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Why Garath McCleary's Red Card Could Make Reading FC's Season

The Inspector argues why a sour note on Saturday could have long term positives for the Royals.

Reading v Queens Park Rangers   - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

There are good red cards and bad red cards. Garath McClearly's at Oakwell on Saturday was one of the good ones.

Consider the circumstances. Reading were leading 2-0 against the highest scorers in the Championship after an inspired opening half-hour in which Jaap Stam's methods clicked to such an extent that supporters were entitled to believe that this might be a good (or even very good) season.

Then McCleary apparently lost his head , pushed Conor Hourihane in the chest, sending the Barnsley midfielder to the ground and was immediately dismissed by referee David Coote.

On the face of it McCleary's intervention was rash, irresponsible and damaging to the team. But I would argue it was nothing of the kind.

At the time Hourihane, having fouled Danny Williams and brought him to the ground, was standing over the American international and yelling abuse into his face.

McCleary reacted in the way that any team-mate would reasonably do. He came to the defence of Williams and attempted to put an end to what was a nasty and degrading incident.

Even though the letter of the law suggested that the Jamaican winger had to be sent off I would argue that Mr Coote failed to take into account the circumstances and reached a decision that was outside the spirit of the game.

Hourihane's behaviour has been compared to Roy Keane's during his infamous clash with Alf-Inge Haland, one of British football's ugliest incidents in the last 10 years. Maybe this time the tackle wasn't as bad but the verbals were similar.

Had the Barnsley player been sent-off for two yellow cards , one for the foul, the second for verbally abusing an opponent he could not have complained. But instead the perpetrator of the trouble remained on the field while Reading were reduced to 10 men. Where's the justice in that? And what is worse - a shove in the chest or a volley of abuse aimed at an injured player ?

A yellow card for each side would have sufficed. Or, if not, a red for each side to balance the scales of justice.

That's not the way it worked out so how much blame should we attach to McCleary ? Very little, I would submit. For what else was he supposed to do ? Stand meekly by and do nothing?

To use a battlefield analogy his stricken comrade had been felled and was being verbally trashed by the enemy. Was he supposed to look away and pretend it wasn't happening? No, he stepped in to stop it and save Williams from further insults.

That's what team-mates do. They stand together, they fight together. They watch each others backs. They refuse to be bullied. Was there a way that McCleary could have done that and remained on the field? I'd love to hear of anyone coming up with a suitable alternative. Because even with the benefit of 24 hours reflection I can't think of one - and remember McCleary had barely a second to react.

Yet by coming to his mate's assistance the winger - who probably wouldn't top a poll for the bravest player in the team - showed that the unit Stam is moulding has some spirit and backbone.

The ten-men proceeded to provide further evidence of its growing character by holding out for the next hour to complete a victory which was all the more meritorious for its circumstances. In the end it was a better win with ten men than it would have been with a full side.

Now I'm not suggesting that the Royals should deliberately have players sent off to prove they can cope with adversity. But it happened and they did it. The confidence and increased togetherness within the squad should be enormous as a consequence.

They still have to be organised, energetic, skillful, cut out the costly mistakes and take their share of chances. But Stam's men have set up a platform for success with this show of unity.

We all know how things can change. But let's hope Saturday was an omen. Red usually brings things to a halt but perhaps this time it lit the green light to go for glory.