Watford 0 Reading 0: Boothroyd optimism looks out of place amid the drudgery

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The Independent Online

When Reading's James Harper said in midweek that Watford's football belonged in the dark ages, he could not have been aware that only a few days later his own team would play something that looked positively medieval. Watford were equally dreadful but at least they avoided defeat.

It's a risky business when a struggling manager says one particular result could prove the turning point of a dire season. But Watford's Aidy Boothroyd had taken the gamble and said just that after Monday's 0-0 away draw with Manchester City, only to see Charlton win on Tuesday and plonk them at the bottom of the table.

Whether or not they have been irritated by criticism of their long-ball style (if that is the word), Watford began yesterday playing in a slightly more measured way. Indeed, Reading offered far more long balls, and lacking the leadership of Graeme Murty and still without Bobby Convey and Dave Kitson, they gave little initial impression of being a side so far ahead of Watford in the League.

Steve Coppell, Reading's manager, reckoned his team were denied the opportunity to "get into our own play and string passes together" because Watford "play at such a high tempo." Self-denial surely. As for Boothroyd, he just keeps denying that Watford are in a hopeless situation. "I'm not down and we're not. We will keep fighting till we can't fight any more."

Apart from a wildly fast shot from Leroy Lita that veered off in the direction of the town centre, Reading offered little in the way of attempts to prove the superiority that had been assumed. In fact, they vied with Watford in competition for who could be the most ineffectual. It was truly an abysmal first half.

Both goalkeepers were insulted by the quality of shooting, and Watford's Richard Lee even resorted to making a couple of catches look more difficult than they were.

A header from Watford's Darius Henderson in the first minute of the second half did at least look purposeful, though it looped over the crossbar. Hameur Bouazza also stabbed a shot over after a troublesome back-header by Ibrahima Sonko.

How Reading can be so efficient, and not unattractive, on their home ground and yet sink to the appalling level of this shambles is a mystery. A lengthy absentee list could not be blamed for the inaccuracy of their passing and lack of cohesion.

Not surprisingly, Watford gradually took advantage territorially. A good half-volley by Al Bangura had to be deflected away by Marcus Hahnemann who looked as if he enjoyed the exercise. The point about the situation for Watford, was that if they could not get winning points out of a game that over the final 20 minutes they dominated, and in one that saw opponents in particularly poor form, when would they? They must have spent 80 per cent of that period in the Reading half and created several promising looking opportunities without appearing really dangerous.

Watford's finishing was haphazard and only Bangura, on his Premiership debut, impressed. The Watford fans teased their counterparts with "boring, boring Reading". They were not far wrong, but the match was one of those in which endeavour, stamina and even courage was never in doubt. But Premiership football? Not for one minute.

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