Northern Rock bailed out by the Fed
Last night’s twice delayed encounter between Reading and Newcastle at the Madejski Stadium promised to pit this year’s Champions elect with a side which many think may be leading the way in a year’s time. Reading’s form since evicting Liverpool from the FA Cup has been startling, with a succession of opponents put to the sword, but in the end, Newcastle prevailed, with Royals’ fans forced to resort to chants of 106…106…we’ve got the record…106: a reference to an all time points best that the Magpies cannot now match. After a fast paced duel, I felt able to point towards five factors of influence:
The Allardyce Factor
Newcastle got rid of Sam Allardyce because of the style of play he encouraged but, as some time Two Unfortunates commenter Jarvo points out, have now restored credibility by deploying suspiciously similar methods. I have seen the Magpies twice in the past 10 days and they have been physically imposing and ultra-athletic on both occasions. Their game is about powering the ball forward quickly and using the muscle of Ameobi, Carroll and Nolan in the advanced positions to spawn opportunities. These Stripes tussle and scrap, and pre-season predictions that they would wilt under a lower league onslaught have proved very wide of the mark.
The Nolan factor
My admission now is that Kevin Nolan deserves his player of the year accolades. Don’t get me started on the recent Four Four Two survey and Jermaine Beckford’s presence at Number 3, but Nolan’s only credible challengers over the full course of the full campaign have been Charlie Adam and Graham Dorrans. Last night, a sitter of an open goal notwithstanding, Nolan seemed to be everywhere and his two goals capped a searing night.
The Federici factor
Reading need to consider a replacement for Adam Federici in goal. The Australian is a good shot stopper but his conceding of Nolan’s first last night was the latest in a long line of errors going back to a narrow 3-2 defeat by Manchester United in 2007. More worrying is his failure to sufficiently command the six yard box. To my mind, that’s a custodian’s natural territory and leaving defensive duties in that zone to a makeshift centre back pairing of Alex Pearce and Brynjar Gunnarsson was always going to be risky. Federici likes to bark Schmeichel-style at his defenders when things go wrong and this kind of front can take a keeper a long way, but the hard-nosed decision would be to replace the popular Aussie.
The Rebuilding factor
Reading are still not the finished article. Progress has been rapid under Brian McDermott but the kernel of a rebuilt side will need augmenting in other positions beside goalkeeper. Loanees Ryan Bertrand, Andy Griffin and the absent Zurab Khizanishvili must all be on the club’s shopping list, although the certainty of securing permanent Berkshire residence for Bertrand in particular will be subject to inevitable interest from lower table Premier League clubs. The other core area to think about is up front: Reading have a batch of plucky performers including the precocious Simon Church, but a whippy goal poacher would do wonders for the goals for column.
The Albiceleste factor
Argentina might not be the write off for the World Cup we were all expecting. True, Jonas Gutierrez spent a lot of time on the turf at the Mad Stad, but Fabricio Coloccini was imperious in the half he played, ably abetted by the superb Mike Williamson. OK, they are going to need a certain lad called Lionel to do the business as well, but these long haired fellas can actually play a bit you know.