Slough 3 Reading Yth 1

Slough Town 3 Reading Youth 1 (B&B Cup Final, 6th May 2019)

In footballing terms, this won’t go down as my most successful Bank Holiday weekend. I went to three games, and in those games the teams I wanted to win all failed to do so. In fact the best result was a draw in only one of the three, and even that was 0-0.

I saw Bracknell lose their play-off final on Saturday, watched Reading play out a 0-0 v Birmingham on Sunday, and saw a disappointing Berks & Bucks Cup Final defeat for Reading against Slough, also back at Bracknell.

The final was meant to be in Slough, but got moved, possibly because Slough were in it. Slough were not meant to be in the final, as they lost to Marlow in the semi-final, but Slough appealed over Marlow fielding a player who’d played in another county cup, and Marlow were thrown out. Several other clubs, including Slough and Reading, were said to have breached the rules of the cup too – in Reading’s case, fielding contracted professionals.

The problem is the rules seem unduly harsh – such as the “played in other county cups” rule, or not fit for purpose when the professional clubs of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire are being invited to take part. Potential further appeals meant it wasn’t even known if the result would stand, and it also seemed unclear what players exactly Reading could field without being in breach of the rules.

Possibly with this in mind, Reading fielded a very young team, and their inexperience told. Very early on it became clear that Slough would have the physical edge, and they quickly sussed out how to gain a tactical advantage too.

Reading’s youth games are more geared towards developing ability, encouraging players to express themselves and be comfortable on the ball, playing out from the back. In youth games, with little intensity, that’s fine. Against battle-hardened veterans it comes unstuck. The pretty triangles, stepovers, little flicks, and passing out of trouble, becomes a liability when faced with a team who’ll chase every player down.

It didn’t take long for the ball to get stuck in the Reading half, as Slough let Reading play square balls, then poised like lions waiting for that gazelle to stray, before going in for the kill. Reading’s half was littered with the bones of mauled attempts to move upfield, with the ball given away cheaply, either through tackles or interceptions, as the young players learned the hard way that the are certain things you can’t get away with in you own half.

It was no surprise Slough went in front, stabbing in a loose ball in the box, or that they got a second not long later, this time from the spot. More surprising was that going 0-2 down spurred Reading on to their best spell of the game. One thing Reading did have was pace, and when they ran at the Slough defence, they looked dangerous. It was once such pacey move that lead to Reading pulling one back before half time, even though in truth, it was Reading’s first good chance of the game.

The hopes were that Reading would carry on using that threat in the second half, but the hopes didn’t last long. It’s harsh to criticise young players too much, but after an initial bright spell, it was virtually 40 minutes of bad passing, bad decisions, and needless fouls.

With three minutes to go, Slough hit a fine shot across Reading’s keeper into the top corner to seal a well-deserved victory. And while the final whistle wouldn’t be greeted with the same kind of elation that the actual FA Cup Final would be, maybe it’s fitting that the trophy goes to a team for whom it’ll really mean something.

So Slough’s name goes on the trophy, although with all the threats of appeals still in the air, perhaps it’d be better if they only wrote in on with a pencil for now.

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