Football: McGhee's path well mapped out

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The Independent Online
Reading 0

Millwall 0

A SUCCESS story is taking shape at Reading and they want to spread the word. 'Thanks for coming lads,' Mark McGhee said as the notebooks and pens headed home in the rain. Such welcoming goodwill does not identify him as a Premiership manager in the making; his football teams most certainly do.

In the 20 months since it all began to go right those Reading teams have lost just 13 times in 71 League games. They have become used to winning. So much so that one apprentice waiting for his after-match clearing-away orders on Saturday was convinced they had won 1-0 and needed some persuading that it was not indeed the case.

The young man had seen Jeff Hopkins place his header wide of Kasey Keller but had missed the referee's overrule for a push by Jimmy Quinn; it was the closest this entertaining affair came to a score.

Ah, the redoubtable Hopkins and Quinn: solid, dependable pros around whom you can build a promotion cause. They have both journeyed extensively but the chances are that before Reading rise again, and that is where the signs are pointed, they will have been farmed out and replaced.

McGhee is not one to dally and delay. Those he brought in over the summer to improve an eleven that was the best in the Second Division - the resilient midfielder Simon Osborn and the commanding defender Dariusz Wdowczyk - showed up particularly well on Saturday, when both sides finished happy with a point.

As the Millwall manager, Mick McCarthy, pointed out, Reading's best defenders in a furious opening phase were his own strikers, who stood in the road of shots that were seemingly headed for goal. Then at the end of a neat one-two Jon Goodman was through only to be foiled by Shaka Hislop.

McGhee says he would not swop the goalkeeper who has gone 619 minutes without being passed for any other in the country, and he proved the headline-maker on Saturday, when he thought he would be playing second-fiddle again to Brian Lara.

They are friends from the club cricket circuit in Trinidad, and Hislop planned to watch the Warwickshire wonder yesterday when the NatWest Trophy final resumed. 'Brian was a skilful footballer but there is no doubt he made the right choice of career,' Reading's towering last line said. 'I considered myself a good bowler but I was never able to get him out. I once tempted him into an outside edge, but that was all.'

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Gooding (Taylor, 45), Wdowczyk, Hopkins, Kerr; Holsgrove, Parkinson (Jones, 49), Osborn, Gilkes; Lovell, Quinn. Substitute not used: Sheppard (gk).

Millwall (4-4-2): Keller; Cunningham, McCarthy, Roberts, Thatcher; Savage (Huxford, 87), Chapman, Rae, Kennedy (Beard, 82); Kerr, Goodman. Substitute not used: Carter (gk).

Referee: P Vanes (Warley).