Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hahnemann agony as Reading crash out

Reading 0-2 Burnley (0-3 on aggregate; Burnley in play-off final against Sheffield United)

Marcus Hahnemann could have played his last game for Reading after his team lost 2-0 to Burnley in their Championship play-off second leg at the Madejski tonight.

The Seattle native, out of contract at the club he first joined in 2002, failed to help his team overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, despite an opening 45 minutes where they dominated their northern visitors. An opportunistic strike from Martin Paterson gave Burnley the lead six minutes after the break.

Hahnemann looked mortified when the Clarets forward drifted in from the right wing and unleashed a left-foot strike from 25 yards which curled in at the far post. Reading coach Steve Coppell responded at once by throwing on Royals veterans Dave Kitson and Glen Little but disaster struck seven minutes later when Steven Thompson brought down a long clearance from his goalkeeper and promptly chipped Hahnemann from the edge of the box to send Burnley three goals up on aggregate.

The Royals will rue throwing away their promotion chances with a torrid second half of the season and only three home goals in the last three months. A final day defeat at home to Birmingham confirmed they would miss out on an automatic return to the Premier League.

Hahnemann joined the Royals seven years ago on a free transfer from Fulham and has clocked up 306 games for the Berkshire side in all competitions, becoming part of the furniture at the Madejski, a tireless motivator of his teammates and a fan favorite who bought a new jersey before each game to hurl into the crowd. He once fixed a fan's broken-down car and attempted to do the same to the Reading team bus when it ground to a halt on the way to a game, but the driver had left his toolbox at home.

With Bobby Convey's return to MLS in February, Reading may no longer be one of the 'American' clubs followed by fans from across the Atlantic. Rumors are also rife that Coppell could call it a day too after missing out on promotion.

If this really was Hahnemann's last game for Reading, I will miss his action-packed post-game analysis, the torrent of quotes he gave journalists like me who had stood waiting in the cold for him to come out (he was always the last player to leave the stadium) and the fact he would always make time for you, frequently keeping his family waiting impatiently.

"We're gonna get dinner darling, what would you like?" his wife once called as he was in full flow with me. "Fish and chips" he hollered back, before resuming his colorful repartee to my questions as his folks drove away. He also told me he let off steam with Kasey Keller by retreating to the woods of the Pacific Northwest in the close season and letting off firearms!

I first watched him in action with Fulham reserves at Woking a decade ago, bringing along a stars and stripes flag to make him and Eddie Lewis feel at home. Biding his time for three seasons on the Craven Cottage sidelines and on loan at Rochdale and Reading is a testament to how patience can pay off. He has also of course been an excellent performer during his time here. One of my favorite memories of watching Hahnemann was him keeping Southampton at bay on a September night four years ago. Harry Redknapp, the then Saints coach, was dumbfounded afterwards:

"He was incredible," Redknapp said of Hahnemann. "He made three or four world-class saves...I've never seen a team dominate so much and not win." All thanks to the big American between the sticks.

So if this is goodbye to England, then cheers Marcus, you've been a top man.

-Sean O'Conor

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