Club Focus – Reading – A stewards’ inquiry?

There can not be too many Reading fans alive who have witnessed the club in an FA Cup Quarter Final but after a dramatic win over West Brom, a whole new generation of Royals fans will have that opportunity.

Victories in cup games do not bring with them the vital points needed for league survival but no one can dispute that Reading’s recent Championship revival has coincided with the phenomenal cup run. Having already seen off two Premier League sides, including the Anfield giant-killing of Liverpool, the Baggies were the latest victims and are themselves an impressive scalp to have taken. Flying high in the second tier and on their own turf, Roberto Di Matteo’s side became the third of the top 22 clubs in England to fall to the Royals this season. Yet again, Brian McDermott’s team did it the hard way, scoring another late goal and going to extra time away from home for the second time in three rounds. Gylfi Sigurdsson grabbed himself more headlines with a stunning winning goal in the first additional period, and no one will be more delighted for the Icelander than Adam Federici. The Aussie goalkeeper has had his share of FA Cup replay problems in the past, playing butter fingers against Manchester United three years ago, and he dropped another clanger to put West Brom back in front just after half time. Federici has been in inspired form in recent weeks and deserved his spot of fortune as first Brian Howard and then Sigurdsson spared his blushes.

The result was tarnished by unsavoury scenes after the final whistle as stewards at The Hawthorns attempted to prevent the victorious Royals players from paying homage to their loyal fans. The exact sequence of events is hard to pin point but the end result sees Jobi McAnuff with a three-game ban for his red card and the West Brom stewards looking unprofessional and heavy handed. Referee Lee Mason has undoubtedly seen something he did not like in McAnuff’s post match conduct and so it would be wrong to argue with the suspension unless video evidence is found to clear him, but that does not stop a feeling of injustice emanating. Reacting to provocation is inexcusable, but it does not seem fair for one player to be punished and for the instigator to avoid reprimand. There is no logical reason why McAnuff would lash out for no reason. His team had just won a game and reached a historic Quarter Final for the club and were headed towards their own fans to celebrate. Youssuf Mulumbu appeared to be the culprit and if video evidence fails to clear Reading’s winger, then hopefully it will convict the West Brom midfielder.

It will be interesting to see if there is an investigation from the FA into the actions of the stewards. The purpose of such individuals is to ensure safety for supporters and not to police on-field events. The Reading players clearly had no sinister intentions in walking over to the away fans, so why were they so quick to obstruct them from doing so? A team who have just won a match in which they were the underdogs are hardly going to mean their own fans harm and certainly do not required being strong-armed by over-zealous security. The stewards were being proactive rather than reactive which in this situation was totally unnecessary. The players had not even reached the crowd when the interventions started and even the protestations that they just wanted to give away their shirts as a thank you failed to stem the tide of fluorescent jackets. Whether is was sour grapes in defeat from partisan stewards or a small number of individuals letting power go to their heads in the absence of actual police, it was unnecessary and does an injustice to a fine club in West Brom.

Reading will not have to endure opposition stewards for the best part of a month now with the next five games all scheduled for the Madejski Stadium. It is a crucial spell for the Royals who have enjoyed an unbeaten start at home to life under McDermott. The Quarter Final tie with Aston Villa will be difficult but the same could be said for the opposition that have been disposed of in the previous rounds. The other four games are all in the league and are very winnable on paper. If Reading can pick up 10 or 12 points from those games then they will be in a very strong position and will be buoyant going into the final weeks of the season.

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