Goalkeeper James Bailey was Reading’s hero with a crucial penalty shootout save from Steve Edwards as the Sonning Lane side knocked out Rotterdam in a thrilling Euro Hockey League KO16 encounter in Amsterdam.
Rotterdam went in as slight favourites due to their undoubted European pedigree, but Reading, the reigning English champions matched them every step of the way. Rotterdam could have taken the lead on 10 minutes; a penalty corner from Jeroen Hertzberger was charged down but fell to Hidde Turkstra whose shot was smothered by Bailey at the near post. Simon Mantell had Reading’s best chance of the first quarter but his reverse stick effort went just wide.
Rotterdam got their noses in front at the start of the second quarter. Hertzberger went round the back on the right and cut the ball across for Bas Campbell to score from close range. Reading’s reply was positive and almost instant. Simon Mantell played a ferocious ball across the D and found Tom Carson at the back post. The former Exeter man controlled the ball and stabbed home past the despairing dive of Pirmin Blaak. Craig Peel latched onto a pass from Huw Jones only minutes later, but with the angle against him could only shoot wide.
Bailey in the Reading goal then took centre stage making a fine save from a Hertzberger penalty corner before coming off his line sharply to block from Simon Child.
Rotterdam did beat Bailey at the start of quarter three, Child got to the baseline, this time on the left and cut back for Nick Wilson to guide home to make it 2-1. The game started to open up and Campbell missed good chance under pressure from Julius Breucker before Peel saw a gilt edged opportunity go begging at the other end. Blaak made a fine save from a Richard Mantell penalty corner as Reading pushed their illustrious opponents hard in search of an equaliser.
In the fourth quarter the English side had another penalty corner chance, Tom Carson’s flick was kicked away by Blaak, falling kindly for Richard Mantell. He steadied himself and flicked at goal only for Blaak to somehow get a glove to the ball and turn it over the bar. A miraculous save and it was starting to look like it wouldn’t be Reading’s day. However, with time running out, Mantell stepped up again. This time his flick wrong footed the goalkeeper who could only get a half touch, which diverted the ball past the man on the post. It was all square once again.
Reading went down to ten men, but almost stole a winner with an amazing counterattack. Jonty Clarke broke free, waited for support and then played a splendid cross into the circle where Chris Newman had arrived all the way from the other end of the field, Newman dived full length and got a stick to the ball only to be denied by Blaak with another wonderful save.
Extra time was typically nervy affair, although Simon Mantell was unlucky not to score, diverting his brother’s pass into the bottom corner only to see that man Blaak make yet another save. Rotterdam thought they had been awarded a penalty corner on the whistle but Reading successfully used their video referral and it was off to penalties.
Nick Wilson was up first and having been forced wide by Bailey the Kiwi blazed his follow up wide. Simon Mantell, Jeroen Hertzberger, Chris Cargo, Oliver Polkamp, Darren Cheesman and Simon Child all scored. The score was tied at 3-3 with Reading in the ascendancy. Peel stepped up but could not find the target and suddenly the pressure was back on. Steve Edwards stepped up and Bailey did brilliantly, denying him twice before having the presence of mind to clear the ball with his stick. Jonty Clarke came next with the chance to win it. With a minimum of fuss Clarke drove towards goal, committed Blaak and dribbled the ball over the line to send Reading through to the next round.
It was harsh on Blaak who had put in a world class performance in the Rotterdam goal and did not deserve to be on the losing side. In the end though, that reflects the pressure Reading put his team under throughout the game. By contrast, this is a game that will live long in James Bailey’s memory and rightly so.