The portents were varied for this match ? so far Luton had won both the matches they have played this season with Kevin Wright as referee, but the Royals were flying along on an unbeaten league run of 33 matches, were unbeaten away from home and had only conceded 10 goals away, out of 20 total goals conceded and then they scored after 18 seconds!
Might as well have gone home at that point then? You would have been forgiven for thinking so. The bookies had Luton at 11/4 to win a home game, what odds were they at 0-1 down after 18 seconds?
The Hatters, unchanged from the side that drew 3-3 with Cardiff City in midweek, were rocked straight from the kick off when Convey’s innocuous looking cross should have been cleared by Barnett, but he made a hash of it, leaving the lively Kevin Doyle to run through and chip over the advancing Beresford.
Reading’s confidence was high enough when they arrived, but now, it was brimming over as they strode forward with calm, assured passing, and Luton’s defence looked as nervous as kittens.
However, once they had survived the first jittery 9 minutes, the Town settled into a rhythm and began to take control of the game.
Morgan had a good chance but took a touch when he might have shot immediately andlost the opportunity, and Howard shot wide after good work by Edwards after 11 minutes, then got on the end of a good cross from Foley to drive straight at Hahnemann, but the shot lacked power.
Howard and Vine were linking very well and looking a danger, and it was those two whose clever interplay secured the equaliser for Luton. Vine received the ball wide right and held it up turning across field to slip a pass to Howard. As Vine turned and continued to run forward, Howard played a first time ball with slide rule accuracy into the path of the former Pompey striker, who calmly lifted the ball over the diving Royals keeper. It was a top quality move and finish. Vine’s confidence in recent matches has been growing and his all round game has improved, and the finishing has come with it. It is also apparent that he is a real Luton man and fed off the chants of “Rowan Vine ?Vine ?Vine!” He loves it.
Five minutes later, Carlos Edwards found Kevin Foley, who crossed for Vine to tuck the ball into the ball into the corner of the net from 7 yards ? his fourth goal in four days.
Reading had a few chances in the first half due to the work of Oster and Harper, but it was Luton who might have gone further ahead in the 36th minute, when a training ground routine from a free kick should have borne dividends. Morgan ran over the ball and Nicholls shaped to drive but curled the ball to the far post where Brkovic ghosted in to head to Howard who, from 4 yards lifted the ball over the falling keeper but crashed it against the crossbar and flew clear.
Luton still came forward and, as his colleagues stopped to appeal for a handball, Brkovic was awake to the potential of the loose ball, and clipped an overhead pass to Barnett who headed home, but his joy was short-lived as he was marginally offside.
Reading thought they should have had a penalty kick on 38 minutes, when a route 1 clearance found Heikkinen too far forward and, as the speedy Kevin Doyle got his head to the ball and was bearing down on the penalty area, the Finnish international stumbled and made slight contact with Doyle’s trailing foot. Doyle took off as if he had been scythed, and probably made up the officials’ minds for them by doing so, and nothing was given. TV replays showed that there was slight accidental contact, which was outside the area, but intent was removed from the Law some years ago, so it should have been a free kick, which might have seen Heikkinen red carded as the last man. However, some you win – some you lose and Luton have had their fair share of poor decisions this season, and they held on till half time for a deserved lead.
Luton continued to attack after the break and a third was not long in coming. On 51 minutes, Morgan won the ball well down the left flank, but was well marshalled by two defenders. However, he turned one, and flicked the ball up and over the head of the other and moved infield. He slipped a pass to Howard but continued to run across the face of goal, demanding the ball’s return. Howard obliged and Morgan took one touch and then buried the ball just inside the post giving Hahnemann no time to move. How elated was Morgan to score against the club, which virtually dumped him as not good enough? The players were delighted for him and clapped their hands over their heads leading the crowd’s chant of “Deano”.
A scrappy period of play followed when firstly Doyle, who had been warned by referee Wright on at least two occasions talked himself the evening’s first yellow card, quickly followed by number 2, for Vine’s reckless tackle from behind, and Kitson flattened Sol Davis for no 3.
In 59th minute a free kick found Howard, who was floored in the box by Hahnemann’s careless charge but he was relieved when the referee’s whistle was for Howard’s being in an offside position.
As Reading stepped up the pace, a skied header by Heikkinen was going out for a throw-in, and Oster caught it with a view to taking it quickly, but the Assistant referee ruled that he had handled it before it went out and received a verbal outburst by the petulant Oster, which saw his name enter the count of yellow cards.
Reading rarely threatened, but, in a Cardiff déjà vu situation, Luton’s grip on the match loosened dramatically as Reading suddenly sparked into life. In the last 20 minutes, they began to show some of the football that has got them to the top. However, Luton defended much better than in midweek and Barnett made a good recovery from his early gaffe and played very well. This match will (ironically after his nervous start) have taught Barnett a lot about himself. He could turn out to be as good as Curtis Davis. He’s not there yet but he is only just 20 years old.
In 69th minute Barnett went down with cramp after a challenge by Kitson, and Kitson helped relieve it by stretching the offending muscle of the youngster, a very sporting gesture. This was followed soon afterwards by a yellow card for Marlon Beresford apparently for booting the ball away after it came through to him, but the referee had stopped play for a free kick to Reading.
Of course, in a match of such excellence, and against a team of the Royals undoubted quality, there is always a chance that they will conjure something from nothing. So it proved and in the 90th minute, Foley who dropped to left back when the superb returning Davis tired after 80 minutes, attempted a drive down the left wing. It rebounded from Hunt who went forward being tracked by Foley. He turned one way then the other and back again before one final turn and cross which saw Doyle and Kitson fighting each other for the header and it came off Doyle.
Four minutes of added time was going to seem a long time! However, Luton ?managed’ the time very well, (but please note Mr Boothroyd ? legally), and secured a famous victory, and there was yet time for Shorey to become the referee’s 6th victim of the yellow card.
It was an excellent performance and a deserved victory, but I’d like to make some observations about Reading.
They are an excellent example of a team like Luton were last season. They play well for each other, their manager Steve Coppell doesn’t say very much and is modest in victory. Last night he was very gracious in defeat, and having already shaken the hands of the management, Coppell walked around the field shaking the hands of every Luton player. That was impressive in his moment of disappointment of losing the record. Even so, it was great achievement to have gone 33 games undefeated.
Wouldn’t you just know that Dean Morgan would score what turned out to be the winner? Football is such a funny game!
Mike Newell 9 Got the lads fired up for this one.
Steve Coppell – 10 Great team – good footballing side – and Coppell’s sportsmanship in what must have been a very disappointing moment impressed me tremendously.
To Reading FC – Good luck in the Premiership ? you deserve it!