Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reading the riot act

One of the greatest pleasures I have had covering US players in England the past few years has been the progress of Reading’s two Yanks, Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann.

While Fulhamerica has dissolved over the close season (no Americans started at Craven Cottage today in the Cottagers’ 1-0 win over Arsenal), Reading is left as the US standard-bearer in England, with two 'Nats' in their starting eleven. Three seasons ago, the Royals were in heaven. Not only did they ascend for the first time to England’s top division, they did it by going 33 consecutive games unbeaten, scoring 99 goals and in the process set an English record of 106 points in a season.

But last season Reading were relegated and having watched them live today for the first time this campaign, they have a fight on their hands to make it back to the Premier League.

This afternoon, they lost 4-2 in an extremely incident-packed match to a Charlton team still finding their feet with new recruits. Despite having many familiar faces still wearing the hoops, Reading just do not look as sharp as they used to. Hahnemann was at fault in spilling Charlton’s first, while Convey was frequently robbed or beaten for pace over the first few yards. Plus Bobby still runs predictably in too many straight lines.

Anchorman James Harper does not carry the same authority he used to in the middle, perhaps because the Royals’ two ‘gingerbreadmen’ – Steve Sidwell and Dave Kitson, have moved on to greener pastures, while Stephen Hunt, one of their more useful attackers, was neutered at left-back. Reading drew level to 2-2 before two opportunistic Addicks strikes gave the Londoners the win. Still, it was nice to see Marcus continuing his tradition of handing his jersey he pays for each week to the travelling fans. He might be slowing down aged 36, but surely no other player at the Madejski is so ‘fit to wear the shirt’ as he is.

EJ the Bluebird - I was delighted to see Eddie Johnson go to Cardiff for some first-team experience, although I hope Fulham can still find a place for him in the Premier League in future. After a baptism of fire, EJ has started to find his gifted young feet across the pond. In a sense he has now left English soccer in moving to the Welsh capital, but Cardiff fans, despite their proclaimed hatred of all things Anglo-Saxon (including the GB soccer team for 2012), shudder at suggestions they should join the League of Wales. Having lived in Cardiff for four years myself, I am sure Eddie will enjoy his time in one of Britain's nicest cities and find the same welcome the locals give to anyone who is not English.

Incredible Sulk II - Can’t help but feeling a smidgen of schadenfreude as Tottenham’s ‘dream team’ lost for the second week in succession, 2-1 at home to Sunderland. I have no sympathy for want-away ace Dimitar Berbatov, who sulked off-field after Father Christmas had told him he won’t break with tradition to make a special delivery of a Man United jersey. Forget his glistening class, if the Bulgarian hitman does not want to play for Spurs, then the club should offload him at once before the window closes in a week.

Chelsea 1-0 Abramovich - Andriy Shevchenko has said returning to Milan is like ‘winning the Champions League’. I assume he is recalling his decisive penalty against Juventus in the 2003 final, and not his inept spot-kick two years later which handed the trophy to Liverpool. But good luck to the Ukrainian. Should he prosper again with Kaka & Co., it should tell us something about the supposed virtues of the English game, whose followers have ganged up to dismiss Sheva as dead wood. When he arrived at Stamford Bridge, Rossoneri vice-president Adriano Galliani called it ‘a victory for the English language over the Italian language’ (Sheva’s wife is American). After his failure to make an impact in the Premier League, is it now a ‘victory’ for English football, too?

Tell the Tim
- When his team were sporting black shorts and yellow socks, why was T-Ho wearing grey and grey today? Did his kitman accidentally pack Liverpool’s away goalkeeper uniform instead of Everton's?

Hot Stuff- Congratulations to Argentina for winning the Olympics Football Final in 42C against Nigeria - the first time I have seen Africans wilt in the heat since USA '94, and allowing the world a rare glimpse of the legendary Diego Maradona in the stands. If you fancy reading up on (in my opinion) the greatest-ever soccer player, avoid his pompous and porous autobiography 'I am Diego' and head instead for Jimmy Burns' more perceptive biography 'Hand of God'.

- Sean O'Conor


Phillip said...

Dempsey came on late for Fulham today.

Sean O'Conor said...

Thanks Phillip. Forgive me, my information (BBC Online) was duff!