Reading 2 Newcastle Utd 1: Supersub Long makes short work of Toon in five seconds

Irishman's instant strike lifts Royals but casts doubt on Allardyce's Euro vision
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The Independent Online

The experts are often as eager to diagnose "the second-season syndrome" as they are "the dawn of the great new era", but notice was served in deepest Berkshire yesterday that, once again, they have been a little too eager with these two clubs. Reading looked to be anything but the relegation material which they have been depicted as, while, on this evidence, Newcastle's potential to be European contenders seems a tad optimistic. Espec-ially if this wretched run on the road continues.

This was the Geordies' third away League defeat in succession, although it did seem as if they had rescued a point courtesy of the softest own-goal. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, confessed that a draw would have been "undeserved", but still did not conceal his anger as to the nature of Reading's late winner.

It was, indeed, an unlikely one, as Shane Long had been onthe pitch for no longer than five seconds when he stole inbehind the defence to nick the maximum return.

"That was a real killer for us," Allardyce said. "Even if we didn'tdeserve it, we still had it and should have kept hold of it. It would have been nice to have taken it back with us as it would have given us confidence. As it is, this away record is turning into a real problem. We might get edgy anywhere we go now."

In contrast, Steve Coppell's side should take so much out of this, a performance that at last echoed the heroics of last season. "It was more like we played last year," the manager said. "The energy levels were back. It was like seeing an old friend again. I enjoyed it." Statistically, there is a pleasing similarity, too. Remarkably, Reading have the same points tally, 13, as they did at this stage of the last campaign. Then, they could do no wrong; before yesterday, they could do no right. As Coppell said: "Funny that." It could have all been so different, though, if Michael Owen had made the most of his opportunity in the 15th minute.

The England marksman ran on to Gérémi's looping ball, but although his chest-down was clever enough he could not apply the necessary touch to steer it past Marcus Hahnemann.

Allardyce later claimed the goalkeeper's challenge war-ranted a spot-kick. "I looked at the video and I thought it was a clear penalty," he said. "He cleaned him out." Whatever, it was a missed chance, but its profligacy was in no way equal to that of Leroy Lita's howler a few minutes before.

The excellent Kevin Doyle had been consigned to the right wing to solve a problem position and so allow Lita a striking berth, and the Republic of Ireland international must have been wondering why when his steaming run in to the box and perfect lay-back was not converted. Lita, in glorious isolation in the six-yard box, went to hit with his right but only found air as the ball ricocheted off his left heel. Just before the break, he was at it again, this time skying a shot from point-blank range after being put in by another cross from Doyle that was neatlyheaded across the area by Stephen Hunt.

Lita's aim was seriously awry, but, bizarrely it assisted his side when Dave Kitson pulled the trigger in the 53rd minute to give Reading the lead. Again, Lita showed his propensity to kick air rather than leather, but this time his blushes were spared when Hunt's pass across the edge of the box was delightfully curled around Shay Given by Kitson. It was all Reading deserved, and they looked likely to extend their advantage as Newcastle laboured on the back foot.

But from somewhere came the forward momentum, and from Michael Duberry came the touch of fortune they needed.

In the 76th minute, Emre banged in a free-kick from near the corner flag, and it threaded its way through a packed goalmouth before ricocheting offthe poor defender's midriff and into the net. Their day seemed saved, until the very timely intervention of Long.

Coming on for the increas-ingly hapless Lita with six minutes remaining, Long ran up to the area and within two toucheswas celebrating the winner.

Nicky Shorey's free-kick was headed on by Ibrahima Sonko for the Madejski's third Irishman to bring down and fire into the roof of the net. They had taken their chance and they all punched the air. This was the Reading of old.

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