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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 29/11/03, 3.00pm
By Matt Rowson

Before we get onto the football, there's a subject that needs to be breached, namely the pronunciation of the team's name. It's a peculiarity of the English language that two words can be spelled identically and yet pronounced differently dependent on context... in this case the act of "reading" a book versus the Berkshire town and First Division football team "Reading" (Redding). Similarly inexplicable pronunciations can be found all over, for example Leicester (Lester) City and Norwich (Norridge) City. Some articulations are so extreme as to bear no resemblance to the written text... Luton, for example.

Whilst I'm sure that this is a curiosity that most of us take for granted (and indeed, few have any real desire to ponder over now), it's most undoubtedly a Good Thing. A Good Thing, in that it will (and I make this point in a strictly flippant sense without wishing to draw any wider inference whatsoever) inevitably annoy Americans, who persist in dumbing down the English Language with unnecessary simplifications (it's COLOUR, you bastards).

Indeed, there has to be a case for introducing a wider and more adventurous range of spurious silent consonants in place names and everyday words. It would be a step against the Americanisation of the English language for one thing. We might learn a thing or two from the Poles, surely the masters of this art and the butt of American joke-telling for years as a consequence. I can't be the only one to have gazed in wondrous bewilderment at the names of Joszef Mlynarczyk and Pawel Kryszalowicz in Panini albums of the past. When I have a son, he'll be christened Zbigniew. Maybe. There's a guy playing for Leyton Orient called Boniek Forbes, which is a terrible cop-out.

Reading have begun their "difficult second season" well enough, particularly considering the upheaval caused by Alan Pardew seeing stars and toddling off to West Ham. Royals' fans might console themselves with the thought that he'll now have to work with David Connolly after all. Steve Coppell is the new man in charge, and he's immediately got the defence back in shape with three clean sheets in a row before Tuesday night's game with Burnley, the club's first clean sheets since August.

German-born American international Marcus Hahnemann will be in goal for our opponents. He saved a penalty in this tie last season, but is reported to make at least one howler a match, presumably when he catches sight of his team's name on a stand or something and pauses in confusion. With Jamie Ashdown on an experience-gaining loan to Rushden and Diamonds, James Young will be the sub keeper on the bench.

Mainstays at fullback are acting captain and stalwart Graeme Murty and former Orient fullback Nicky Shorey, whose form this season hasn't hit the heights it did last time round.

In the centre of defence, Reading have been hit by knee injuries to skipper Adie Williams and former Charlton man Steve Brown. Brown is reportedly close to a return, but will do well to displace utility man Ricky Newman and Icelandic international Ivar Ingimarsson who have formed a solid partnership over the last few games. Ingimarsson, a 100,000 signing from Wolves, is very much a Coppell man having played under him at Brentford and on loan at Brighton; he can also play at left back. The pacy John Mackie is another who can play in the centre... he was confined to the bench at the weekend having also returned from injury.

Under Pardew, Reading favoured a 4-5-1 formation, and with the squad biased in that direction Coppell has often reverted to this from his preferred 4-4-2 as injuries have limited his options. However, there appears to be some disquiet as regards how well the midfield has been functioning.

James Harper, last season's player-of-the-year, is another still to find his form this time, whilst Andy Hughes is a particular focus of the fans' frustrations. His energy and enthusiasm are not matched by his passing ability, but his habit of finding the net from midfield probably makes him undroppable in a side that is hardly prolific.

One man to have won praise recently is former England International John Salako, who appears to be enjoying the greater amount of freedom that Coppell has afforded him. Coppell was Salako's boss at Palace when he won England caps in the early nineties. Scott Murray should play on the right, he arrived from Bristol City in the summer on the back of a good goalscoring record but has yet to convince. England U21 international Steve Sidwell should also play.

Other options include transfer-listed duo Nathan Tyson and Kevin Watson, the latter of whom scored Reading's deflected winning goal almost exactly a year ago and, on the verge of departure, is winning support from the stands in a Salad Cream kinda way. A recent addition to the squad is Andre Boucaud, recruited from QPR's academy which was dismantled by the administrators a year ago. Administration an attractive option? Don't think so.

Up front much is still dependent on thirty-year-old Nicky Forster, who will charge around for seventy-five minutes before invariably running out of steam. Shaun Goater has missed a couple of games with a knee injury but may return at the weekend... he has failed to perform to anything like expectations, and does not have the stock of brownie points to trade off that he might have had at Man City. Darius Henderson is another who is injured... Coppell took him on loan to Brighton earlier in the season, so one might expect him to feature in future. The last option is the enormous Bas Savage, who has also been used wide on the right and may well be on the bench.

Reading beat us twice last season, slightly fortunately at the Madejski Stadium but utterly convincingly at the Vic at the end of the campaign. This time round we're on a decent run of form, and with our hosts having half an eye on Chelsea's Carling Cup visit in the week we're in with a shout.

It's my first game for three weeks. I'm counting the days.