who have recommended that flasks be banned, on the grounds that they “maybe a possible cause of harm to others”.
No mention of coins being banned, the more likely objects to be hurled, I’d have thought.
I feel so strongly about this that if I had a paper season ticket book, rather than the electronic kind, I’d have slung it by now.
Can you imagine this being introduced under the reign of Graham Taylor. No, nor me.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2023

It seems preposterous I agree. I don’t know how much to blame the club, since it sounds as if they are beholden to comply with the recommendations of this group however unreasonable. They have at least backtracked on the banning of hot food brought in from outside, which sounded purely exploitative.

But I agree that the outcome, whoever’s “fault”, is grotesque. Ultimately someone who wants to cause trouble will cause trouble. Prevention is better than cure, certainly but… with everything under CCTV any misbehaviour of the type implied (using a flask as a missile, presumably) would surely be short-lived. A lot of people are being upset and inconvenienced in the name of a non-existent threat.

Harefield Hornet - 07/02/2023

Can anyone honestly see a young bloke who fancies himself as hooligan, complete with stone island jacket and designer trainers, carrying a bloody thermos flask into the ground ? This is honestly the most ridiculous thing I ever heard about in all the years I’ve been a football supporter !

11. Mike Smith - 07/02/2023

So I can’t take my old rattle in then! Ha ha.
On a another point. If I’m unable to go to an away match I listen to 3CR. Not wishing to sound middle class but where on earth did they dig up someone (Derek Payne) who can’t string two words together?
e.g. We was good in the 1st half. Or, Reading ain’t got nuffink to offer! Wrong tenses, bad grammar. Thankfully we have you Matt.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2023

Thanks Mike. Though in fairness I couldn’t have done the midfield brawler quite as well as Derek, even 25 years ago…

iangrant546 - 07/02/2023

I believe that Derek was quite literally dug up when the pitch was re-laid in 2015. He hadn’t been seen since a particularly swampy midfield battle back in 1996.

RS - 07/02/2023

How dare you sir!? 😉 Derek has been “at it” on 3CR for as long as I can remember now and is the point of reference for us if we are travelling by car and in 3CR range “is Derek on yet?” all part of the match day experience.

This includes (the just reprieved) FryDays fish and chips although I fear the standard has slipped under the “new mangement”

On the subject of the Safety Advisory Group I was as incensed and bemused as others over the recent, just in, regulations and complained to the club. There was no response to my questioning the allowing of away coaches to stand, engines idling outside the ground at the end of games with Stewards/Police obliged to stand adjacent to their exhausts… I did get the club email with the update – you can apply for an exemption for your flask @sequel 🙂

Sequel - 07/02/2023

Thanks, RS, I’ll give it a try.

Steve G - 07/02/2023

And it’s not just Derek Payne who seems to have a real problem with Sierralta – Geoff Doyle on 3CR also seems to believe that we have a CB called Serry-alta. It’s surely not that difficult to get right and it should be a fairly basic element of the commentator’s job. Hopefully Porteous should be easier.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2023

Yeah, I heard him doing that. Infuriating.

Mike Smith - 07/02/2023

He calls Kamara, camera!

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