Hilltop ground share at Hillingdon Borough's Middlesex Stadium, a new ground to me and, I have to say, something of a unique experience. The stadium is situated in Ruislip, just a short hop off the A40. The ground is well signposted off Breakspear Road and has a very large car park which runs from the main road to the clubhouse and then off to the left behind the main stadium and the adjacent 3G pitches. There appear to be two ways to enter the main ground, a gate between the main pitch and the 3G pitches and an entrance down the side of the clubhouse. It's certainly a friendly place though. A local supporter started chatting to me as I entered the ground, giving me loads of information about the ground and the teams (Hilltop and Hillingdon Borough). Then a lady popped her head out of one of the huts and asked me if I wanted a hot drink, before pointing out where the club entrance and toilets were located. Shortly afterwards one of the Hilltop coaches walked past and, after I asked if he had the team sheets, was more than happy to get them and let me photograph them. Later one, whilst standing pitch side, most of the Hilltop coaches and substitutes walked past and shook hands with both myself and the local guy I was chatting to. Friendly old place.
Going into the game, everything appeared to make Reading favourites. The Cityzens sat second in the league, seven points adrift of leaders Ascot United but with a game in hand,. They had only lost once in the last six games, a 2-0 defeat to Ascot at The Racecourse Ground. Hilltop, in contrast, were in tenth spot 22 points behind Reading after only winning one of their last six, albeit a crushing 5-1 defeat of Broadfields on their own patch. Recent head to head history also favoured the Berkshire team. They met at Scours Lane back in October, in what appears to have been quite a feisty encounter. Hussein Mahdi gave Hilltop an early lead which they held until after the hour mark. Then, on 63 minutes, Eddie Lee equalised for Reading before Eddie Lazarczuk snatched all three points in the 87th minute. That was not the end of the action though. Mahdi then picked up a second yellow in the 89th minute before Hilltop were reduced to nine in the 94th minute when Sharmake Ali got a straight red.
The game got off to a stuttering start. Three times within the opening eleven minutes Hilltop had players down and the referee had to twice call on the physio, who was certainly getting his steps in. The stoppages prevented either team from getting into any kind of rhythm. However, once the game settled down a little, it was the visitors who began to establish themselves as the dominant team, kicking down the slope in the first half. Home keeper Victor Allan Miranda Telles had to be quick and brave on 24 minutes when he was forced to throw himself at the feet of Eddie Lee to make a good stop. Reading were now starting to wind up the pressure on Hilltop, although the hosts always looked quite dangerous when they were allowed to break. Four minutes later another Reading break down the right saw the ball reach Pilling in the box. His control was excellent but his finish to the bouncing ball was slightly off and the ball flashed wide.
Reading continued to show some great build up play without unduly worry Miranda Telles. On 38 minutes a Baines snapshot thudded into the keeper's midriff when either side may have been a different result. Then, with two minutes to go before the break, Hilltop launched another quick raid upfield resulting in Michael Panford's shot looking destined for the top corner before Charlie York threw himself acrobatically to his right to palm it away for a corner. Nothing came of the corner kick, but this was a warning for reading. Despite their dominance, the best effort so far had gone the way of the home side.
HT Hilltop 0 Reading City 0. The visitors undoubtedly on top in terms of possession but couldn't make it pay. You could also argue that the best save of the half came from Reading keeper. Hilltop looked lively and sharp when they broke. The slope might play to their advantage in the second half.
There was almost a quick response from reading when Pilling fired just over from the edge of the box on 55 minutes but the visitors were now chasing the game and were rushing their passes, trying to force it by playing long balls. The upshot was that their passes were either mis-directed or mopped up by the Hilltop defence. Then, five minutes after the hour, Hilltop broke again and were awarded a penalty. I couldn't clearly see the incident from my vantage point, but there didn't seem to be many complaints form the Reading players. Substitute Jordy Mumbiny stepped up and calmly slotted home the spot kick. 2-0.
The second goal did spark more of a response from Reading. They made a few more changes to their line-up and did start to push Hilltop back into their own half more. It looked as if they had a golden chance to get back into the game on 69 minutes when Dan Davies found himself all alone in front of goal. However, he pushed the shot wide and, in any case, the assistant's flag was already up. A few minutes later a corner form the left was met by the head of Ellis Cowd but his downward header was well saved by Telles Miranda.
With ten minutes go a foul on nasty looking challenge on Hilltop captain Mohamed Hussein sparked some pushing and shoving amongst the players. Miranda Telles ran a good 35 yards from his goal to get involved, seemingly raising his hands as he pushed a Reading player over. Once the melee had calmed down and the referee had consulted with his assistant, who had a clear view of the incident, a yellow card was issued to the keeper and the Reading captain Phil Veal, who sparked it all off with the tackle. From where I stood, the keeper was quite lucky that he didn't see red. It wasn't a particularly violent push but his hands were raised and the assistant could easily have seen it differently.
That was the last major incident in the game before the referee blew the whistle allowing us all to head back to the warmth of our cars.
FT Hilltop 2 Reading City 0. Hilltop rode their luck at times, especially in the first half. However, when they got a chance, they took it. From a coaching perspective, great game management. Reading will, no doubt, spend the journey back down the M4 wondering just how they managed to lose the game. They could, and probably should, have been out of sight by half-time.
At the weekend Hilltop are at home again when they welcome Edgware & Kingsbury to The Middlesex Stadium. The Wares are one place and three points about Hilltop having played one game fewer. The eraly season game saw Edgware win 2-0 with both goals coming in the first half. Qusey Islam saw red for Hilltop. Meanwhile, Reading are back on the M4 for a trip to Wembley (not the big arch). The Lions are currently in ninth and the sides have yet to meet this season.
It struck me whilst writing this blog that although I had never seen Hilltop play before, I had seen Reading City play three times, even if all three were under their previous name of Highmoor Ibis. All three were quite some time ago. A 2-0 win against Royal Wootton Bassett Town (New Name, New Stadium, Same Result), a 3-0 defeat at Binfield (Moles Dig In To Stay Top) and a 4-1 defeat at Ardley United (Goal Machine). Given the result this evening, it appears that my attendance is not a particularly good omen for the team.
Hilltop: Telles Miranda, S.Ali, Yislam, H.Hussein, Ahmed Ali, M.Hussein(c), Aboudi Ali, Salih, Mfinda, Panford, Mahdi. Subs: Obiechina, Afrah, Mohamed, Mumbiny, Hashani
Reading City: York, Smith, Baker, Lazarczuk, Veal(c), Cowd, Baines, Davies, Lee, Pilling, Abubakar. Subs: Donville, Vallentin, Sankoh, Ceesay, Tanner
Ground Number: 347