HOCKEY:Reading ready to do battle

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The Independent Online
The game returns from its mid-winter break tomorrow with the fourth round of the Hockey Association Cup, in which there are five all First Division encounters.

Reading entertain those Cup giants Hounslow, six times winners, who will be looking to achieve their 25th successive game without defeat in normal time, although in the semi-final last season they were beaten by Teddington, the eventual winners, in a penalty shoot-out.

For the visit to Sonning Lane, Hounslow will be without their captain, Rob Thompson, Jon Potter and Simon Hazlitt, who seem to have got their holiday dates confused, and they will certainly find the going tough.

There was some good news for their manager, Keith Rowe, however, who learned that the Reading striker Paddy Osborn is also on the ski slopes. Rowe was still confident of victory: "We won the League Cup earlier this season without Potter, Hazlitt and Bobby Crutchley. So our only change is Crutchley for Thompson."

Another all Premier clash is at Luxborough Lane, where last year's runners-up, Old Loughtonians, take on Imran Sherwani's Stourport. The manager, Toni Hickling, announcing a full squad for the first time for months, said: "Everyone available, including our new signing Nick Conway, is quite a bonus." She added: "I am ever confident."

In-form East Grinstead, who scored 11 against their neighbours Lewes in the last round, entertain last season's league champions, Havant, in what promises to be a lively game. In the other all First Division game, Southgate visit Bournville.

At least one non-National League side is certain of going through as a result of Bridgnorth's match with Spencer, although Neston, of the National League Second Division, will not be looking forward to the long trip to City of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth, riding high in the Nastro Azzurro South Premier, caused a major upset in beating Hull of the First Division in the last round, and could be the second non-National League side to go into the hat for the next round.