Football: Reality bites for Millwall

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The Independent Online
Reading. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Millwall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 8,715

WELCOME to the real football world, the one with rain dripping off the corrugated iron roof of the stand and the smell of wet hot dogs outside the ground. Watching pounds 3m internationals shake a leg at Highbury on a sunlit late summer afternoon is easy. This is where the dabblers are sorted from the devotees, in the Endsleigh League, at Elm Park, with your feet on a beautiful wooden floor and your ears close enough to the pitch to monitor the players for industrial language. Don't forget your umbrella and Thermos flask.

Crowded terraces, bulging press-box. It seems a bit rude to suggest that Reading v Millwall attracted such feverish interest purely because there was nothing doing in the Premiership. Both sides' records so far merited attention. Reading might be just up from the Second Division but they had three wins on the trot already to boast about - 3-0 over Gillingham in the Coca-Cola Cup, 2-0 against Barnsley last Saturday and 4-0 over Stoke on Tuesday night.

As for Millwall, what can you say except that handing out a 4-1 beating to Derby last Saturday must have been sweet in the extreme. This was, after all, the side that cost them a place in the Premiership at the play- offs last May. A hat-trick from John Kerr, too - he's been called up into the US squad for this week's game at Wembley. Shame Kasey Keller let in that last-minute goal against Bolton in midweek, though.

This never looked like being a free-scoring game. Reading were lacking their captain, Adrian Williams, called up by Wales, but even without him the Reading defence and their goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop, were ungenerous. Millwall spent the first 20 minutes pressurising them non-stop, but even when Hislop let the ball slither from his hands in the rainy conditions his team-mates were there to mop up. After that first outburst by Millwall, Reading looked the sharper in attack - a header by Michael Gilkes flying just wide, and Jeff Hopkins getting the ball into the net after a Jimmy Quinn knock-back, only to have it disallowed. The second half featured some wasteful finishing by Millwall, and a wave of stirring attacks by the home side.

It would have been nice to report that Dylan Kerr won it for Reading seconds short of the final whistle when he nipped down the left, but his shot was always destined for Keller's arms. This was the real football world, after all.

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