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The Oppo: Newcastle United

We all know Newcastle's recent form isn't fantastic but how's their history with Reading FC? Handbags give us an in-depth look at tonight's opponents.

THE OPPOAwayday number two of the season and, on paper, perhaps the hardest awayday Reading will face all season as Reading travel to for only their ninth ever appearance at St James' Park, Newcastle.

Head-to-Head

Due to the disparity in divisions over the course of footballing history, there is a distinct paucity of league fixtures between Reading and Newcastle United. In fact, there have only ever been eight and they can be traced back to the heady days of 2006-07. Prior to that, a smattering of FA Cup ties tended to yield replays for Reading, with one League Cup tie also added into the mix, completes the set of 14 fixtures.

In league terms, the omens aren't good for Reading who have lost three and won one fixture at SJP. The Geordie supporters' demand for good football inevitably yields good strikers who are too good for Reading's defence and they have scored three goals on three of the four league occasions in Newcastle -€” Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen and Mark Viduka just some of the names to have netted against the Royals at SJP. We fare better at the Madejski, winning two and drawing once, Newcastle's only victory in the Royal County coming in April 2010 on their way to the Championship title.

League Record
Played RFC Wins Draws NUFC Wins RFC Goals NUFC Goals
St James' Park 4 1 0 3 4 10
Elm Park 0 0 0 0 0 0
Madejski Stadium 4 2 1 1 6 5
Reading Total 4 2 1 1 6 5
Overall 8 3 1 4 10 15

Of the three league matches I have attended at SJP the one that really sticks in the craw is the 3-0 defeat on 5 April 2008, a key result that went some way to consigning Reading to our fate that season.

Memorable Match

Prior to the match Reading were on a run of very encouraging performances, just one defeat in five in March away at Liverpool no less in a match that Reading deserved something from, with Marek Matejovsky finally showing the sort of form expected of him and bedding in to his role at the heart of the Reading midfield, however a red card for him in the goalless draw with Blackburn the week before rendered him suspended for this fixture, and so it proved that the Reading midfield lacked the guile of the Czech international.

Reports at the time of the match suggest an enthralling affair which is inconsistent with my own memory, as Reading rarely threatened from my perspective, whereas Newcastle, then managed by Kevin Keegan, had the Reading back line tied up in knots on more than one occasions as the three-pronged attack of Viduka, Owen and Martins threatened at will. It took 18 minutes for the Geordies to make the breakthrough as a Nicky Butt pass to Martins was controlled nicely, and a slip from Liam Rosenior allowed the Nigerian a clear shot on goal which he took expertly.

The goal knocked the collective stuffing out of the Royals, and just before half time Michael Owen hooked in expertly from the corner of the six-yard area after a lofted pass from Habib Beye to effectively settle the match.

The second half was an onslaught as Newcastle sought the third to put the gloss on the scoreline, and so it arrived 10 minutes into the second half as Mark Viduka controlled another Habib Beye pass after a flowing move down the right and fired the third past Hahnemann.

From that moment on Reading chased shadows, Newcastle kept the ball expertly and should have added to their lead as Joey Barton, Habib Beye, Martins and Damien Duff all had efforts saved or deflected wide when well placed, and the match finished 3-0 to the hosts. The result effectively sewed up survival for Newcastle whose own season had been sullied by the presence of Sam Allardyce in the Geordies managerial hotseat, only for the second coming of Kevin Keegan to start getting the results required.

For Reading, after three wins in five before the match, it was one win in six, and that coupled with both Bolton and Fulham reviving their fortunes saw Reading relegated on the final day of the season despite a 4-0 win at Pride Park.

They Played For Both Teams

Kevin Dillon is a name synonymous with Reading having both played and coached at the club in the 90's and 00's. A Mackem by birth and a Sunderland supporter, Dillon actually commenced his career in the West Midlands with Birmingham City where he is widely acknowledged to have been the last player to have been given a first team debut by Sir Alf Ramsay.

