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The Oppo: Wolverhampton Wanderers

Handbags drops us the number one report on what Reading are up against in their first away game of the new season, and this weekend it's Wolves.

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The opening awayday of season 16-17 sees the Royals pitch up at Molineux ready to do battle with Wolverhampton Wanderers. A proud old club, Wolves are founder members of the football league and have more than a smattering of major trophies throughout their history having won the league three times, the FA Cup four times and the League Cup twice.

Head to Head

Much like our previous league opponents, Preston, the Biscuitmen had very little in the way of league history with Wolves until the mid-80’s, with just a flurry of fixtures during the Division 2 period in the late 20’s and early 30’s. It was only when Wolves commenced their plummet down the divisions that the clubs started meeting with any regularity, and despite Wolves commencing their rise back up the divisions and bypassing Reading on the way, it wasn’t long until Reading joined them, and since the opening day of the heartbreaking 94/95 season there have been 20 league fixtures between the clubs (plus the two playoff fixtures).

The league record between the two clubs is very even, Reading having marginally the better of it, however it is interesting how the Royals record at home tails off after the move to the Madejski, just the one win against the old gold and black on home turf since the move from Elm Park. However, the recent record at Molineux is very good with the opening day of 94/95 a bit of a watershed – Reading have won in Wolverhampton on five of their nine visits since that day (and should have won that day as well!)

Memorable Match

Matches between Wolves and Reading are almost always very watchable affairs and the partisan nature of the Wolves fans usually helps to create a healthy tension in the stands. The tension felt by Royals fans before our visit on 30 September 2008, however, was very much down to a combination of Wolves’ unbeaten start to the season and the inconsistent and fragile nature of Reading’s performances following relegation from the Premier League.

Those nerves were baseless on the night though, as Reading performed superbly and dominated throughout, putting in one of the most complete 90 minute performances I have seen from a Reading side. Reading got off to the perfect start when, after a quiet opening couple of minutes, a Stephen Hunt corner from the right was fumbled into his net by Wayne Hennessey, Kevin Doyle applying heavy pressure to force the mistake. The goal galvanised Mick McCarthy’s men and they toiled to get back into the game, the typical Mick McCarthy bombardment resulting in a desperate challenge here and a last ditch interception there on more than one occasion, however despite the constant pressure for a full 30 minutes following the goal they struggled to test Marcus Hahnemann. It was Reading who should have extended their lead in fact as Noel Hunt beat Hennessey to a cross from his brother, Stephen, only for Kevin Foley to clear off the line, but within seconds Wolves mustered their best chance of the game as a quick counter ended with Hahnemann saving low down to his left after Andy Keogh was put through on goal by Michael Kightly.

The second half was a different story as Reading came out looking to kill the game off. Wolves, lacking the talent and verve of Kightly who was substituted just before half time due to injury, looked unbalanced and struggled to impose themselves on their opponents with the gusto they had managed in the first half, and Reading sniffed blood. The lead was nearly doubled as Jimmy Kebe hit the post when it looked easier to score, and from the rebound Ivar Ingimarsson had his effort superbly saved by Hennessey. However after near constant Reading pressure the second goal eventually arrived when an excellent passing move (from a short corner no less, who says they never work?) resulted in Brynjar Gunnarsson playing Jimmy Kebe in down the inside right channel and his dinked cross was met with the meat of Andre Bikey’s forehead. 2-0, and the belief visibly drained from Wolves.

From then on it was comfortable for Reading, Wolves losing their second talisman in Matt Jarvis to further injury not long after the second goal, and in the 85 th minute Kevin Doyle played substitute Shane Long in down the right channel whose low cross found fellow substitute Kalifa Cisse in the middle who toe-ended past Hennessey.

As we all know, midway through the season Reading looked like genuine Championship contenders, capable of hammering all opponents and closely matching Birmingham and Wolves stride for stride, but for reasons discussed many times over many beers a horrendous loss of form in the second half of the season saw Reading finish fourth in a three-horse race, overtaken at the last by Sheffield United. Despite Reading doing the double over Wolves, the old gold and black prevailed and won the division, while Birmingham ended the season as runners up thanks to a final day victory at the Madejski that resigned Reading to pitting our playoff wits against everyone’s darling club that season, Burnley. Andre Bikey, however, was witless, and his Reading career ended on a sour note with his penalty and red card at Turf Moor, before his £3 million transfer to Burnley no less! Regardless of that though, this enthralling encounter on a balmy late September evening, when considered in isolation, remains one of the most pleasing matches for me as a Reading fan.

