Berks v Herts
With Reading season-ticket holder Lanterne Rouge out of the country, I was handed a Royals freebie for the second time this season on Saturday. Stopping off for a few hours en route to Clapham where I was staying with a Forest fan ahead of the televised Sunday game at Plymouth, I arrived at Reading Station to realise that I had forgotten my toothbrush. Browsing for a suitably fibrous substitute in Boots, I swore that I could hear some canned chant gusting through from somewhere. Purchase complete, I followed the noise to find a good 100 or so-strong Watford contingent singing contrived Brendan Rodgers songs at that visibly pathetic excuse for a pub, the Three Guineas. It was the biggest away support I’d seen there in a while, and I was a tad surprised to see such a vociferous crowd for a club that are, arguably, all sweetness and light. It set the tone for the day, though — Watford brought around 3500 and were excellent, (quite rightly) giving Rodgers stick and backing their team throughout.
The first leg of that horror £3.50 bus ride concluded, I arrived at a reasonably busy Madejski where home and away fans mingled harmlessly enough (how aggro can one get when there’s a flagship Millennium Hotel in sight?). Reading started frenetically and home debutant and ex-Hornet Jobi McAnuff looked inspired; unlike 10 days or so earlier when a quartet of central midfielders looked bunched and narrow in a 1-0 defeat to Cardiff, Rodgers’ decision to start wingers McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe saw the ball played out to the flanks and rapidly back across to the box on three or four occasions. Rasiak was, for me, still looking a little too reluctant to get himself dirty in the apex of the attack, but he was troubling centre halves Mariappa and Cathcart, who were being pulled out of position time and again. Watford were sluggish and limited across the pitch and young right back, Lee Hodson, looked raw and ineffective against the away end’s secondary target of abuse McAnuff, who was predictably involved in the opener, scored by the immaculate Rasiak.
Reading fans around us wound it up by asking Rodgers what the score was, to which he replied by sticking up one finger — this enraged the away end and you just knew that it’d come back to haunt him. His side were well on top for the moment, however, and while Watford pushed on a little, it was all too formulaic and slow. The wiry Ross Jenkins looked quite tidy in the middle, and they didn’t do anything wrong, but there was a clear divide in skill and ability.
The second half started much the same, but you just sensed that Reading were beginning to tire. The passing was becoming less clean and McAnuff and Kebe stopped threatening. The turning point seemed to come when Nathan Ellington replaced a rotund-looking Henri Lansbury with Watford moving to a more conventional 4-4-2. Their fans applauded the move and Ellington began well, his direct play adding an extra dimension. The home defence couldn’t handle his raging bull slow motion runs and several good chances were missed before that Championship stalwart John Eustace floated over a delightful ball which Danny Graham, who worked tirelessly all game, cushioned bewitchingly past Federici.
Both sides had a half chance or two thereafter, but Watford seemed quite settled with a point, particularly after Ellington’s harsh sending off and, to the finger wielding Rodgers’ embarrasment, a draw was a fair result. My own weekend would go on to end horribly in the shape of a 47th minute Home Park horror show, but we live to fight another day. Roll on this evening.