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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 30/04/03, 7.45pm
Go away
By Ian Grant

Oh, I get it. It's a challenge....

I mean, there's only so much that you can say, isn't there? There are only so many ways of going over the same ground, re-tracing the same steps. Treading water. This is a match report, I guess...but it's not something that you really need to read. There are, surely, better things that you could be doing with your time. Pay some bills, sponsor the Trust walkers, do the washing up, buy some new pyjamas, eat gherkins, try line dancing, make a complaint to "Watchdog", read "Being and Nothingness" by Jean-Paul Sartre in the original French, trim your toenails, organise your sock drawer, write a letter to your grandparents, count your small change, count someone else's small change, make a lifesize papier maché sculpture of Stuart Ripley, eat doughnuts, go to Basingstoke, learn to stand on your head, start a campaign against juggling in public, talk to a pig, be a contestant on "Catchphrase", drink Jägermeister until everything becomes an angry blur, build a treehouse, dig a large hole and put a note in the bottom that says "I dug this hole, signed [your name]" and then fill it in again, memorise the lyrics to "American Pie", fix my bathroom, re-invent the wheel, create your own touring puppet theatre, ghost-write Ashley Ward's autobiography, cast your vote, write a better match report than this one, grow a forked beard, apply for work experience at MI5, buy a surfboard, pick a suitably anonymous thumpy-anthem chart hit and claim credit for it, write a hymn, and so on. Or you could just have a little nap. Whatever.

Still here?

All right, then. So it's you and me. Us. We'll stick together, face up to the challenge of staying awake for the next however-long-this-takes. We did it for the Brighton game, right? We managed it then, we can manage it again. I'll write something, you'll read it, then we can both get on with the rest of our lives. We'll get through it together, and then we'll do it again for Sunday, and then it'll be finished. Done. Challenge met. Hurrah.

Or you could do something else. You have the option, after all. You could try to balance your keyboard on your head, or something. We could both do it at the same, as a competition....

No? Bloody spoilsport....

You didn't really come here for football, did you? For heaven's sake, what possessed you? Have you not see the score? Did you not pay attention to what happened on Saturday? Or the league table...have you not seen the league table? Nobody cares any more. It just doesn't matter. It's irrelevant, finished, filed away. Except that you still want to know. You are the sole punter who still turns up to see UK Subs, wondering bitterly why they don't still make the top forty and the front cover of NME. And I'm here because you're here. Which must make me the drummer in UK Subs, or something. And that's not quite what I had in mind for my life, you know....

The sun's shining outside. Had you not noticed? Buy a frisbee, try your hand at golf, fly a kite, plant a tree, throw sticks for a dog, throw sticks at a dog, just do something. It'll be raining soon, and then you'll think, "Jesus, why did I spend valuable time in front of the computer reading that miserable report on that miserable game when I could've been outside in the sunshine. And now it's raining." And your life will be enveloped by the black blanket of depression, with all the ghastly and potentially disastrous consequences. And I don't want that on my conscience, pal. Nope, don't need the guilt. So just stop reading this report. Please. It's for your own good.


Oh, come on....

You need persuading, evidently. Well, we're both reasonable people. You know, we can work it out. So let's just say that I could fill you in on the minute details of our utter failure to produce more than one shot that actually reached the goal in the first half. I don't want to, but I could. And I could point out that the one shot in question, from Jason Norville, crossed the goalline rather nearer the corner flag than the (presumed) target. But it wouldn't make you happy. And I could complete the picture with a handful of minor goal attempts - a scuffed free kick from Marcus Gayle, a weak shot from Allan Nielsen, and mis-hit half-volley from Micah Hyde - that were stopped long before they reached their intended destination. Now, doesn't the sunshine seem that little bit more inviting...?

The birds are singing. Listen. That's nature, in all its varied wonder. It's beautiful, it's amazing, and it's waiting for you. Outside. And you want me to describe Sean Dyche's bone-crunching third minute foul on Reading's unfortunate Tyson instead? The fact that you could clearly hear the wince-inducing impact of the challenge from the middle of the Rookery? Have you ever thought that there might be something wrong with you? At all? That your appetite for violence - which presumably extends to wanting to know all about Newman's scything foul on a goal-bound Tommy Smith in the fourteenth minute too - is becoming insatiable? That you might be reading this report for the wrong reasons? That you might want to stop reading it now? I'm only asking as a concerned friend, of course. No need to be like that.

