Reading sneaked through to the next round after coming out on top in this winner-takes-all encounter with St Germain.
With both sides aware of the high stakes this game had all the drama you would expect, plus a few bad tempered moments as the competition threatened to boil over.
Reading almost took the lead early on. Some excellent skills from Simon Mantell created space on the right, Darren Cheesman had burst forward and was found at the back post but the No7 slapped his shot wide.
It was St Germain however who drew first blood. A long aerial found its way to the baseline and was crossed in past Jamie Legg and prodded home by Jean-Baptiste Pauchet.
Roared on a by large, noisy, Blue Army, Reading hit back and won a penalty corner. Richard Mantell’s flick was kept out by Martin Zylbermann. The same duel was resumed minutes later with the same outcome as the French goalkeeper saved well, low to his right.
The second quarter developed into a cagey affair as the French side tried to protect their precious lead. Tom Bertram and Julius Breucker combined well, the young defender picking out Simon Mantell in the D with a wonderful pass, but Mantell saw his effort come back off the post and away to safety.
Both sides worked hard to defend, meaning chances were few and far between, Cheesman going close with a deflection just wide.
Immediately at the start of the third quarter Reading drew level. Chris Cargo produced a strong run along the baseline and although his initial ball was repelled by the goalkeeper, Mantell reacted brilliantly to flick the loose ball home. Cheesman almost gave his side the lead from the restart but his reverse stick shot was too high.
Legg was called into action to smother a chance as St Germain tried to hit back but the game was becoming more and more cagey as the time wore on.
Richard Mantell squandered a penalty corner chance right at the end of the half as he crashed his drag flick into the fence, wide of the target.
Quarter four arrived with the crowd still in good voice. Jonty Clarke worked his way along the baseline but Zylbermann made a smart stop, and the same player was just wide with a snap-shot just a few minutes later. Zylbermann was keeping his side in the game as he smothered another chance this time keeping out Chris Newman, who had an outstanding game.
With Reading turning up the heat Nick Page burst forward from defence, showing some lovely 3D skills but his fierce shot clipped the outside of the post. Simon Mantell was frustrated once more as his penalty corner was cleared by the goalkeeper; however that was nothing compared to the frustration he would feel soon. Reading were awarded a penalty stroke, but to the disbelief of the fans, Mantell’s weak effort sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, but trickled onto the post.
Gerome Branquart was cast as the pantomime villain to the English supporters when he clashed with Cheesman. Charles Verrier was sent off for a cynical shirt pull on the same player as the game came close to boiling point.
With time running out Reading finally settled their supporters’ nerves. Another break around the baseline was pulled back to near the penalty spot where Tom Carson calmly knocked the ball home for the win and the place in the next round.
The French side had given everything in a game that was exciting to the last whistle. In the end, Reading have gone through, only just, though.
This game was top stuff!
Darren Cheesman has the honour of being the only British male hockey player I can now recognise, as the EHL commentator kept mentioning him when the Frenchies kept trying to fowl him.
On the women’s side, I know Alex Danson as she looked proper tasty running around in her short skirt during the Olympics.
Yes. Cheesman came in for some rough treatment during that game. I thought he coped with it admirably. Would’ve been easy to react to that provocation. He’s the calmest man around though. If they were looking for someone to wind up, they obviously hadn’t done their homework.