Town off to Tenerife
By Derek DavisSTILL no cigar but the sun-loungers are out as the Championship leaders take a well-earned break in Tenerife, content that the job is two-thirds completed.
STILL no cigar but the sun-loungers are out as the Championship leaders take a well-earned break in Tenerife, content that the job is two-thirds completed.
While they will be aware of the Black Cats creeping up behind them and Wigan, Town remain in pole position and enjoying life at the top.
The Blues would have been even happier if they had been able to stay focused on the job in hand for a few seconds longer at challengers Reading.
When Darren Bent swept in a Darren Currie pass three points looked a certainty and the lead over Wigan at the top extended.
Instead they fell for the old school-ground trick of everyone bundle into the goalmouth from the restart and an unmarked Ivar Ingimarsson hammered home a Glen Little cross.
The amazing 4,300 travelling Town support went from the enjoyment of a cracking 0-0 draw, to the ecstasy of a last-gasp lead, to the despair and frustration of seeing two points snatched away at the death.
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Whatever you think about the qualities of this Town side, you can never say they are not entertainers and providers of heart-stopping moments of sheer excitement.
Shefki Kuqi encapsulates that and hit an audacious 35-yard dipping effort early on, which crashed onto the top of the cross bar with American keeper Marcus Hahnemann totally bemused.
Tommy Miller hit a powerful shot at Hahnemann as Town enjoyed a bright opening ten minutes.
Then the Royals tactic of having five strung across midfield worked for them as the Blues lost control in the centre of the park.
Andy Hughes was enjoying much freedom and twice raced into the Blues box but became shy about shooting and neither of his two crosses were up to much and the chances evaporated.
It was a similar story with skipper Graeme Murty, who pulled a ball behind two waiting strikers and the reason why Reading had not scored in four previous league games became obvious.
Richard Naylor stood firm on three separate occasions to clear his lines, while Jason De Vos, who was proudly wearing the captain's arm band again, was dominant in the air.
Kelvin Davis made good, if not spectacular saves, including one when Kevin Horlock almost sliced a cross into his own net.
A Shorey free kick skimmed a post while his team-mates appealed for offside as Bent sent Forster sprawling in an accidental collision.
Town switched formations to match Reading at half-time, with Bent dropping into a wide right role to halt Glen Little's runs and not for the first time this season the change helped.
The Blues were far more effective in the second half and a quick counter gave Bent a great chance. Darren Currie pumped the ball forward from his own goal area and Bent sprinted past his marker before hitting a fierce drive goal-wards. Hahnemann didn't know much about it but the ball spun off a flapping elbow.
The Royals keeper knew exactly what he was doing moments later when he pulled off a fabulous save to claw away a Kuqi header from another Currie cross.
Shorey cleared off the line from a Naylor header from the corner and the Town defender almost hooked in another attempt.
Still the thrills came with Currie hitting a post with a cross-shot and at the other end Davis denied Shorey with a save at the base of a post.
With the fourth official raising the board to show three extra minutes, it looked like Town were heading for their first 0-0 in 13 months, since they were scoreless at Millwall on December 13, 2003.
Davis then hit a long goal kick deep into the Reading half. Although Kuqi, nursing three stitches in an eye wound, flicked on, Murty had plenty of opportunity to deal with the ball in his own area. Instead he conceded possession to Currie who, with the aid of a slight deflection, got the ball across to the deadly Bent.
He swept the ball in from 14 yards and was off celebrating his 14th goal of the season, and third in two games, in front of the Blues fans.
Reading went for broke from the kick off with six players on the half-way line at the restart.
Town failed to deal with the ball, Little escaped down the right flank and delivered a deep ball which went beyond the packed area to the far post and Icelandic defender Ingimarsson struck the ball cleanly on the volley.
Overall the draw was probably fair enough, although to drop two points so late on after working so hard to get the lead was galling.
The fact remains though, that automatic promotion is still very much in their own hands.
The mini-break in Tenerife will give the Blues a chance to recharge the batteries and get rid of the niggly knocks that a few are carrying.
They will come back ready to complete the final third of the campaign with a trip to Sheffield United, who will spend this week preparing for their FA Cup fourth round clash away at West Ham United.