Match Report by Alastair Whatley
Southgate’s new look squad took to the pitch on Saturday in front of a buoyant, packed to capacity balcony. After a dogged 2-1 win against Durham on Wednesday night there was an expectant mood in the air and for many it was the first time watching the side under new head coach Kwan Browne in action.
Wayne ‘the decks’ Garner got the crowd whipped up through his melodious beat mixing over the PA and come 17:30 Southgate’s men pushed back to a feverish club day atmosphere and immediately put on a show to rival the music. After a slow start against Durham, Gate held possession through the opening minutes with fluency and poise, Kwan Browne and Iain Gordon recycling the ball around from the back, gradually pushing higher into Reading territory- there followed a fantastic spell of 18 crisp, consecutive passes which in part saw Gordon pass to Browne to Robbie Gill back to Gordon to Sam Weissen on the left then back to Kwan and onto Captain John Sterlini as the screen who went back to Gordon who shipped to Dan West who span on his heels and subsequently ran through three blue sticks creating space in the middle of the track only to then find Burkin in the circle with a pin point reverse pass into the D, Burkin picked up the ball with a lovely touch flipping the ball to his reverse as the crowd held their breath, only for a Burkin bobby-dazzler which alas found it’s way a little closer to the car park than the goal as the ball skied over the cross bar alas Zeus bound on this occasion.
Yet perhaps more important was the intent made clear from the first whistle. Seconds later Gate forced a turnover with the returning Jack Middleton intercepting on the left and pushing the ball across the pitch to Matt Ramshaw who drove forwards and into space on the right drilling a ball into the D, intercepted by Reading but lo! Charles Hamilton exerted some physical dominance and shrewdly shepherded the ball off the pitch before taking the sideline ball on the double leaving Reading wrong footed and found Burkin lurking on the baseline who in turn pinged it to Middleton who had run hard into the D from his initial interception and who finished with a clinical precision past the reading goalies right hand glove. Southgate 1-0 up within 3 minutes and the balcony was enjoying every second of it.
Southgate continued to dominate yet eventually Reading countered into our 23 and minutes from the end of the first quarter forced a penalty corner which the Reading castle sent low and hard into the right corner but Ollie Wickens in the Southgate goal was more than up to the challenge and parried it away with ease. Gate countered back and repeatedly pressured the Reading D with numerous circle incursions and half chances but Reading doggedly kept the Southgate attack at bay and the score ran in 1-0 at the end of Q1.
Q2 saw new signing Alex Rooney come into the Southgate goal, who was tested immediately with a 2nd Reading PC, mis-trapped at the top of the D but a scrambled shot was eventually steered safely beyond the right post by the gate-keeper. There followed some more sustained Southgate pressure which minutes later saw Gate’s first PC of the game which was polished off top bins by Matt Ramshaw to the approving roar of the crowd and a blast of DJ Garner to embellish the point. Southgate 2-0 up.
A darting Dan West run provoked a second consecutive PC in as many minutes, Diagon Alley’s own Burkin and Browne provided the two castles Top D, the injection came slightly to Burkin’s left and he pirouetted like Nureyev onto his reverse getting a good strike away, rebuffed by the Reading keeper into the heat of the Gate attack, and likes the Wolves of Willoughby Chase they jumped on (in this analogy) the ball – and pinged it back and forth before Burkin collared it home into the netting sending Southgate 3-0 up with an epic celebration, leaving Reading hanging by a thread to stay in the game come the end of Q2
What impressed through the second half was not only Sam Weissen’s hands at right back, or Matt Allister’s lovely deflected goal from a superb PC variation which saw Kwan dummy top castle slipping like Penn to his Teller in the more shapely form of Charles Hamilton- but rather it was the way Southgate sat on their lead, dominated possession and despite a strong Reading press barely put a foot wrong and Iain Gordon consistently side stepped his opposite number and recycling the ball with calm composure. Although it should be noted Gordon our full back was seen like a snow leopard in that rarest of alpine sightings in the Reading D with a nosebleed- going for goal and indeed forcing a PC.
Reading eventually clawed one back but it was all Southgate in a big pre-season win against premiership opposition which must give great confidence to the squad as they up the intensity ahead of their first fixture away at Brighton on the 25th September. It was not the win itself but the way the team set about their work on the pitch that most impressed the red and black fans. Every single player deserves a mention in a consummate team performance.
That sleeping giant is beginning to awake…