Plenty of league action between Norwich and Reading has occurred in the past, 66 matches in fact, over four separate stadia. The Royals have marginally the better record between the sides which dates back to 1920.
At the Madejski, having won on their opening two visits the Canaries have failed to take maximum rewards in five visits and have only scored in two of those visits. Overall, in visits to Reading, Norwich walk away defeated in slightly more than half of their matches, and average conceding slightly fewer than two goals a game in Berkshire.
It’s not often you can genuinely say the referee had a hand in gifting a team a goal, but on 12 April 2004 he did just that to the obvious joy of 4000 Canaries supporters that travelled to see their side face a stern test in Steve Coppell’s erratic but improving Reading.
The first half saw Norwich threaten first, Darren Huckerby receiving the ball through the middle, running at the Reading defence (missing the suspended Ivar Ingimarsson after his ridiculous red card at Bradford two days earlier) and bringing a smart, fingertip save from Jamie Ashdown in the Reading goal, but Reading imposed themselves on Norwich for the remainder of the half and felt slightly dismayed to not go into the break leading. First, John Salako headed straight at Rob Green when well placed, and Steve Sidwell was beautifully played clean through a couple of minutes later only for his effort to lack the accuracy required to beat the highly regarded Norwich keeper. Ashdown, on the other hand, was a virtual spectator after his early save.
The second half was more of an even stalemate, the tide turning slightly when Coppell removed Paul Brooker at half time, replacing him with Shaun Goater. Nicky Forster moved out wide allowing Goater to partner Dave Kitson up front. As a result, Damien Francis was given a bit more licence to get forward and twice he tested Ashdown, but the match appeared to be heading for a stalemate when the referee, Neale Barry, inexplicably intervened.
A throw in from Marc Edworthy deep in the Reading half was easily cleared by Dean Gordon, only for Barry to get in the way. Upon seeing the ball heading his way, Barry failed to attempt to step out of the way, instead opting to bend over in a half hearted attempt to miss it. Unfortunately the ball rebounded back into the Reading box straight to Phil Mulryne. The Northern Irishman swivelled on a sixpence, lofting the ball over Hahnemann and into the net. The goal knocked the stuffing out of Reading, and that was it.
Barry, it has to be said, had the decency to apologise afterwards. It must be said no referee who enters the field of play has any intention of affecting the outcome of a match in any way other than by the decisions he or she makes, and I personally have never seen anything quite like it before or since. It wasn’t the only time Barry had affected the path of the ball in the match, and while that is supposedly a part of the game the actions on the pitch, and subsequent apology, did nothing to appease Royals supporters. It was a tough one to take, particularly given our own lingering playoff hopes which admittedly lasted until the final game, but luck like that displayed in this match (as well as our own obvious inconsistency) put paid to any hopes of promotion...for two years at least!!
Just like Ipswich earlier in the season, Norwich City always conjures up imagines of some horrific luck in the mid 90’s, despite playing reasonably well on occasion. The 3-0 defeat at Elm Park in March 1996 being a notable exception, Reading were abject on the day, and just six months later the Canaries benefitted from a Keith Scott punch as he did his best Maradona when levelling late on at Carrow Road. Most of all though, they spoilt the party – last ever victors at Elm Park, of all players you wished could score the final goal at the beloved old place, Craig Bellamy would feature pretty low on the list. Sadly, he holds that honour, the final Reading goalscorer being Michael Meaker a month earlier.
Fact, Interesting or Otherwise
The Nest – Reading had the honour of playing at the old quarry on nine occasions before the Canaries relocated just across the railway to their present home, Carrow Road. The ground looks fantastic, while at the same time possessing a somewhat cavalier attitude towards spectator safety! An open cliff was located at one end of the ground where the pitch was dug into, and less than a year after the ground opened an FA Cup tie had to be moved to a neutral venue as the opponents complained that the pitch was too small. Those opponents? Reading, of course!!
And speaking of railways, Carrow Road boasts the nameplate “Norwich City” that was placed on Great Eastern Railway engine 2859. The nameplate was presented to the club in 1959 as a commemoration of the club’s 1958/59 FA Cup run, and was one of 25 different engines bestowed with the name of a football club. Sadly, Reading wasn’t one of them.