Reading crashed our of Europe at the KO16 stage despite a spirited second half display to run RC Polo de Barcelona all the way in a thrilling Euro Hockey League encounter. Charlie Seccombe’s side trailed at the break to goals from Roger Padros, David Alegre and Manel Terraza but they clawed their way back to 3-2 before Xavi Lleonart’s brilliant individual strike sealed the win for Carlos Garcia Cuenca’s team.
Polo got off to the best possible start as a lovely run from Alex Casasayas caused havoc in the Reading defence and the Polo star was able to slip the ball to Padros who scored despite James Bailey getting a stick to the ball as he dived to keep it out.
That settled the Spanish side into the match and for the majority of the quarter they were able to keep the ball, passing it around the back and into midfield as Reading chased hard to try and get themselves into the contest. With two minutes until the break Polo forced a penalty corner. Bailey dealt with the first flick comfortably enough but the rebound fell to David Alegre and the England goalkeeper had to pull off a stunning save to keep him out.
At the start of the second quarter the English side were denied an equaliser by trigger happy umpire Martin Madden. He blew his whistle to award Reading a penalty corner just as Chris Cargo put the ball into the net to level the scores. The resultant penalty corner was charged down by the defence and Polo cleared. Their sense of injustice was heightened minutes later as David Alegre got all the way round on the left and cut back from the baseline to slide the ball past Bailey to make it 2-0.
It was 3-0 a minute before the break. Alex Casasayas again provided the pass and Terraza had the simple task of touching home from close range.
It took Reading until the 50th minute to pull themselves back into the match. Richard Mantell’s precise pass from a penalty corner was expertly finished by Andy Watts to restore some hope. The fourth quarter was played at a frenetic pace as Reading threw everything at the Spanish side to try and salvage the tie. With six minutes remaining the comeback was well and truly on. Jonty Clarke’s cross beat everyone and found Nick Catlin at the far post. The Great Britain international took a touch and found the net to set up a nervy final few minutes.
With four minutes left, Reading used their referral in search of a penalty corner but the umpires turned it down. With John Jackson and Dan Shingles sent to the sin bin, Charlie Seccombe rolled the dice and took off Bailey to play with an extra outfield player. With a minute left, the decision backfired as Xavi Lleonart danced through the defence from the left side and fired home off the far post to seal the win and spark jubilant scenes for the Spanish side.
For Reading the disappointment was clear for all to see as they had thrown everything at Polo. They will now have to watch next season’s EHL from afar as their qualification hopes rested on winning the competition this year.
I was (sort of) watching this on my phone at work.
It was easier spotting Mr Mantell’s grey barnet than it was the sodding hockey ball.