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03/04: Preview: Reading
Opposition opinion
by Royals fan Rob Evans

What happened last season?
We were promoted as runners up and found ourselves predicted for midtable, or worse. Only the most optimistic Royals fan could have predicted what was to happen.

A poor start to the season seemed to confirm many fans beliefs - 3-0 to the 'champions' of Derby, 2-1 to Leicester and Coventry. The team was settling in, but hampered a bit by changing tactics and players. The turning point was a 1-0 away win at Wolves. Matthew Upson in on-loan and 9 wins in 12 games followed and a spot in the playoff positions. A run of 7 games without conceding (nowhere near the record, held by Reading's own Steve Death, however) accompanied this upturn in form.

The Christams and New Year saw a few losses, before another good run of 7 wins in 9, pretty much cementing our place in the play-offs. Luke Chadwick was the second on-loan star brought in. With Upson and Chadwick this season and the good record of loan signings last season, Pardew has shown he has an eye for the transfer market.

At this point it is worth noting how many teams claimed they had bad games against us, that we played boring, negative football, that our bubble will burst. Well, it did. But so did Derby's. 'Champions'?: maybe of Division 2 in a few years time...The 3-1 against play-off rivals Sheff United is perhaps the highlight of this part of the season - they were put to the sword by a free flowing Reading side. The season pretty much trickled to its close - a play off spot was assured after a 3-0 reverse to Portsmouth, whereas the away match to Watford was a formality, but perhaps important as youngsters Darren Campbell and Peter Castle made their debuts. Castle had only just turned 16. Reading also had success on the international front: Tyson scored 2 for the U-20s on his debut, and Steve Sidwell became the highest capped player Reading have had after breaking into the U-21 scene. Finally, Matthew Upson started the season with no future at Arsenal. Only weeks after his loan spell at Reading finished, he was an England player.

And then the playoffs. 140 minutes where only Lescott and Murray kept Wolves in it before sucker-punch goals. We should have killed them off, 1-0 at Molineux with 20-odd minutes to go, and a goal at the Madjeski would have turned the 2nd leg around. But it was not to be.

But two defeats do not make a season. This was Reading's best season since 1994/5 and one of their best ever. The so-called defensive 4-5-1 formation was hard to break down, and despite people saying that managers will work it out, they've had a season to do so and couldn't. It also contributed to 25 wins, a number only beaten by Portsmouth and Leicester, so it can't be that negative, can it? The team played out of their skins, with Hahnemann, Harper and Foster excelling. And credit must go to Alan Pardew - a very good record in the transfer market, tactical ability and insight and he's turned a club around. Yet some people still don't rate him. Perhaps the slide will be on next season ...

What's going to happen next season?
Its easier to say than last season. West Brom, West Ham and Sunderland could all challenge or sink further into the mire. Wigan, Crewe and Cardiff could all emulate Reading's success or perhaps decide that Brighton and Stoke are worthier role models. I can only see a couple of those clubs challenging and only Ipswich or Norwich to be challengers to Reading, Forest and Sheff Utd. So playoffs are a realistic aim, with perhaps a push for the automatic spots.

And the squad will be strengthened. Deadwood is being removed, while firm bids for Bristol City's Scott Murray and Wimbledon's David Connelly show that quality signings will be made. Reading will also avoid many of the financial problems currently prevalent in football, as the manager and chairman are pulling in the same direction, and being sensible with cash - notice the loan signings, free transfers. I think Sidwell was the only player bought this season. 250,000 for a future England U21 is good business, whatever way you look at it.

There is a good youth set-up, and the midfield duo of Harper and Sidwell should only get better with experience. If Pardew stays, Reading should make it into the top flight in the next few years. A poor start might get fans on his back but ,as he has shown before, he will make big decisions and they have a knack of paying off.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
Pubs are a problem as most operate a no football-shirts policy, and there aren't many around the stadium, although beer is served inside. Best bet would be to find somewhere in town. That's the problem with a flashy out-of-town stadium. If you head away from the town, pubs such as The Swan at a place called Three Mile Cross are worth finding; go to Jn 11 and instead of going right (if coming from London) to the ground, go left (heading toward Basingstoke - but for God's sake don't GO to Basingstoke if you ever want to see your family ever again!!). Go down about 0.25 miles of dual carriageway 'til you get to the first roundabout, go left, then follow the road for about 0.5 mile and the Swan is on the left. The landlord doesn't mind you parking, the ground is 20 mins walk, which is great to exercise off the excellent chilli (5) or the beers (6X @ 2.50, Pride etc)

What's the nearest railway station?
Reading Station. There are regular buses both directly to the stadium and nearby it.

Where is the best place to park?
Catch train into Reading, and there are buses. If you drive, well, that's your problem.

Word Association
Reading Satellite Town
Beckham Good right foot. Pussywhipped.
Milton Keynes Why?
The Premiership Overpaid
Division Two Hell
Play-offs Hell
Lee Nogan Wonderland
Watford Yellow

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"Can any other of your co-editors offer me a job?"

"I only read the Mail because it has long been a parody of itself and I love watching their feature writers stick their head up their own arses." (yeah, whatever - ed)

"I'd be interested if you could tell me how many bands I saw at Glastonbury this weekend..."

"I actually managed to stay awake during your quarter final tie against Burnley, but that was only cause I was doing the ironing at the time."(what, you weren't playing then? - ed)

"Vicarage road is quite nice, apart from that minging stand to the left of the away end. and one of your stewards is a dick, he pointed down the stairs and grunted at where our seats were, then told us to F*** off when we asked for further information. Oh, and Marmite and Golden syrup are the two best things to go on toast, peanut butter and bacon sandwiches are really nice, and Cheese is grim. The best pizza is Hawaiian, the best drink is Fosters, and I have the greates hat in the world!"

"If you're being chased by a bear, try running down a hill. It's a well known fact that bears can not run down hills easily due to short front limbs and long back limbs."

"Two things: 1) A good analogy for the nature of space-time is to liken it to the surface of a trampoline, with objects (planets and other such heavenly bodies) resting upon that surface causing 'indentations' proportionate to their mass, hence, gravity. 2) I would like to put my willy inside Kelly Brook"

"I currently have the mother of all hangovers and haven't a clue where I woke up this morning...and apparently it's Tuesday??!!??"

"My dog is possessed by an Alien who thinks it's Dame Edna Everadge"

"I'm a firm believer in the philosiphy of a ruling class. Especially since I rule." (but you can't spell either)

"Please Please please get better pies!"

"Thank God this has finished"