Reading 3 Sheffield Utd 1: Warnock and Downes off in fracas

Gillespie elbow to Hunt's face sparks mayhem on touchline and a likely FA investigation
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The Independent Online

A Football Association inquiry will almost certainly follow after a fracas involving the bulk of Reading's and Sheffield United's players ended with the Blades manager, Neil Warnock, being "sent off''. Warnock had remonstrated when one of his substitutes, Keith Gillespie, was dismissed after elbowing Stephen Hunt, who had to be restrained as Gillespie passed him on his way to the tunnel.

The crowd of players from both sides followed Gillespie over the line and there was wholesale jostling which also involved the Reading coach, Wally Downes, who was sent on his way, too. The Reading manager, Steve Coppell, said he thought Warnock had been making a kicking or "challenging" motion with his foot as if indicating what he thought may have started the incident. Coppell said: "I don't think this was appropriate action. This is not the sort of thing I wish to see." He added: "I have no problem with what Wally [Downes] did."

Warnock said: "The Gillespie incident looks worse on TV, but he let us down and he compounded it by going back to have another go after he'd been shown the red card. As for Wally, he gets a bit carried away. You might say there is history between us but in the past he has been a little bit cleverer than that. He was interpreting what I was saying because he wanted to. Wally ran across trying to say I want my players to break legs which is absolute garbage. People will think that because they want to but fortunately for me the referee heard exactly what was said and confirmed that.

"I went like that, 'kicking out', to tell him that Steve Sidwell's tackle on Chris Armstrong a few minutes before had been the worst of the whole game and he could see it on Match of the Day tonight. The referee had to send us off because it was mayhem. I was sent off for 'adopting an aggressive attitude'. Wally just barged into me - he wasn't coherent. No doubt the FA will charge us."

In stark contrast to what was to follow, until Rob Hulse had a 26th-minute shot deflected over the bar it was a calm opening for Reading. But despite clear superiority, the hosts could not break through. The nearest they came in the first 40 minutes was a stinging 30-yard shot that Graeme Murty had a right to expect would hit the net. Instead, the Blades' Paddy Kenny dived to make a splendid save.

There was nothing Kenny could do when, with a minute left in the first half, a snap shot from close in by Steve Sidwell hit Chris Lucketti and veered to Shane Long. Kenny was flat-footed as Long flipped the ball in off the post. Reading went further ahead in the 50th minute when James Harper made a long run, getting a fortunate deflection before playing the ball to Ulises de la Cruz, who eased it home. Whether it was that frustration which sparked the chaos, who knows, but within a minute of Gillespie coming on, he elbowed Hunt in the face.

As the referee, Mark Halsey, asked the linesman for his version of events, Hunt had to be restrained by colleagues. Halsey then showed Gillespie a red card and, as he walked off, he was confronted by Hunt.

That led to further pushing and shoving on the touchline involving the majority of both sides. Warnock was in the middle of it and seemed to confront Hunt. Halsey moved in and sent off Warnock and Downes.

Hunt was soon back in the thick of it, but for the right reasons, scoring with fine agility by striking an overhead kick near the front post after two shots had been blocked on the Blades' line. That United finally penetrated Reading's defence when a free-kick from Alan Quinn was directed into the path of his fellow substitute Christian Nade did not alter the fact that the Blades were significantly inferior throughout.

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