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I Wuz There: Reading 1 Villa 1


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Football in the summer - pretty girls wearing not much more than Villa tops and shorts, cool beer before, during and after the game. Cant beat it really. PB reports from the Madejski Stadium as Villa's preseason came to a close

It was a friendly. It lacked any of the cut and thrust, tension and simple urgency of a real proper game, but it was for all that a good game of football played between 2 teams that know how to play the game properly in the early August sunshine in Berkshire.

From the motorway this looks like a big stadium, belieing its meagre 24,000 capacity. In fact, it is rather cunningly built upon a small hill so that it sort of dominates the surrounding landscape despite being actually a small, but tidy, stadium rather similar to Southampton or Derby or Leicester - that sort of bowl type thing that everyone was building for a while there.

Me and my son Tim, once suitably refreshed, were perched right up at the back of the away enclosure, which it rapidly became apparent was going to be the most heavily populated part of the ground. I am told that this section holds just over 2,000, in which case there were something around 1500 or so Villa fans in a total crowd of just over 7,000 - with the Reading fans dotted in little clumps around the rest of the place. Huge credit is due to the travelling fans really, who from the first whistle to the last sang their hearts out for the lads, in mostly good natured fashion - although I am certain that had the news broken earlier then Gareth Barry would have been given a rather different reception to the friendly (but along way from rapturous) one he got.

Due to the worst tannoy system ever, it took some time to figure out who was actually playing for Villa, especially as the programme numbers didnt match those worn by the players in all cases. Friedel was in goal for a debut, Davies was back to partner Laursen, and Gardner and (I eventually figured out) Stieber were the full backs. A midfield best described as makeshift (Maloney, Osbourne, Salifou and Routledge) were there to support the large but largely immobile strikeforce of Carew and Harewood. No Gareth Barry I noticed, being observational like that.

Anyway, the match kicked off, and it was all very leisurely. Villa looked the better team by far in the early exchanges, and squandered a few good situations. Suddenly Reading got the ball forwards, and right in front of us Martin Laursen (who played poorly I thought) got caught in a horrible position and was skillfully rolled by the forward who went down for a clear penalty. The Villa fans were chanting "Freidel, Friedel" as the Reading lad ran up to take it and the new keeper didn't let his new fans down as he dived to his right to easily palm the kick away and send the travelling fans wild. What a way to start! The Holte End are going to love this guy

The rest of the half was a bit nothing really. Both teams had alot of possession. Maloney and Routledge both looked impressive without actually doing anything vaguely threatening or constructive, while Salifou impressed and Osbourne didn't in the middle. Davies was superb, a proper player, who basically played right back as well as central defender to cover the non existant Gardner. Stieber I thought looked better, but isnt a Premiership full back until he puts on some weight. Good player though. Harewood did that comedy impression of a striker that he does - I guess sometimes it must work, today it was never going to, carew was just not involved at all - in fact typing this I am wondering if he actually played ... I think he did.....

Anyway, the game is drifting in a nice sleepy way towards half time with the Villa fans thinking up new and amusing ways of taunting what passed for the home support when suddenly someone from Reading tried a speculative shot from some distance that took a huge deflection that left Friedel on the ground as the ball dribbled agonisingly towards the goal, popped off the post just before it was about to stop and the Reading lad who happened to be stood there almost apologetically rolled it into the empty net on the rebound from about 6 inches out. Cue some slightly louder applause from the home crowd, who for a little minute threatened to break out in song, but thought better of it.

Half time. We're losing on the pitch, but winning by miles "on the terraces", and thats what seemed to really matter. Pre season freindlies. great stuff. Gardner off, and Carew too - Nigel and Gabby on.

Villa were the better team after the break, no question. Every change (and there were a few) made Villa stronger, more of a threat. On the downside, Knight came on and single handedly made Reading look potent and it was a bit more like a proper game now - chances at both ends - Friedel being I think a little more spectacular than was actually needed once or twice. Then the change that really made the difference as Villa brought on Young and Delfouneso on about 70 mins or so and dominated the match from then on in.

What Young did that Maloney or Routeldge didnt is just have that little extra something- that ability to spot the extra space, the overlap, the weakness in the other team and exploit it. Nathan meanwhile did a series of little tricks and stepovers that pleased the crowd and bamboozled the defence and generally looked like he could really be a player some day.

Albrighton did what Routledge for all his fancy footwork didnt and played a simple ball in to Gabby to bravely scramble in an equaliser with 10 minutes left (its amazing isnt it how often the simple things just work?).

There were a couple of chances at either end, but the result was the right one really, and so a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon in the sun came to a close. what had we learned? We need a full back or two - has this been mentioned? With Ashley Young we are a different team to without him. We have more fans than Reading. Gareth Barry wouldn't kiss his badge when asked to by the fans. Odd that.

Next up, Iceland. Not for me I hasten to add.


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Nice summing up !

I was also there and have to say some of the BAnter between the Reading and Villa fans was at times very Funny, especially that Ginger lad in the Reading fans who took some right stick. It was a good day out at a tenna a ticket but the Car Parking was a bit steep at £8 though !

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