Firstly, it has to be mentioned that this was a testimonial match for long-serving Seagulls 'keeper Michel Kuipers, a rarity in these mercenary days to stay with a single club for over ten years. And with the news that Kuipers was to start in goal for Brighton, a cynic next to me suggested that the Royals would play Simon Church up front to ensure his big day wouldn't be spoilt by him conceding a goal. But that wasn't to be, and Reading started with what many would see as just about the strongest team available.
This was one of those matches where the getting there was much better than the being there. The main attraction of this fixture was the chance to justify a trip to Brighton midweek, with all that that entails (fish and chips on the seafront, dodgems on the pier and a beer in The Lanes). The match itself was the proverbial "meaningless friendly" and so what happened bears absolutely no relation to Reading's prospects of success or otherwise in the league this season. But let's take a look at it anyway .....
And for the first 15 minutes or so the game followed the same pattern as Reading's fixture at the Amex in April - Brighton with the majority of the possession and creating a fair few chances, but with the cutting edge of a wet sponge. Reading didn't create very much and played with minimal pace and intensity, as you'd expect in a pre-season friendly - although Gorkks did make one or two hefty challenges early on. As we saw when we were last in West Sussex, Brighton's players need no excuse to go over like nine-pins, and they won numerous soft decisions, none more so when a Brighton player went down in the box after being breathed on by Shaun Cummings. A nicely taken penalty meant that Brighton lead at half-time, and that was about the only real first-half incident worthy of mention.
In the second half, reading looked a much better team - suddenly we seemed to have a midfield presence that had been lacking before the break. Guthrie (who had looked good all game) and Leigertwood (who had been anonymous in the first-half) seemed to have got their act together a lot more, and we did look a much better team. Cummings was getting forward more, as was McCleary, who made some very good runs. We looked much more likely to score, and were much less troubled at the back than in the first half, so all around things were much more promising. In particular, we had numerous breaks which looked good - my only worry is whether we'll be given as much room to run into by Premier League teams as Brighton gave us.
The goal came late on, with a HRK heading in well from an exquisite cross from Shaun Cummings - one of several he put into the box in the second half. The finish was excellent, with Hal out-jumping a Brighton defender in the box and directing the ball into the far corner of the goal. Top finish!
So, in summary, a meaningless match played at fairly low intensity, and one that no-one with any sense will read anything into. Just as the Brighton half-time cheerleaders made it obvious that this was a new season and everyone was still learning their roles, the team looked rusty and still learning who does what.
Star players for me were Guthrie and McCleary - but that may just be because they put in a little bit more effort than the others - I'm not drawing any conclusion for the future from this game!
As a footnote, the stadium now has seats in the upper tiers and corners filled in, although it's obviously still a work in progress. The normal away end was closed, and so the 194 Reading fans who made the trip shared the Lower West stand with Brighton fans, without segregation and with minimal stewarding. And, contrary to media expectations, a good time was had by all - there was friendly banter and no-one threw any punches, bottles or insults, and there were no riots. Although this was never going to be a high-risk game, it's another blow to the popular stereotype that trouble will kick-off the second rival supporters are in close proximity to each other.