Tuesday, 16 October 2018

What a difference a victory makes

THE Shiplake College staff team ended the year unbeaten after victory against BMW Financial Services.

THE Shiplake College staff team ended the year unbeaten after victory against BMW Financial Services.

Shiplake dominated possession early on but their profligacy in front of goal proved costly after a clinical BMW counterattack opened the scoring. More missed chances followed for the home side until they eventually levelled the scores just before half-time with a bullet header from ex-GB rower Adam Moffatt.

A crazy five-minute spell at the beginning of the second half swung the game heavily in Shiplake’s favour with another goal from Moffatt and two instinctive finishes from strike partner Duncan Miller making the score 4-1. BMW moved through the gears and threatened an unlikely comeback with attacking pressure causing havoc in the penalty area.

Two goalmouth scrambles led to scrappy goals as BMW brought the score back to 4-3. Shiplake regained a measure of control on the game with midfielders Tom Walter and Ross McSweeny keeping possession well.

The hosts finally secured the win late on with their fifth goal. The BMW defence were vulnerable from crosses all match and Shiplake made the most of another inswinging corner, finished off with a diving header from man-of-the-match Alex Duncan.

THAT was the festive season, gone in the blink of an eye, but for Reading fans thoroughly enjoyable.

After 12 points from a possible 45, Reading suddenly won four from six. They probably deserved a win at Brighton having led for 89 minutes and 30 seconds of the contest, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Two days later a 2-1 win against in-form Norwich at the Madejski Stadium gave Steve Clarke his first win as Reading manager.

After the game the Reading players were unrecognisable in mood. The music in the dressing room was cranked right up, the players were larking about and suddenly all was rosy. What a difference a week, four points, a new manager and the festive season makes. As Big Ben chimes to mark the turn of the year everyone at Reading is looking upwards. Until the win against Norwich there was a danger Reading would be anxiously looking over their shoulder just one place above the drop zone. They are 16th in the table, but a win against Middlesbrough in a couple of weeks’ time could see them leap into the top 10.

Next up it’s the magic of the cup. Reading need an FA Cup run. The last couple of years has failed to deliver on that front, but back in the days of Brian McDermott Reading built their winter campaigns around FA Cup glory. I have already berated Alan Shearer for his carelessness in drawing Reading away to Huddersfield. It is not an enticing or eye-catching draw, and will not feature high up the Match of the Day running order, but it does give Reading a very reasonable chance of progressing.

The biggest question for Reading FC right now is who will lead the strike force going into 2015? Glenn Murray has been the go-to man for both Nigel Adkins and Steve Clarke in the last few months, but he is due to return to his parent club, Crystal Palace this week. The waters have been further muddied by Palace’s decision to sack manager Neil Warnock. Murray would not be drawn on his future during an interview with me on Sunday night. He seemed remarkably phlegmatic about whether he would be playing football next week in the Premier League at Selhurst Park, or in the Championship at the Madejski Stadium.

The decision, he admits, is out of his hands. Reading and Crystal Palace need to sit down and negotiate. Clarke makes no secret that he wants to keep him, but ultimately it will boil down to money and Palace’s intentions. Financial fair play regulations limit Reading’s spending power, and the chances are they will not be alone in making a bid. Derby County are rumoured to be preparing a £3 million offer, which would be way beyond Reading in the current financial climate.

2015 will start in the same mould as we spent most of 2014. Money and off field negotiating will be key to Reading’s short term success. Quite what Clarke is expected to do if he loses Murray remains a mystery. Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak needs to start earning some of his vast salary, but he is out injured. Nick Blackman or Hal Robson-Kanu could be makeshift options, but really that is not going to cause central defenders on the Championship circuit too many sleepless nights. A club of the stature Reading enjoy really ought to have a full time experienced and fit, old fashioned striker in their ranks to lead the line. Simon Cox is a terrific player but will be at his best playing alongside a partner like Murray, rather than alone.

Nicki Hammond will be the man busy trying to land the Murray deal. If he is successful it will be a huge early boost for Reading as they head into the New Year.

TWO-nil up after 19 minutes, Henley Town looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory on Saturday in Division 1 (East) of the Uhlsport Hellenic League, but they finished up by losing all three points.

So the Red Kites continued on their contrary course through the 2014-15 season, in which a mixture of good and bad results seem to arrive at random rather than relate to their opponents’ position in the table. Now a 4-2 win at Rayners Lane was directly followed by a home defeat against a team standing 12th, though it should be added that Didcot’s performance belied their lowly position, while they also had beaten Clanfield 4-0 in the League Cup in midweek.

Despite a dreadfully heavy pitch, Henley’s energy never flagged throughout. But, whereas it was allied to an air of calm authority at the start, their efforts became more disjointed the longer the match went on. The presence of a couple more strong players could easily have turned the game, and top scorer Sean Moore was certainly missed.After 13 minutes, the Town went in front through a beautifully executed goal. Seventeen-year-old Asa Povey, whose promise increases with almost every game, found Grant Kemp with a visionary pass, and Kemp went on to place the ball in to the far side of ’keeper Kieran Beasley. After a pile-driver from Louis Howell had been bravely saved, the home side went further in front when Mitchell Cooper headed home a corner.

Five minutes later, however, the Didcot revival was under way, as Aaron Gray finished an attack down the right to make the score 2-1. Gray always looked dangerous, and Henley had an escape when he netted from a corner but was ruled offside.

Ryan Witt had a good shot turned round the post for Henley, but the Railwaymen drew level at the 37th minute when John Robinson back-headed past Andrew Nunn from a free kick. Didcot were by now a transformed side, and only a fingertip save by Nunn at a corner prevented them from taking an interval lead.

The match pursued the same course on the resumption, with the visitors taking the lead after just another two minutes. The goal came from a spot-kick by Gray. The penalty was awarded for a mild challenge by Povey, but it was still a foul in the area.

Henley had slightly the better of the rest of the game and several times did all but get the ball in the net, but their approach was too frantic. Good shots were even kept out of the net by being driven against the legs of colleagues. Witt went as close as anyone when he again had a shot turned for a corner. Debutant Craig Priest, the last substitute to be brought on, beat the advancing goalkeeper but only for another defender to run round and keep the ball from crossing the line.

All the while, Didcot were reminding us that they were not finished. Cooper broke up many attacks and always tried to get the team going forward again, while Nunn just managed to foil Lewis Noble. For all that they achieved a good share of the ball, Henley never quite looked like equalising.

It had been a tetchy game almost from the start, and the Town finished up with six men cautioned compared with their opponents’ two. This was even more of a surprise than the scoreline as it was Didcot who had the worst disciplinary in the two sections of Division 1 in the last table to be released.

Henley Town: Nunn; R. Holmes, Baxter, Cooper, Faherty (Gordon 80 mins); Kemp, Povey, Witt, Clark; Davies (Cripps 67 mins), Howell (Priest 87 mins).

Shiplake College Staff 5 BMW Financial Services 3

Henley Town 2 Didcot Town Reserves 3

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