Five Things : Reading v Watford

Charlie Crowhurst

Continuing the series of things to ponder resulting from each match, here’s this week’s points for discussion, argument or shooting down in flames.

1. Football League Referees leave a lot to be desired

It was clear on Saturday that referees in the Championship haven’t got any better while we were away, and yesterday’s referee, Mike Jones, was one of the weakest referees I’ve seen for a long time. Several times he looked likely to completely lose control of this game, and there were numerous little niggles and off-the-ball incidents that he either didn’t see or choose to ignore, and a number of challenges of clear yellow-card standard received no action.

Frankly, any referee who calls a player to them so he can book them, but who caves in and crosses over to the player when they refuse to budge demonstrates a complete lack of authority in my view. No wonder West Brom manager Steve Clarke said of him only eight months ago that he "was the poorest of a really good group" or that he was demoted after the "Liverpool beach-ball" incident.

This isn’t sour-grapes at the lead being thrown away yesterday or at Jones awarding such a soft, soft penalty, though – it’s much more a reflection that in this league we need to get used to and accept a much more variable standard of refereeing.

2. Wayne Bridge is skill on legs

When it comes to pure, undiluted skill, Wayne Bridge has it in abundance. Already we’re used to seeing him receive long, cross-field passes and pull the ball down from the air, killing it dead and getting it under total control with a single touch.

But last weekend there was more – tight on the touchline by the dugouts, and hemmed in by two Watford players, a deft flick from him wrong-footed both of them and he was away into space with the ball at his feet. Sublime skill, and If we had a "champagne moment" in Reading games, that’d be my nomination for yesterday, slightly ahead of Le Fondre’s superb volley.

3. The Championship is the place to be for entertainment

Despite the overblown hype of the Premier League starting at the weekend, surely Reading v Watford had to be the most entertaining match of the day? Even with a two-goal lead, the result was still in doubt, and the match was one that gripped everyone there right until the end, and the match at Bolton last week was also supremely entertaining.

Yes, last season we had a few thrilling finishes to a handful of matches, but I think I can honestly say that the level of passion and entertainment from just the first three matches of this season surpasses anything from the whole of last season.

4. Do Reading have a fitness problem?

For years, Reading have been one of the fittest teams in the league – except for a brief period under Brendan Rodgers. We’ve built a well-deserved reputation for playing right to the end of games and finishing them strongly, and I can think of many matches where sheer effort and fitness has seen us through to the end. But Saturday we saw anything but that - and the longer the game went on the more the team faded and looked tired and fragile.

Guthrie (as at Bolton) seemed exhausted after 70 minute. Drenthe was just as spent and was substituted. Blackman had several instances of severe cramp and Le Fondre was also clearly suffering - although the latter was down to an off-the-ball kick from a Watford defender rather than fitness. Similarly, Karacan had spent the afternoon being kicked by Watford players (see point 1 of these five points!) and was substituted - and we looked lightweight with nothing to offer.

I hope I’m wrong but if we are not as fit as we once were it’ll be a culture shock to us all and costly in terms of late points lost – I’d hate to see one of Reading’s greatest advantages over other teams surrendered.

5. This is the season of pyro’s.

If I can make a prediction, one of the big stories of this season will be the emergence of pyrotechnics of various types – smoke bombs, flares, bangers and so on. We’ve seen a few isolated incidents over recent matches, but there seems to be a hype about them this season that makes me think this’ll be the year they cross over from European football and stop being occasional novelties here but instead become much more the norm.

Amongst the various football officials and safety authorities, pyrotechnics are now seen as the number one safety issue – pushing "standing in seated areas" down into second place! – and as a result they will be clamping down as hard as they possibly can on them, so I think by the time the season ends everyone will be much more aware of the issue.

And for those who say pyro’s are just a bit of harmless fun that doesn’t affect anyone not using them, I think that due to the threat of them we’ll see searches of all away fans becoming much more thorough, intrusive and time-consuming – and that of course will include Reading fans travelling away. Plus, of course, the threat of pyrotechnics will be used as yet another excuse to demonise football supporters as just a bunch of irresponsible hooligans.

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