Ferdinand fails to live up to law of the ex

Queen's Park Rangers 0 - Reading 0
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The Independent Football

Christmas comes but once a year, and that is not good news for Reading. They have not won since Boxing Day and, on a run as bad as that, the smallest of mercies is to be greeted with gratitude. Little wonder the away fans met the final whistle with warm applause.

Christmas comes but once a year, and that is not good news for Reading. They have not won since Boxing Day and, on a run as bad as that, the smallest of mercies is to be greeted with gratitude. Little wonder the away fans met the final whistle with warm applause.

This may have been fare as poor as Bob Cratchit's left-overs, but for them, this was more than a point gained: it stopped Queen's Park Rangers clambering above them in the table and lifted them to sixth. In the din of clashing mediocrities that is the race for the play-offs, that could prove decisive.

None the less, 11 games without a win is a dreadful coming to earth for a side who in December had aspirations of automatic promotion. "It's terrible," the Reading manager, Steve Coppell, said. "People ask me what's gone wrong and I suppose I should have the answers, but I don't. I couldn't criticise my players today; we're lacking inspiration."

The arrival of Les Ferdinand in January has done little to provide that. Facing the club with whom he began his League career, the veteran forward was granted a hero's ovation, but on this occasion what Brian Glanville called "the law of the ex" proved uncharacteristically mutable.

Ferdinand hobbled off with a hamstring injury after 33 minutes, his only shot a highly speculative volley that drifted a few feet wide. Sir Les's quiver may still be packed with arrows of desire, but these days his bow, rather than burning gold, is merely turning old.

His other contribution yesterday was controversial and inadvertent, playing the offside distraction that got the QPR back four on the wrong foot as Dave Kitson played in Paul Brooker. Cutting in from the left, though, his finish was tame, and Simon Royce saved with his legs. That was as good as it got for Reading, their bright start to the game, as to the season, rapidly fizzling out.

Not that QPR were much better, their only real opportunity coming in the 16th minute as a centre from Matthew Rose clipped Ricky Newman, looped with spiteful slowness over a rooted Marcus Hahnemann, bounced on the top of the bar and dribbled over for a corner.

Tellingly, the two biggest cheers of the first half came for thumping clearances. First Danny Shittu carved the ball over the corner of the Loft Upper Stand, and then Ibrahima Sonko, a yard from his own goal-line, hammered his clearance for a corner off the underside of the roof of the School End. Others may have tried to hack it away for a throw-in, but the Senegalese defender obviously believes in playing the way he's facing.

This was a dreadful, shapeless mess of a game. It says much for how far expansive passing football was from either side's thoughts that for one second half Royce goal-kick all 20 outfield players were clustered in a 25-yard square on the right on the halfway line. Perhaps they were huddling together for warmth.

The QPR manager, Ian Holloway, was typically blunt. "I managed to keep one eye open, but the other one went to sleep," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. Total and utter stalemate."

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