Played For Both Teams

Floyd Streete is a former Wolves stalwart of the late 80’s and remains highly regarded in the Black Country having been a stalwart during the turnaround years of the late 80’s. Having contributed greatly to two successive promotions and a Sherpa Vans Trophy win in 1988, the silverware won during his time at Molineux is undoubtedly the highlight of a reasonable and at times somewhat eclectic career path!

Born in Jamaica, Streete made his breakthrough with Cambridge United in 1976 where he would make 125 league appearances scoring an impressive 19 goals from central defence. In 1983 Streete made the move across the North Sea and joined Eredivisie club FC Utrecht where he would make just eight appearances before dropping to the Eerste Divisie, and a slightly more successful stint with FC Cambuur. 19 appearances and three goals later, Streete made the move back to England and joined up with Derby County where he would spend two years, making 35 league appearances before a £5000 move to Wolves where, despite an inauspicious first season ending in relegation to Division 4, he had his most successful club spell. In the four years after joining Streete won successive promotions from the Divisions 4 and 3, before a solid return in Division 2 and a 10 th place finish brought a curtain down on his Wolves career and a move south to Elm Park.

It was Ian Porterfield who brought the big Jamaican to Reading, where he would be in and out of the Royals’ defence for the next two seasons in an inconsistent period for the club. Streete never scored for Reading in 38 appearances, and he left the club in 1992 having made the last of his 384 league appearances.

Since retirement Streete has found his way to the Cayman Islands where he runs a gym and coaches football to local children. He can’t be doing a bad job - his son, Remie Streete, is currently on the books of Port Vale.

Grudge Moment

What can I say? In the mid to late 90’s Wolves were managed by a certain Mark McGhee, and while Reading were perennial strugglers from 95 onwards, the expectation on Wolves was that they competed at the top half of the table competing for promotion, and yet despite this Reading had a habit of turning the screw against McGhee sides, more often than not ending up on the winning side. In fact, a Mark McGhee managed side has only beaten a Reading side on two occasions in 14 attempts. Reading, on the other hand, have won 10 of the 14 matches, a fact not lost on McGhee who never fails to bite at the Reading fans who still occasionally give him stick to this day.

The weird fact of this grudge is that it is Wolves that have undoubtedly copped more than their fair share of flack, particularly when considering it was Leicester City who poached McGhee from our clutches. We did indeed have the one fixture at Filbert Street, a 1-1 draw in September 95, but the biggest wrath of Reading fans was undoubtedly reserved for Wolves, and the fixtures between April 1996 and April 1998. The April 96 fixture, a highly charged affair on its own due to Reading needing to win to guarantee safety, was given the additional spice by McGhee’s first return to Elm Park.  Reading ran out resolute 3-0 winners, Jimmy Quinn’s late clincher one of the iconic moments in the later Elm Park days under the lights, but it is the April 1997 fixture that really sticks out in my mind.

McGhee had assembled a sound squad and spent over £3 million during the season, including signing Adrian Williams in pre-season and my boyhood hero, Michael Gilkes, on transfer deadline day 97. They predictably challenged for promotion that year, and the Elm Park fixture in April gave Reading a real chance to derail the promotion charge in favour of Barnsley (who had won in Reading just three weeks earlier). As it was, Wolves took the lead in the match late on through Mark Atkins, only for Stuart Lovell to score twice in injury time and win the game. Reading celebrated like they had won promotion themselves at the final whistle, while Barnsley went on to win promotion as runners up behind Bolton, Wolves lost out in the playoffs to Crystal Palace, and it is this point that really lit the touchpaper between the Reading fans and McGhee.

Such tales, whatever the truth behind them, are part of what makes football the emotional game it is, and with every subsequent win the pleasure of getting one over Mark McGhee only gets better!

Fact, Interesting or Otherwise

Reading hardly have a glorious history in the FA Cup, but our 1927 run in the competition was curtailed at Molineux in the days well before semi finals were played at Wembley. Every Reading fan knows it was Cardiff City who were victorious on the day, taking their place in the final after a 3-0 win, contemporary reports suggesting Reading never played to their potential and were deservedly beaten. Cardiff, of course, went on to win the trophy at Wembley, while Wolves were one of a handful of clubs to win a major domestic final played away from Wembley when Dave Jones oversaw their 3-0 win over Sheffield United in the 2003 Division 1 playoff final, their place achieved after the two-legged semi-final win over, of course, Reading.