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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 23/11/02, 3pm
Triangle of Arse
By Matt Rowson

I've often thought that an interesting course of study for one of those random academic pursuits that are discussed in the spare five minutes at the end of slow-news-day evening bulletins would be the application of fluid dynamics theory to the flow of players around English football.

It's quite frequent, of course, for managers to have their "favourites" and to return to raid their ex-clubs. This is abetted still further when clubs trade managers, such as Palace and Birmingham last season, permitting cross-fertilisation of individuals until the two teams' identities are interchangeable. No comment necessary.

But such steady flows are not restricted to pied-piper type situations. Ten years ago, friends of mine identified a "triangle of arse" in the North West, where a pipeline had opened up to facilitate easy trade between Everton, Manchester City and Oldham. Graeme Sharp, Neil Pointon, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, Alan Harper, Peter Beagrie, Mark Ward, Stuart Barlow, Mark Brennan, Neil McDonald, Mike Milligan and Neil Adams were just some of the names the switched between clubs during this spell. More recently, a similar triangle opened up between Coventry, Villa and Middlesbrough (Ehiogu, Southgate, Hadji, Dublin, Merson and Boateng - twice).

When regarding the Hornets' deals over the last twenty years or so, there's evidence of a geographical pattern. The only two individuals to play for both Watford and Rotherham in that period, for example, were Nigel Jemson and Ian Richardson... who managed eight League starts here between them. The list of players having played for both Watford and any London or Southern team, however, tends to be much more populous... even the list of those to have played for both ourselves and Luton is not inconsiderable.

There's something particularly noticeable about the list of those who've played for both ourselves and our hosts on Saturday however. With very few exceptions, they're all bloody rubbish.

This is quite unusual... even allowing for the fact that the journeymen who, by law of averages, are more likely to feature in these lists don't tend to be the sort of players to hang around to develop a reputation. Amongst the similarly-lengthy list of those to play for ourselves and Palace stand out the names of Jenkins, Miller, Millen and Hodges, for example. But Reading...well, perhaps you can excuse the names of Les Taylor and Roger Joslyn, both ferocious midfielders albeit past their best when they were dispatched across to Elm Park. But the's almost as if we've been engaging in a macabre food-fight since 1980. The Royals chuck us Trevor Senior, we counter with Lee Nogan. Over (via a roundabout route) comes Kerry Dixon. We return fire with Simon Sheppard. Wonder if we thought to try to palm off Ramon, Pierre and the others onto them before we paid them off...

The Royals have surprised themselves as much as they have the rest of the Division with their recent run of form which has seen them win six games in the last eight and propel themselves into the play-off pack. The foundation for their success has been a 4-5-1 formation and a rock-solid defence that has conceded only three goals over the same period.

Marcus Hahnemann should be in goal for the Royals, the American having previously been reserve keeper at Fulham. Ian Ashdown provides cover...former first choice Phil Whitehead has been on loan at Tranmere but is currently out with a knee injury.

In defence, the versatile and popular Graeme Murty plays at right-back...the 700,000 signing from York was last season's Player-of-the-Year. On the left, 21-year-old Nickey Shorey has been doing well. In the centre, Adrian Williams is in his second spell with Reading following a sabbatical at Molineux. He is in Azerbaijan this week having been recalled to the Welsh squad; much of his recent surge in form is attributed to the influence of Arsenal loanee Matthew Upson. Upson took a knock in Reading's last game at Gillingham, but should be fit for this weekend. His arrival has seen John Mackie, who established himself as a regular last season, drop back to the bench. Adrian Whitbread, another centreback, is recovering from a knee injury in the reserves, whilst Adie Viveash has been on loan at Oxford.

In midfield, Kevin Watson and Ricky Newman tend to sit deep... former Millwall man Newman serves a one-match ban this weekend, a suspension that would have taken effect last Saturday but for the Bramall Lane fixture's controversial late postponement. His place will be taken either by one-time Pompey man Sammy Igoe, or by former Port Vale headless chicken Tony Rougier. Rougier's introduction would see ex-Arsenal man James Harper move in from the right.

Playing a more advanced midfield role is Andy Hughes, highly rated and a goalscoring threat. The left hand role is likely to be taken by John Salako, oft-criticised for lack of commitment, whilst his young deputy Nathan Tyson perhaps has too much. Salako played with boss Alan Pardew early in his career at Crystal Palace.

Reading's defensive formation asks a lot of lone frontman and one-time Watford target Nicky Forster, whose quick, direct play has been up to the task so far. Jamie Cureton is one of the many forwards to be let slip by Bristol Rovers over the past few years (Marcus Stewart, Barry Hayles, Bobby Zamora and Jason Roberts are amongst the others) - his prolific form last season has not continued into this term, he should be on the bench. Martin Butler is more of a target man... he scored the penalty for Cambridge that put us out of the League Cup four years ago.

Our outstanding start to the season has begun to tail off in the last few games... from being desperately unlucky to drop two points at home to Wolves to not quite getting the breaks at Millmoor to being comprehensively outplayed against Ipswich, we could do with turning this around again sooner rather than later. Any sort of result, let alone a win, away at the Madejski Stadium would be just the ticket.