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Monday, November 12, 2012
Reading’s sponsorship deal with an upmarket supermarket chain may have had something to do with the provision of choc ices in the Press room at half-time.
It was a gesture appreciated by some but not all and, on a November afternoon, as rare in most football reporters’ experience as, shall we say, a Norwich City clean sheet away from home in the Premier League.
But if free ice cream was designed to make the assembled media feel a little more positive about the entertainment on view, it probably failed.
The previous match at the Madejski Stadium had been a remarkable 12-goal thriller that kept the audience in suspense for a breathtaking two hours.
By contrast, this was a bit like grabbing your lolly and taking your seat to find the latest Bond blockbuster had finished its run and been replaced by The Cure for Insomnia – officially the world’s longest movie at 87 hours. Even the Canaries’ run of 38 top-flight away fixtures without managing a shut-out did not use up so much time.
Nearly 2,200 travelling fans could probably come up with their own rather mixed reviews of their team’s encounter with the Royals.
On the positive side, the result stretched City’s unbeaten run to five matches in all competitions, and made it eight points from four league games. It was also their fourth clean sheet of the season, already one more than in the whole of 2012-13.
As a further bonus, favourable results at the bottom of the table meant that none of the division’s struggling sides – Stoke probably don’t qualify as such – gained any ground on the Canaries.
At the same time, with two of the Premier League’s top four teams next on the agenda for Chris Hughton’s men, three points would have been even better than one, and a bit more quality and a little more adventure in the second half, when Wes Hoolahan, Robert Snodgrass and Grant Holt all had sight of goal, might just have secured them.
In a game of few clear-cut openings, where both central defensive pairings impressed and neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked, Hughton admitted he had been tempted to freshen up his attacking options sooner than the double substitution he made in the 86th minute, but was reluctant to jeopardise the one point that looked fairly secure.
The previous meeting between the two teams on the same ground, in the Championship on the same weekend two years ago, had delivered six goals and all kinds of fireworks but it was soon apparent this was to be a much less colourful affair.
It took 14 minutes for either side to muster a worthwhile attempt on goal, but City ’keeper John Ruddy did not look entirely comfortable as he parried a venomous drive from Garath McCleary and watched gratefully as Sébastien Bassong hooked the rebound clear.
Snodgrass went as close as anyone for Norwich in the opening half – and then not very close – when he headed wide from a Hoolahan cross.
Bassong almost landed City in trouble by over-elaborating on the edge of the six-yard box after cutting out a cross from the persistent Jason Roberts, and when Roberts was given a second bite at the cherry, it was left to Michael Turner to come to the rescue, diverting the striker’s cross behind, albeit dangerously close to the near post.
The second period provided a little more in the way of goalmouth incident.
First Hoolahan might have done better than slice a shot wide after good work by Anthony Pilkington.
Then one of Reading’s seemingly endless string of free-kicks from full-back Nicky Shorey could have provided the breakthrough, but defender Sean Morrison glanced a header wide as he and substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak jumped together.
Skipper Jobi McAnuff went rather closer for the Royals when he twisted away from Steven Whittaker and sent a 20-yard effort narrowly over the top, and there was a close shave for City when a cross from substitute Jimmy Kebe bounced on top of the bar.
But if anything, the Canaries finished in the ascendancy and might just have snatched the extra two points.
Holt headed wide from Javier Garrido’s cross when defender Kaspars Gorkss did just enough to put him off, then, with 10 minutes left, Snodgrass headed over the top from Pilkington’s cross when he could have doubled his season’s tally.
Pilkington fired into the crowd, Holt headed straight at ’keeper Adam Federici from a Pilkington centre, and Alex Tettey pulled a weak effort across goal in stoppage time, but it was a game never intended for a dramatic finish.