Reading 3 Sheffield Utd 1: Gillespie attack on 'Teddy Bear' spoils the picnic

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The Independent Football

Stephen Hunt is more like a cuddly teddy bear than the big, bad ogre of the Barclays Premiership, according to Reading team-mate Shane Long.

Hunt may have begun the season as a player little known outside Berkshire or his native Ireland but all that changed in October when, in the first minute of his first Premiership start, he was involved in a collision with Petr Cech that left the Chelsea goalkeeper with a fractured skull.

A vitriolic condemnation from Jose Mourinho and a clutch of postal death threats followed but eventually the sensational headlines tailed off and the former Brentford midfielder began to get himself noticed for his performances on the pitch.

Indeed, the 25-year-old was one of his side's top performers in the Royals' latest success, the 3-1 victory over Sheffield United.

Hunt went on to score a clinching third goal in the 70th minute but controversy had already located him by then, in the shape of Keith Gillespie's arm.

The Blades substitute had been on the pitch for less than 20 seconds so exactly what Hunt could have done to upset him in that time remains a mystery.

Hunt toppled to the ground to give referee Mark Halsey no option other than to show Gillespie a straight red card and the official also sent Blades boss Neil Warnock to the stands, along with Reading coach Wally Downes, after a touchline brawl involving substitutes and backroom staff from both sides.

Just like Mourinho before him, Warnock had launched a tirade of technical area invective Hunt's way and Gillespie even came back for another go on his way off the pitch.

But Long insisted his fellow countryman did not deserve his reputation as a controversy magnet.

He said: "He is unlucky the way things happen around him. He seems to get the brunt of them but he is an honest player and wouldn't want to hurt anyone. He's a little teddy bear really.

"There was nothing to it really and a credit to him for the way he just got on with it and scored. That showed the player that he is. He is confident in himself and I wish him well."

The Football Association are sure to take action against both clubs after Warnock and Downes were sent off for "adopting an aggressive attitude" and Gillespie faces a club fine as well as a lengthy ban.

Long, who had notched his first Premiership goal by pouncing in the 44th minute to fire his side ahead, found the incident more amusing than upsetting however.

He said: "I didn't see it to be honest. I just turned around and there was a big melee with people going mad. Things got out of hand but once it settled down again it was okay.

"I was laughing at it, the way things were going. I turned a blind eye and waited to get on with the game."

Warnock, who saw substitute Christian Nade pull one back in the 77th minute, was convinced Hunt was a player who does not always go for the ball.

He said: "I was disappointed in Hunt's challenge on Nick Montgomery for the free-kick where we scored our goal. He could have won the ball but he just waited and caught Montgomery.

"I didn't like that challenge and there are one or two things I don't like about Hunt."

Warnock was also convinced referee Halsey will back his claims that accusations he ordered his players to hurt their opponents are wide of the mark.

And he praised the official for his handling of the whole affair.

He said: "Mark Halsey had no option. He had to send us off to calm it down because it was mayhem.

"But I do think my reputation goes in front of me at times. It is usually just me that gets done and everyone else goes away laughing but in this case he had no option but to ask Wally to leave."

Reading's second goal in the 50th minute was a delight as Ulises de la Cruz began a move in his own half and ran on to finish it in style.

But the victory was achieved at a cost as centre back Ibrahima Sonko suffered a knee injury in the first half to leave Reading waiting anxiously for the results of scans.

Striker Dave Kitson suffered a thigh injury in the warm-up and was unable to take his place on the bench while food poisoning meant left back Nicky Shorey had to miss out.


The Lancashire official will probably be hoping never to be handed his fixture again but for the most part the decisions he needed to make were obvious. A quick consultation with the linesman confirmed that Keith Gillespie had to go and removing Neil Warnock and Wally Downes from the touchline was also sensible.

Fussy factor - He rightly booked Steve Sidwell and Phil Jagielka for clumsy challenges but should have done the same with Stephen Hunt when he felled Nick Montgomery later on.