The Road to Lee Valley: Reading seeing light at the end of the tunnel

Scott and Heaver celebrate for Reading

Reading men’s first team have had a bad season by their lofty standards. Late season back-to-back defeats to Canterbury and Wimbledon were enough to end their hopes of reaching the Championship play-offs and they have also suffered the ignominy of finishing in the lower half of the table as Cannock moved above them. For a club that is always among the top tier of English hockey, the trophy cabinet has been getting a little too dusty of late. At the time of writing, Reading are preparing for the Men’s Cup Finals, and if they go on to win the trophy, it will be a highlight in what has been a tough season.

For a club that has won the Men’s Premier League, the Hockey Association Cup and been European Club Champions, another trophy in the cabinet would signal a return to the very top of the tree.

For new coach Andy Watts, this has been a difficult first season in charge. “The season has been full of new challenges and ultimately proved a frustrating one,” he said. “We put ourselves in a good position at Christmas to mount a realistic top four challenge. However, since Christmas we have struggled with a number of injures and unavailability. This has meant we have struggled for consistency, but the cup has shown on our day we can compete with anyone.”

Watts cites the results against Cannock (a draw) and a home defeat to Brooklands as the key moments that put the playoffs out of reach for the Berkshire club. And, he adds: “We had games we were capable of winning in the second half of the season, but unfortunately didn't get off to the start we were looking for.”

A lack of goals, whether from the successful execution of penalty corners or just better finishing in front of goal are also a source of frustration to the coach, and it is one area that he says the team will work on for the new season. Another area that Watts is determined to improve upon is finishing the game well. “We must focus on closing out games. We have been in a number of great positions at half time and not come away with the result.”

Tom Carson rues a missed chance for Reading

While 2014-15 has not been a great season for the Blues, Watts says that the progress made by the younger players in his squad has been impressive. Reading has regularly fielded four under 18 players in the match day squads, and they have not only benefited from the experience, but also made big contributions on the day. And there is also that successful cup run, which again continues to give the whole squad an opportunity to shine.

Watts expects all the current squad to be available for selection next season, while he is actively recruiting for players to add depth to the team.

Pre-season training will be a luxury that Watts was not afforded last year. He explains: “I took the job on with only eight weeks to go before the first league game this year. So, this year it is up to me to ensure we have a full and structured pre-season. Also finalising our playing group before the start of pre-season will be a massive boost and will enable detailed preparation.”

Reading’s aim for next season is to get back among the top four. Watts’ appointment is part of a long-term strategy and the coach says the squad will be fully focused on challenging for the honours the club is so used to achieving.

Certainly Reading should be among the big players. It is a club with a long history – it was formed in 1904 – and it is one of the largest and most successful clubs in the UK. Both the men’s team and the women’s team play in the Premier Division of the national league and, while the men’s team is having, by their standards, a tough time, the women’s team have enjoyed recent success including the national league title in 2010/11 and 2012/13, adding the EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy to their haul in 2012/13.

With 11 men’s teams, seven women’s teams, and a playing age range that stretches from five-years-old to players in their 70s, Reading is a club that looks after its hockey legacy. A new pitch was laid in May 2014, and with 400 senior members and 500 junior members in a club sprinkled with international players at all levels of the game, this is a club that strives continuously to reach its ambition of being a premier hockey club and a centre of excellence. If Watts can mastermind a cup win this Saturday, it will be a job well done for the Blue Army and a great reward for his first season in charge, keeping one of the top sides in the country dining at the top table once again. 

Tickets are still available for Men's Knockout Finals weekend. The schedule of the weekend is below and tickets can be purchased here.  

Saturday 2nd May 2015
09:30 - NOW: Pensions Men's 2nd XI Plate Final - Lewes v Beeston
11:30 - NOW: Pensions Men's Vase Final - Coalville Town v Crawley
13:30 - NOW: Pensions Men's Trophy Final - Sheffield University Bankers v Guernsey
15:30 - NOW: Pensions Men's Cup Final - Reading v Surbiton
17:30 - NOW: Pensions Men's 2nd XI Cup Final - Cannock v Surbiton

Sunday 3rd May 2015
09:00 - NOW: Pensions Men's Masters O50s Trophy Final - Hereford v Sevenoaks
10:00 - Men's Masters O50s Shield Final (Pitch 2) - Bournemouth v Charnwood Mountsorrel
11:00 - NOW: Pensions Men's Masters O50s Cup Final - Reading v Harleston Magpies
12:00 - Men's Masters O60s Plate Final (Pitch 2) - Gloucestershire v Iceni Rex Essex
13:00 - NOW: Pensions Men's Masters O40s Cup Final - Stourport v Khalsa (Warks)
14:00 - Men's Masters O40s Shield Final (Pitch 2) - Norwich Dragons v Taunton Vale
15:00 - Men's Masters O60s Cup Final - Worcestershire & Herefordshire v Indian Gymkhana
17:00 - NOW: Pensions Men's Masters O40s Trophy Final - Henley v Cannock