Watts is ready to bow out in style – or is he?

The Hockey Paper - - MEN'S CUP - By Dave Wright

AS farewell ap­pear­ances go, it could hardly have gone any bet­ter for Andy Watts.

Read­ing’s player-coach scored twice as he led his side to a 4-2 win over Brook­lands MU in their na­tional cup semi-fi­nal.

He will, of course, play in the Men’s Cup fi­nal against Can­ter­bury at Lee Val­ley on April 29, but this was his last game at Son­ning Lane. Well, at least, half of it is true.

He is quit­ting as the coach, but there was a hint in his af­ter-match com­ments that he may not be hang­ing up his boots com­pletely as he dis­closed that a cou­ple of his se­nior col­leagues are hop­ing to per­suade him to con­tinue play­ing next sea­son.

Watts said: “I am def­i­nitely step­ping down as coach. I’m go­ing to switch off, have a bit of a break be­fore mak­ing any firm de­ci­sion.

“I wanted to give the club plenty of no­tice so they can get the wheels in mo­tion to ap­point a new coach, but as far as play­ing again, I would not put that out of the win­dow.”

Jonty Clarke is more cer­tain about his fu­ture, con­firm­ing: “I am def­i­nitely go­ing to quit. The cup fi­nal will be a nice way to go out, one fi­nal hur­rah at Lee Val­ley. Win­ning a piece of sil­ver­ware will be a good way to fin­ish.”

Clarke added: “I’m look­ing to move house back to where Es­sex, where I grew up and trav­el­ling from there to Read­ing wouldn’t be prac­ti­cal. Also, my body hurts quite a lot; I’ve got a sore an­kle, sore knee, so it’s time to quit.” On the other hand, Richard Man­tell re­mains in two minds about his play­ing fu­ture (see right).

But if last Sun­day’s semi-fi­nal was his fi­nal ap­pear­ance at Son­ning Lane, then he, too, signed off on a high note.

Read­ing made a promis­ing start with Ben Boon, in par­tic­u­lar, caus­ing the Brook­lands de­fence plenty of prob­lems and he was un­lucky not to have scored be­fore Watts struck the open­ing goal with a ris­ing shot in the 15th minute.

That was Watts at his best, as it was with Man­tell just be­fore the half-hour mark. He un­leashed one of his trade­mark penalty flicks into the top right-hand cor­ner of the net, giv­ing keeper Chris Scott no chance.

The Blues were good value for their two-goal lead and at half-time their fans were al­ready start­ing to look for­ward to their trip to Lee Val­ley.

How­ever, they were soon in for a shock as Brook­lands flew out of the blocks in the sec­ond half and took less than a minute to pull a goal back through Sam Per­rin.

Spurred on by this goal, the Manch­ester side then en­joyed their best spell of the game and the pres­sure paid off with a 54thminute equaliser from David Flana­gan.

Read­ing dis­puted the goal, claim­ing that the cross into the cir­cle was high and dan­ger­ous.

Brook­lands now had their tails up and were look­ing more threat­en­ing than their hosts.

Player-coach Mark Bateman com­mented: “Having come back well, I felt we were good enough to go on to win the game. I thought we had some good mo­men­tum and could get our noses in front, but it wasn’t to be.”

The game changed dra­mat­i­cally back into Read­ing’s favour in a short space of time.

Watts, from just in­side the cir­cle on the right­hand side, ham­mered in a fierce shot that took a slight de­flec­tion off a de­fender’s stick on its way past Scott.

That was in the 59th minute and two min­utes later Clarke and Watts set up the fourth goal for Boon.

Brook­lands didn’t give up and even man­aged to get the ball into the net again fol­low­ing a penalty cor­ner, only to see it un­luck­ily dis­al­lowed.

Bateman com­mented: “They [the um­pires] thought that Peter Flana­gan, who flicked it, was pass­ing it.

“Having spo­ken to them af­ter­wards, I think they may have re­alised it was the wrong de­ci­sion. But

that’s the way the game goes and we should not make it a ma­jor is­sue.”

The gen­eral con­sen­sus in the Read­ing camp was that the Brook­lands sec­ond goal should have been ruled out, but their dis­al­lowed ef­fort should have been al­lowed.

That is lit­tle con­so­la­tion for a Brook­lands side miss­ing sev­eral play­ers, in­clud­ing Ross Hall and Matt Sy­monds, the pair having re­turned to Aus­tralia and New Zealand re­spec­tively.

“We were miss­ing twothirds of our team, but it was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for some of our young lads to get on the pitch and play against good play­ers,” said Bateman.

Read­ing were miss­ing skip­per Tom Car­son due to a knee in­jury, but the Eng­land for­ward ex­pects to be fit for the fi­nal.

Dan Shin­gles took over the cap­taincy and ex­celled in quickly clos­ing down the Brook­lands penalty cor­ners, though he did take a knock to the side of his head on one oc­ca­sion.

Watts con­cluded: “Over­all, it was a good per­for­mance, but we know we will have to play well for the whole 70 min­utes in the fi­nal and try to avoid that dip like the one we had to­day.”

PIC­TURE: Sara Flana­gan

Marks­man: Andy Watts’ two goals helped seal vic­tory for Read­ing

Full-stretch: Tommy Alexan­der makes a save for Read­ing

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