A point prised from one of the teams adjudged, pre-season, to be one of Reading's promotion rivals should have had Alan Pardew luxuriating in the warm glow of expectancy. Not precisely. It was an afternoon on which the Reading manager's temperature rose as swiftly as the thermometer mercury. "In all my time in football as a coach and in management, I have never been so annoyed," the Reading manager declared. "I've got a sore foot from kicking the wall [of the dug-out]. Now I'll have to go and get it iced and strapped."
For a contest played under conditions that restricted players to pacing themselves at times almost to a walk and with players opting for regular bottle breaks, it was remarkable that it could produce such drama within the last quarter hour, sufficient to leave Pardew "traumatised".
His team, who flirted with promotion last season before being eliminated in the play-offs by Wolves, had asserted their superiority with a splendid goal from the former Arsenal youth midfielder Steve Sidwell. But they failed to capitalise on their supremacy, and that was to prove crucial when fortunes began began to turn against the Royals.
First, his defender Nicky Shorey was dismissed for a professional foul on the Ipswich striker Pablo Counago as the pair wrestled for a through ball on the edge of the Reading area. It was a decision which looked debatable. Then, after Pardew had watched his team withstand a late Town rally, his frustration was complete four minutes into added time when the home captain Jim Magilton tumbled under minimal, if any, contact from the challenge of Steve Brown to claim a penalty. Tommy Miller duly despatched the equaliser.
The Royals manager was in a mood to throw a tantrum and one feared the worst when he approached the referee Brian Curson at the final whistle. Fortunately, Pardew confined his comments to a sarcastic "well done", an action which his counterpart, Joe Royle, applauded, observing wryly: "I saw him charging up to the ref. Fortunately, he had an attack of sense." Pressed on his view of the penalty decision, the Ipswich manager would only comment drily: "Jim's gone into the box, an experienced pro, looking for contact and he found contact."
Pardew, who is considering an appeal against Shorey's dismissal, added diplomatically: "It's a hard job, refereeing, but if the assessor here thought he had a good game, I'd be very interested to read it."
At least the Royals manager, when he reflects at his leisure, will be heartened by the knowledge that his team look the likelier promotion contenders. Ipswich, on this admittedly early evidence, will require all of Royle's undoubted expertise if they are to reclaim the Premiership status they lost two seasons ago. It was indicative of the home team's performance that, until the equaliser, they had failed to trouble the visitors' goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Before the game, the much-maligned Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks, who has overseen a period in which the club's financial problems have brought about several departures, including the summer sale of captain Matt Holland, Thomas Gaardsoe and Matteo Sereni, came on to the pitch with a request for supporters to get behind the side. His message was met by initial scorn, but that eventually turned to approval.
At least Town were able to introduce their three summer arrivals: goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, from Wimbledon; central defender Drissa Diallo from Burnley; and midfielder Georges Santos from Grimsby, all arriving on "frees". All look potentially decent acquisitions.
While it has been a period of book-balancing for the home side, Reading have continued to open their chairman John Madejski's wallet. Both striker Shaun Goater, signed for £500,000 from Manchester City, and midfielder Scott Murray, a £650,000 purchase from Bristol City, were in the visitors' starting line-up.
The best first-half opportunity fell to Reading's midfielder Andy Hughes, who, when released cleverly by Goater, saw his angled drive turned past the far post by Davis. The best of the second period found the foot of Sidwell just before the hour and he made no mistake, when Nicky Forster crossed for him from the left. Having made ground into the centre of the area, he dragged the ball back, eluding the challenge of Chris Makin, before despatching the ball high into Davis' net.
Reading continued to threaten and both Forster and Murray saw goal-bound efforts deflected by Ipswich defenders. However, Ipswich's belief that they could salvage something was vindicated by events. "We can't kid ourselves it was a great performance," said Royle, who placed the main blame for Ipswich's shortcomings on the failings of his forwards. "But at least we've got a foothold on the season." True. And from such inauspicious beginnings, many a promising promotion bid has been launched.Reuse content