Dillon made 186 appearances over six seasons for Blues, scoring 15 goals and playing a key role throughout, his tenure in the Blues first team including both relegation from Division 1 and an immediate promotion back, but after a period out of the side he was transferred to Division 3 side Portsmouth who themselves were well on their way to promotion to Division 2. A more than successful spell at Fratton Park included 45 goals in 215 appearances, a highly creditable ratio of just over 1-in-4 from midfield, and a consistent league placing in the top six before Pompey eventually won promotion to Division 1 in 1987. Just one season later they returned to Division 2 and Dillon lasted just one more year on the south coast before making the trek back to his native northeast with Newcastle.

In his first season at St James' Park Newcastle finished third in Division 2 before losing out to his hometown club, Sunderland, in the playoff semi finals, and Dillon left the Geordies for Elm Park and a quick reunion with his former teammate Mark McGhee. Unlike his previous clubs, Dillon found himself thrust into a very average Division 3 club but lasted the three years of his contract as McGhee was given the time and space to build one of the best sides seen in Reading to that point. Dillon made 101 appearances at Reading, scoring 4 goals before brief spells at Yeovil and Fareham.
A year after leaving Elm Park Dillon returned as a coach, eventually working his way up the Elm Park and Madejski Stadium ladder, holding numerous positions within the club's forerunner to the Academy, the Youth Training Scheme and also holding the position of Reserve Team Manager before Alan Pardew's decision to relieve Martin Allen of his duties opened the Assistant Managerial door, a position Dillon would hold for eight years. Dillon's influence on Pardew was immediate as the side developed a more passing style than that seen with Allen on the sidelines, a style of play that barely changed when Pardew left for West Ham and Steve Coppell arrived from Brighton. Of course, Dillon will forever be remembered for being a key member of the coaching staff during the heady days of 05 -€” 07 before relegation in 2008, and the failed playoff bid in 2009 after which he left the club.

After leaving the Madejski, Dillon was lurking in the footballing wilderness for six months before the managerial door opened his way to Aldershot Town, and an 18 month spell overseeing the Shots' run to the League 2 playoffs in 2010 before leaving by mutual consent less than a season later. Dillon has been out of the footballing limelight since, a slightly ignominious curtain on a career in football that reaped four promotions as a player and two as Assistant Manager.

Grudge Moment

With such little history between the clubs there are very few moments to really consider as grudge-inducing, however one moment away from any match went down in folklore in Berkshire at least and went some way to endearing Jimmy Kebe to Reading hearts. In the January transfer window 2013 Newcastle's transfer policy of signing anyone French sounding triggered a mocking tweet from Kebe, stating he was on his way up to Newcastle for a medical prior to signing a 4-year contract. Understandably completely out of the blue, many media outlets picked up on the tweet, setting off many a phone call between journalists and Kebe's agent, while hearts in Reading sank at the "news" as Kebe had been far and away one of the club's most influential players going forward during that season. Kebe, however, had us all well and truly over a barrel as just 14 minutes later a second tweet revealed the wind-up, saying..

Of course, in August that year Nigel Adkins declared that Kebe declared himself injured before a League Cup tie at London Road, Peterborough only to pass a medical at Crystal Palace and complete a seven figure transfer to Selhurst Park. True love indeed...

Fact, Interesting or Otherwise

Despite being open for almost a calendar year and seeing a season's worth of football to date, Newcastle United were the visitors to Reading for the club's prestigious pre-season friendly in 1999 which also doubled up as the stadium official opening. Ruud Gullit played a disappointing side on the day as many a Reading supporter would have undoubtedly have wanted to see the likes of Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer and Gary Speed line up at the Madejski. As it was, at half time Gullit himself donned the black and white jersey for what was his only playing appearance for the Magpies and inspired a comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2, Reading goalscorers Darren Caskey and Martin Williams sharing the honours with James Coppinger and Paul Robinson for Newcastle.

Gullit, of course, didn't last long in the St James' Park hotseat, resigning his position just 35 days after the match at the Madejski, and just three after a 2-1 defeat at home to arch-rivals Sunderland, to be replaced by Sir Bobby Robson.