Well, there's nothing else for it, is there? Assuming that you're not waiting to find out what our goals were like - note: we didn't score any - we'll do the Reading goals now. Get it over with. A block tackle on the business of the day, as it were. Then you might be satisfied. Job done. All go home happy. Deal?

Right, then....

Number one: Henderson's fine cross from the by-line on the left, Rougier arriving at the near post to dump a close-range header past Alec Chamberlain. In the Rookery, this was greeted less with anger and more with shock at the realisation that something had actually happened.

Number two: Micah Hyde hits a loose pass in midfield to halt a promising attack. Substitute Cureton races away on the break, sprinting down the right wing. Just when you think, "Ha! So, what are you going to do now, sunshine?", he hits a perfect cross into the path of Henderson at the far post. The finish is crisp and neat, back across Alec Chamberlain into the bottom corner.

Number three: With most of the ground more concerned at the likelihood of being drenched on the way home by the suddenly torrential rain, the Watford defence invites Cureton to have a crack at goal in injury time. Which he does. Top corner. "Pick that out", and so on.

Well, there you are. As match reports go, it's not much...but size isn't everything, as we all know. And neither, on last night's evidence, are skill, organisation, effort, and motivation. Little joke there, just to say sorry for being a bit bad tempered earlier. I'll be less irritable soon, probably sometime after the 4th May. And then we'll have the whole of the summer to look forward to a bit less of this and a bit more of that, if you know what I mean. Marvellous. That's what it's all about, not this horrendous slow death of a run-out, not this premature fading of the season's considerable glories. Not this, full stop.

And if it does have to be this, perhaps we could have a bit more of Scott Fitzgerald while we're waiting for the end to come. Quite frankly, there's one hell of a lot to be said for a player whose understanding of the game appears so fundamentally straightforward - the ball goes towards the goal, and that's pretty much that - especially in the current circumstances. Apart from anything else, his substitute appearance was tremendous fun. Fun, you see? Particularly the moment when his demented charging about managed to stop a clearance from Hahnemann on the edge of the penalty area, resulting in the rebound drifting mere inches past the post. But he was no further away with a fierce cross-shot in stoppage time, and put in a couple of decent efforts besides. You rather fear that a Helguson-Fitzgerald front line might contravene Health and Safety regulations...but, hey, it's something to toy with until August....

Oh, bugger. Now I've started again. And I was just stopping too. But you're here now, I we might as well carry on. I mean, the second half wasn't that bad, all things considered. We picked up considerably...and, given a little more good fortune and a little less counter-attacking accuracy from our opponents, it could well have turned out rather differently. Even leaving aside Scott Fitzgerald's efforts - and lordy, it really did look as if that rebound was going to float in - there were several occasions when the keeper was beaten and extremely relieved to see the ball miss the post. There was Tommy Smith's curler after six minutes, hit with his left foot from twenty yards and only narrowly wide. And there was the much, and often unfairly, maligned Gavin Mahon's volley after twenty that span the wrong way to brush the woodwork on its way to safety. There were comfortable saves from Micah Hyde - energetic, if not always productively so - and Stephen Glass. And all Reading managed, apart from the crucial goals, was a shot into the side netting and a superb finish ruled out for offside, both, predictably, from Cureton.

So, while you could say that Hahnemann didn't have to make a difficult save during the entire evening, that was partly because he wouldn't have been able to get near several of our better efforts. Which is some comfort, I suppose. That we ended in a worse position than at half-time wasn't a particularly fair reflection on the game. Connoisseurs of end of season defeats would've sipped it, swilled it around, spat it out and found it rather more pleasant than Saturday. And that's not saying much, I know...but it is saying something, an ambition that appeared likely to remain unfulfilled at the start of this interminable report.

And now, we really are done. We can both move on, free and careless. Until Sunday, at least. You might want to check the score before visiting....