He didn’t call, he didn’t write, he didn’t even send big Pete a bunch of grapes, and on Wednesday night the traveling Chelsea fans at the Madejski will get their chance to tell our friend Stephen Hunt exactly what they think of him. Like Mr Hunt himself, it will not be pleasant!
This fixture last year was memorable for all the wrong reasons. A fractured skull here, a concussion there and quicker than you can say, “attempted manslaughter”, our season is damaged irrevocably and our goalkeeper is left with a protective helmet for perhaps the rest of his career. So just remember, Hunt will be the greasy haired winger sporting the number 10 shirt who will probably be on the floor as soon as the first whistle sounds, if not before. Good luck Steve!
Hunt aside, Reading are a likeable team. They exceeded expectations last season and narrowly missed out on a UEFA cup spot to the quiet satisfaction of manager Steve Coppell who believed his squad would not handle the added pressure of European competition. In that squad are former Chelsea trainee Leroy Lita and the popular centre-back Michael Duberry, who are both becoming vital players for the Berkshire outfit.
Duberry had a big hand in Reading’s fine draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, as an inspired back four (five if you include American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann) kept out the home side in a performance which was worthy of…well, our defence (ignoring the Birmingham game for a moment).
Reading are missing eight players at the time of writing, with Lita, Ibrahima Sonko and Glen Little amongst the players on the sidelines. They are also set for a reunion with Chelsea’s Steve Sidwell, who made the move up the M4 on a free transfer in the summer and may be set for the Reading crowd once again if he features against his old side.
Chelsea are without six of their own players with the injuries mounting up. This time however, it’s before any of them step onto the Madejski pitch. Michael Essien tweaked his knee against Birmingham on Sunday and should miss out along with Andriy Shevchenko, Claude Makelele, John Terry, Wayne Bridge and Michael Ballack. One ray of light however is the news that Brazilian centre-back Alex trained with the first-team for the first time on Monday and could be available for selection come Wednesday night.
Our first away game last season ended in defeat against Middlesbrough, so it is vital that we get off to a good start on our travels this time around. The incentive is there with Manchester United dropping points at the weekend so three points for us, even at this early stage of the season, would be a huge boost. Getting one over on Stephen Hunt would also be nice, perhaps it will teach him some manners. Come on Chels!
Prediction: The shaky defending we saw at times in Sunday’s game needs to be eradicated, and if it doesn’t then we could see goals against us again. If we stay solid and Doobs-like, there is no reason why we shouldn’t come away with a clean sheet. I’m going for a narrow 1-0 win with a second if we play with the flair we saw against Birmingham. No serious injuries this time please!