Opening the season's cup campaign, Reading welcome Plymouth Argyle in what will be the first ever meeting between the sides in the League Cup.
Overall, Argyle have the better of the record between the two sides having claimed 28 wins overall compared to the Royals 19, with 15 matches drawn. Some readers will remember one of those draws, which occurred in the FA Cup third round, played unusually early in the season in December 1999, the ties moved closer to attempt to accommodate Manchester United who had withdrawn from the competition due to their participation in the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil.
In cup competitions, Argyle again hold the edge over Reading with two wins compared to one defeat. Reading's only win against Plymouth in cup competitions came on 16 November 1968 with a 1-0 win at Elm Park to set up a second round tie against Argyle's near neighbours Torquay.
The only two cup ties played between the sides in my lifetime was the aforementioned 1999/00 season FA Cup third round, Division Two Reading drawn at home to the then Division Three Argyle. The match at the Madejski Stadium saw 3,000 Pilgrims travel, who made up a significant proportion of 8536 in attendance. Plymouth's support that day was impressive and loud, and contributed to an excellent atmosphere.
The match was played at a frenetic pace, and Reading really should have won the match having created several excellent opportunities throughout. Plymouth had the first opportunity however, when a quick break saw a cross from the right from Paul McGregor volleyed towards goal only for an excellent save from Scott Howie to deny Sean McCarthy, tipping over a rocket of a shot. From then on, however, it was all Reading as Argyle rode their luck. Andy Gurney, playing in an advanced role with Graeme Murty just behind, was the main culprit for spurning chances as he failed to connect cleanly with a cut back and fired high and wide when left all alone on the penalty spot. However, the right sided combination combined well, and Murty was to give us a sneak preview of what was to become a regular feature once he had overcome his injury woes, as his overlapping run was found by Gurney and the pull back was turned home by Jim McIntyre. A deserved goal, and one Reading should have built on.
The second half was more of the same, Martin Williams replaced at half time by Keith Scott who saw two good headers saved. It is a cliché in football that one goal is never enough, and so it proved as Chris Hargreaves let a wonderful volley fly from his weaker left foot with eight minutes to go, which flew past Howie's left hand and into his top left corner. The strike remains one of the best goals ever seen at the Madejski in my opinion. The match petered out and finished 1-1, Argyle happy to take Reading back to a pre-redeveloped Home Park where they ran out 1-0 victors thanks to an 89th minute Mick Heathcote winner, while Neil Smith saw red for Reading in the first half.
They Played For Both Teams
Having had similar histories and played each other on many occasions, and there are a reasonable number of players who have played for both sides. Of these, one of the most influential in the recent history of Reading FC happened to be a fairly innocuous loan signing in December 1995 when resident keepers Bobby Mihailov and Simon Sheppard were sidelined through injury, and so the then joint player/managers Jimmy Quinn and Mick Gooding looked south and west to Plymouth for cover, and so commenced a 20 year association between Reading FC and Nick Hammond.
Hammond, as mentioned, initially signed on a one-month loan and made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Sunderland. Hammond impressed enough to be signed for £40k a month later, during a turbulent time for Reading goalkeepers (having had Shaka Hislop ever-present in league and cup from August 93 to May 95, Reading went on to field 10 players in goal including Quinn twice, and Andy Bernal).
Having commenced his career at Arsenal in 1985, Hammond never made an appearance for the Gunners and found himself loaned out to Bristol Rovers, Peterborough Utd and Aberdeen during his time at Highbury. Hammond made a combined three appearances during his three loans, and eventually found himself heading west to north Wiltshire and a period with Swindon Town where he was mainly understudy to Fraser Digby. However, he still made 94 appearances and 7 years later found himself the subject of a £40k bid from Plymouth which was accepted, and Hammond made the move to Home Park. However, 4 months and 4 appearances later, Hammond was moving back east to Elm Park to cover a goalkeeping crisis on loan, and then a month later permanently.
In his four years as a player for Reading, Hammond only made 32 appearances although he spent the majority of 1997/98 as first choice before a broken hand sustained in the FA Cup replay with Cardiff effectively called time on his Reading career as he made just two further appearances, including his only appearance at the Madejski Stadium against Colchester in September 1998.
When his playing contract expired, Hammond took up the position of Academy Director where he would remain until stepping up to the position of Director of Football to provide a footballing link between the playing side and the board. Hammond excelled in the position which he held until May this year, negotiating some notable big money transfers for the likes of Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson, Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson amongst many others. Hammond resigned in May to take up the position of Technical Director at West Bromwich Albion.
There can only be one grudge moment, a moment that Argyle fans I know personally remind me of on frequent occasions. Reading 1-2 Plymouth Argyle, August 2005. Our only defeat at home all season, Micky Evans and Nick Chadwick doing the damage spoiling Leroy Lita's debut. A match Reading should have won, but didn't. And to think there were people calling for Steve Coppell's head post match...!!
Fact, Interesting or Otherwise
The city of Plymouth, down on the English Channel, has a rich seafaring history, both civilian and military, and Home Park bears a couple of obvious references to the history built up over the centuries. The Devonport End refers to the area of the city that boasts one of the three Royal Navy dockyards, and the largest Naval base in the UK. The other stand bearing a direct link to seafaring is, of course, the Mayflower Stand, so called after the vessel that carried the 100+ pilgrims to the New World in 1620, and if you visit Plymouth today it is well worth taking a stroll down to the Mayflower dock near the Hoe to see and hear about the inspiring story of the people that made the perilous voyage.