Still that first Premier League win refuses to come
With the Royals apparently heading for their first three points of the season, in front 2-1 with but seven minutes to go, the Senegal international stooped to head a cross from substitute Shane Ferguson. The ball evaded his head, but, much to the astonishment of Reading keeper Alex McCarthy, he scooped it into the net with his wrist. It was his sixth goal in as many games. And frankly it should never have been allowed.
“It was blatant,” said Reading manager Brian McDermott. “Very disappointing. The ref hasn’t seen it. What can I say?”
Alan Pardew, returning to the club he left in unhappy circumstances in 2003, did not attempt to deny his side’s good fortune. “I’ve seen it again, it definitely hits Demba’s arm,” he said. “If I’m honest it’s a shame for Reading, they do need a win.”
Ba’s handiwork spoiled what seemed destined to be Reading’s first moment in the Premier League sunshine. After a grim first half, the second 45 minutes exploded in a flurry of goals. First Jimmy Kébé slipped into the visitors’ penalty area (and slipped on his backside) to steer the ball past Steve Harper.
The Reading fans barely had time to announce that Kébé scores how he wants, before Chiek Tioté sent a delicious chip into the Reading box. As the ball floated between the two home centre backs, Ba allowed it to drift over his shoulder and on to his right foot. It was a sweet strike, driven by the sweetest of techniques.
Until that point Pardew’s players did not appear to be in the mood to mark his award of the longest contract in football. They were unrecognisable from the quick-witted side who electrified the division last season. They looked laboured, leggy, seemingly caught out by a committed home team.
And it was characteristic that Reading responded to Ba’s strike by lifting their work rate even higher. Noel Hunt headed in an excellent cross from Jobi McAnuff for what appeared to be the winner. But then Ba stepped in to administer a slap in the face (not to mention a slap on the ball).
Despite a late assault which saw McAnuff hit the Newcastle post, with the equaliser went McDermott’s hope of beating the man who first brought him to Reading as chief scout in 2000.