Watts is ready to bow out in style – or is he?
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.”
Marksman: Andy Watts’ two goals helped seal victory for Reading
Full-stretch: Tommy Alexander makes a save for Reading