A Royal Defeat in the FA Cup

Youngsters Ryan Andrews and Michael Adu-Poku

Despite having moved to London from Berkshire, Reading remains a very easy trip.  But it was still an earlyish start on Saturday due to a 12:30 kick-off apparently necessitated by a TV broadcast in some foreign land.  I know that some had decided against taking the club coach as it was leaving Watford at 8:30, which seemed ridiculously early given that the turnstiles didn’t open until 11.  Despite the rail strikes, my tube/train journey was trouble-free so Mike and I had time for a swift pint in the rather good pub at Reading station before taking the bus to the Select Car Leasing Stadium (what a comedown from the Mad Stad).  

We had a decent take-up for the Women of Watford allocation, so it was extremely irritating to find on arrival that Reading had decided to make this a game with unreserved seating and that some of our group had been turned away from our allocated seats as they were being reserved for the Junior Hornets instead.  I saw Chris, our SLO, who took me to meet up with a steward who said that we could sit in another section of the stand.  But the seating that he suggested was distant from the bulk of our fans and in an area that looked as though it would get soaked in the downpour that appeared to be coming.  We also had no way of telling the others in our group where we were sitting, so decided to go to our allocated seats to meet up.  When we arrived, the steward on that section checked that we had tickets in that area and allowed us to sit there.  The threatened influx of Junior Hornets didn’t happen, so we were able to stay in the seats, which were really rather good and sheltered from the rain when it came.  While Watford had taken over 2000 fans, the Reading stands were sparsely populated with the stand behind the goal having been left completely empty.

New boy Koné launches a free kick

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that Bilić had made wholesale changes that included debuts for Ismaël Koné and Michael Adu-Poku, a striker from the Under-18s and a new name to me.  Adrian Blake was also making his first start.  So, the starting XI was Okoye; Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Pollock; Morris, Koné, Asprilla, Gaspar; Blake, Adu-Poku, Hungbo.

Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause in memory of Gianluca Vialli, whose tragically early death was announced this week.  The players also wore black armbands as a mark of respect for a man that was admired and loved throughout English (and Italian) football.

The game kicked off and we settled down to see what the youngsters could do.  The home side had the first chance of the game as Azeez hit a shot from outside the area that flew well over the bar.  Okoye then caused some concern in the away end as he lingered on the ball while João bore down on him, thankfully he made the clearance in the nick of time.  The first caution of the game went to Hutchinson for stopping an attack by Adu-Poku by taking him down.  The first chance for the Hornets came as Gaspar won a tackle and fed Blake whose shot from distance was deflected wide.  The delivery of the resultant corner was absolutely woeful, flying far to the other side of the goal and going out for a goal kick. 

Okoye prepares to take a free kick

The home side threatened again with a curling shot that Okoye was down to save.  The home side had their best chance so far when Rahman found Azeez on the edge of the box, his shot was pushed around the post by Okoye.  The resultant corner was headed back across goal by Dann and flew wide of the target.  At the other end, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Adu-Poku broke into the box, but Reading keeper, Bouzanis, was out to clear.  Then Troost-Ekong intercepted a loose ball and released Adu-Poku but the youngster was bullied off the ball.  The home side should have taken the lead when Azeez broke forward, his cross was parried by Okoye, the ball fell to João in the box, but he poked it well wide when it looked easier to score.  In time added on at the end of the half, Reading had the ball in the net when a cross from Abrefa found Azeez in an acre of space, but the flag went up for offside.  Sadly the home side still managed to score before the break as a cross from Abrefa flew over Okoye and in off the post.  It looked to be a complete fluke, but the home side deserved the lead on the balance of play.  The Hornets had not managed a shot on target.

Hungbo on the ball

Each side made changes at the interval.  The Hornets brought Andrews (son of Wayne) and Bacuna on for Gaspar and Blake.  The Royals brought Loum on for Hutchinson.  Hungbo was frustrated in a couple of attacks at the start of the second half.  First, he was pulled over outside the box, the referee waved play on.  There were then shouts for a penalty when he went down under a challenge in the box but, again, the referee was not impressed.  Less than 10 minutes after he came on, Bacuna put a cross into the box and immediately went down clutching his hamstring.  He had to go off and was replaced by Jack Grieves (nephew of Daniel and great-great-grandson of Skilly Williams).  The first booking for the Hornets went to Morris for a clumsy tackle on Abrefa.  An hour had passed before Bouzanis had to make a save and Koné’s free-kick did not really test him. At the other end Loum broke into the box but his shot was deflected over.  The next booking of the game went to Mbengue after a tangle with Hungbo.  With 20 minutes remaining, Carroll came on for Azeez, a somewhat more experienced substitute than we had seen from the Hornets.  The Hornets then had their best move of the game so far, Koné intercepted a pass, broke forward and passed to Asprilla who got himself into position for the shot, but Bouzanis was able to make the block.  Andrews then broke forward and hit a shot that was also saved by Bouzanis.  With 15 minutes remaining, Bilić made a further change bringing Adeyemo on for Hungbo, who had had a poor game.  The youngster was involved immediately going on a battling run down the left that ended with him winning a corner.  The delivery came out to Asprilla who played it back to Koné whose shot was well over the target. 

Jack Grieves on the ball

The home side then made another change bringing Craig on for João.  The Hornets were having a good spell and continued to threaten as a shot from Asprilla was blocked, it fell to Morris whose cross was just missed by Adeyemo.  The second booking for the Hornets went to Adu-Poku for a tackle on Mbengue, the caution the result of some dramatic rolling around by the Reading man.  The last change for the home side was the introduction of the alcoholically named Guinness-Walker who came on for Rahman.  The Hornets were pushing for an equaliser and Asprilla found Adeyemo in the box, but the keeper came out to make the tackle.  The Hornets nearly grabbed an equaliser in time added on as an effort from Morris was deflected and looped to the keeper, who made a hash of the save dropping the ball.  Adeyemo challenged for the loose ball but was adjudged to have fouled the keeper as he attempted to turn it in.  It was not to be our day as the home side increased their lead against the run of play.  Long latched on to a ball over the top of the defence and beat Okoye to make the game safe for the home side.  Long always seems to score against us.  The final whistle went immediately after the restart.

James Morris takes a throw-in

Pleasingly, the travelling Hornets gave the youngsters a lengthy and very warm ovation as they came over to applaud us at the end of the game.  But the positive mood quickly changed when we saw yellow smoke in the section in front of us where a flare had landed.  As the stewards looked to the back of the stand to see where it had come from, another flare was launched and nearly hit a father and son who were coming up from that section of the stand.  He and another man who was with his son in the firing line let the idiots at the back know exactly what they thought of them.

We got out of the there with no further incident and were soon back on the bus to the town centre.

The post-match consensus was that it had been a decent showing from the youngsters in the second half.  They had shown some fight and could have won a replay (although I don’t think any of us really wanted that).  Koné was very impressive on his debut and looks to be a good addition.  I thought Grieves did really well too, snapping into some decent tackles in the midfield.  Adeyemo was very lively when he came on and caught the eye with some of his attacking play.  Sadly, Okoye, who was lauded when he arrived, looked very poor.  His ball handling was sloppy and he had no command of his area.  I wouldn’t blame him for the first goal, but he did not inspire any confidence. Given the threadbare state of our squad, I don’t think any of us were too disappointed to go out of the cup, particularly as the reward would have been a trip to Old Trafford, my least favourite ground to visit.  The loss of Bacuna was yet another blow, so we can only hope that there are some players who are close to a return or the rest of the season could be painful.

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