Reading defender Sonko provides the entertainment

Last updated : 15 January 2005 By Tony Scholes
James O'Connor - man of the match performance
In our first home game of the year not only did we fail to score but we failed to register a single shot on target in ninety minutes with Readings erratic goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann not having anything of note to do throughout.

Not as though it was much different at the other end although Brian Jensen was forced into a couple of saves and they did hit the bar with the keeper beaten.

With the new turf at the Turf there was never any doubt that the game would go ahead although the playing surface is hardly conducive to good football. Needless to say it rained again and with the wind it all but guaranteed we wouldn’t have a classic.

Steve Cotterill made just the one change to the side that won at Stoke almost a fortnight ago with Richard Chaplow starting his first game since the October Carling Cup win against Aston Villa. He came in for the suspended Micah Hyde.

Both Michael Duff and Graham Branch were passed fit after picking up injuries at Stoke although neither of them were to go beyond the end of the first half.

There was a familiar face in the Reading side, wearing the number seven shirt, and he duly received warm applause when his name was announced before the kick off – and it wasn’t announced as Brian Little either.

It was though somewhat subdued and nothing like the sort of welcomes once reserved for the likes of Steve Davis and David Eyres or more recently for Andy Cooke and even Gareth Taylor and David Johnson.

Brian Jensen, with Danny Coyne watching from the bench, got down well to save the first effort of the match as Reading tried to get an early upper hand. They didn’t and the opening period was without any sort of incident with both sides playing with 4-5-1 formations and nullifying the other.

The crowd came to life when John McGreal went down injured, presumably thinking something untoward had happened but the atmosphere in the stands was soon returned to reference library levels.

The only thing that broke that was the reaction to Reading’s central defender Ibrahima Sonko who, being kind, was having some difficulty with his distribution. The harder he tried, the worse it got and it brought some stick from the otherwise dumb struck Longside.

Although Duff and Branch had been declared fit enough to start they weren’t to last too long. For the second match in succession Lee Roche replaced Duff and Branch’s afternoon came to an end at half time although he could have ended it in glory as a chance fell to him in stoppage time.

It was on his left foot too and at worst he should have made Hahnemann save but fired his shot high and wide. He didn’t return for the second half and was replaced by Jean-Louis Valois, himself just coming back from injury.

Gary Cahill - played well at the back but picked up a late injury
We did have an opportunity early in the second half but Ian Moore shot wide and then we had to endure our toughest period of the match as Reading stepped up a gear. Little’s last goal was on the Turf, for Burnley against Sunderland, and he nearly scored again and with a header but we cleared.

A low cross from the right caused some panic and then Jensen failed to cut out a cross that flew across his six yard box but we were able to get the ball clear. We were struggling to get hold of the ball and it seemed that every clearance was doing no more than giving them the ball back to come forward again.

They came as close as they were going to get when American Bobby Convey hit the bar with a free kick and after that we appeared to weather the storm.
Moore again had a chance but won a corner and then Chappy, almost Blake-esque weaved his way past defenders in the box but just couldn’t set himself up for a shot.

Nicky Forster and more so Andy Hughes were getting more and more frustrated and appeared to be taking it out on the referee and assistant. They contested just about ever decision with Hughes on more than one occasion having a primary school tantrum.

Only referee Jones will know why the pair of them weren’t at least yellow carded, in fact the only card of the afternoon went deservedly to Steve Sidwell after a bad foul on Tony Grant.

The last ten minutes or so was played out with hardly anything at all happening and a 0-0 draw was assured although there was a worry with Gary Cahill struggling and looking to be holding his hamstring, we can only hope there is no problem there.

It was a mightily painful match to endure, the entertainment level was as low as you can get but it is another point and it takes us into the forties.

Defensively we looked secure for most of the game, when don’t we? But going forward this was simply nowhere near good enough. We knew we would miss Robbie Blake, who incidentally got thirteen minutes football at Charlton this afternoon, and today we saw just how much we might miss him both in terms of the creation and taking of chances.

As always most will look to the defence for the top player although there had to be some surprise that captain Frank Sinclair was announced as the sponsor’s choice.

For me though it was in midfield and James O’Connor. The loan man turned in a tireless ninety minutes that left me exhausted just watching him. I’m not sure where on earth he gets all that energy.

I do suspect that we might struggle on Tuesday if we play like that again but there again I expect us to play better. It was ample good enough to beat a very ordinary Reading side but a Reading side who will probably make the play offs.

Steve Cotterill always prefers to take the positive option so we’ll be positive and report that this was our 14th clean sheet in 27 league games. But oh for a spark up front this afternoon.

The teams were,

Burnley: Brian Jensen, Frank Sinclair, Gary Cahill, John McGreal, Mo Camara, Michael Duff (Lee Roche 33), Richard Chaplow, Tony Grant, James O’Connor, Graham Branch (Jean-Louis Valois 45), Ian Moore. Subs not used: Danny Coyne, Paul Scott, Matt O’Neill.

Reading: Marcus Hahnemann, Graeme Murty, Ibrahima Sonko, Ivar Ingimarsson, Nicky Shorey, Glen Little, Steve Sidwell, James Harper, Andy Hughes, Bobby Convey, Nicky Forster. Subs not used: Jamie Young, Rob Newman, Lloyd Owusu, Bas Savage, Paul Brooker.

Referee: Michael Jones (Chester).

Attendance: 11,392.