Football: Reading prepared for the Bolton backlash

Guy Hodgson looks at the pick of this weekend's Nationwide League games
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The Independent Online
No club is more aware than Reading that football can rear up and give you a nasty nip just when you least expect it. Twenty-one months ago, their supporters were studying directions to Anfield and Highbury when they led 2-0 in the final of the play-offs, but they never made it to the Premiership and maybe they never will.

The team that denied them a brush with the elite that day were Bolton Wanderers, who visit Elm Park today for the first time since that 4-3 win at Wembley and you could say there would be a modicum of satisfaction if Reading put one over the runaway First Division leaders. "It won't be hard to gee up the players," Mick Gooding, the joint manager, said.

But timing, as a team that was within four minutes of promotion will testify, is everything and Reading would have preferred it had Bolton won their FA Cup tie against Second Division Chesterfield in midweek instead of going down 3-1. They fear a backlash from a side who have won seven successive League matches and who have been lashed by their manager's tongue.

"We let our standards slip against Chesterfield," Colin Todd said, "and paid the price. We have had the accolades this season and have to accept the criticism too." Bolton will be without the suspended Nathan Blake, but are hopeful that 23-goal John McGinlay will recover from a calf injury.

Mark McGhee has conceded the title to Bolton, which might be a grand piece of kidology, but if the leaders do fall, there is no guarantee that his second-placed Wolves side will make inroads into the gap at Huddersfield. It was 1971-2 when they last won there, although that is positively recent compared to Bradford City's last success at Crystal Palace. Never.

Manchester City have had their share of criticism this season, but their supporters finished their FA Cup tie against Watford on Wednesday singing: "You're going out with United," in a rare chance to revel at Old Trafford's expense.

That victory, City's third in four matches, means Frank Clark's time at Maine Road has been unblemished by defeat and if they are successful against fellow strugglers Southend United, they could put six points between themselves and the relegation places. City yesterday signed Paul Beesley from Leeds for pounds 500,000 and if he recovers from flu he will make his debut.

Another crucial match is the meeting of the two bottom clubs, Oldham and Grimsby, at Boundary Park. The home team have taken one point from three games after previously losing only once in 12 matches.

In a welcome initiative to encourage a large crowd, Oldham are charging pounds 5 for admission, a spirit of enterprise that is by no mean unique this weekend. Sheffield United will admit the unemployed for pounds 5 on the production of their UB40 documentation at tomorrow's match against Norwich while Charlton let in under-16s for pounds 1 last night.

The best deal, however, is at Third Division Chester today, where under- 16s will get free admission for the visit of Doncaster.