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READING 3, NORWICH CITY 3: Ian Harte is now an officially paid-up member of a select group of footballers that includes such Canaries favourites as Kevin Muscat and Christian Dailly.

It's not an honour of which he should be proud. Muscat put Bellamy out of the game for four months in 1998 with a sickening tackle, while Dailly has never been forgiven for breaking Phil Mulryne's leg the following year.

Harte's crime was something of a reversal of the trend as he was on the receiving end, although Grant Holt's tackle carried about as much danger as an Audley Harrison punch.

But if the reaction of City fans is anything to go by, Harte's apparent misdemeanour will take a lot of forgetting.

The former Leeds man went down like a bag of spuds, having seemingly been hit by a sniper – and then saw the player who had embarrassed him for the previous 45 minutes shown a red card by a referee just out of nappies. Just as City were leading 3-1 and looking stronger by the minute.


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Only Harte will know how much pain he was in, but his actions, and those of referee Michael Oliver, who had a clear view of the incident, left a sour taste in the mouth.

Oliver compounded the crime in time added on when he took no action – not even in the shape of a free-kick – when Jem Karacan hacked down Korey Smith. Lambert walked down the touchline to where the incident occurred and was promptly sent to the stands.

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Oliver was on the receiving end post-match, with Lambert suggesting he lacked experience. At 25 years old he became the Premier League's youngest referee this season, but he has now shown six red cards in a dozen games. His league duties have been shared between the top flight and the Football League: was he chosen for this game because it was live on TV and it would be considered a good test, part of his learning curve? If so, Lambert's spot on in his assertion that Championship teams shouldn't be guinea pigs.

City will appeal against Holt's dismissal and if they don't win, then there really is no justice. If they do, it means he won't miss the games against Leeds, Ipswich and Derby.

But that won't bring back the final 45 minutes, it won't bring back a couple of points that City might well have had rather than the one they took home. And at the end of the season, two points could make a crucial difference to the club's fortunes, who knows?

It had all been going so well for City, who set about Reading like a dog feasting on your favourite shoes. The home back four were about as secure as cheese in a mousetrap; skipper Matt Mills was fidgety and nervous, and as a unit they were about as cohesive as Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing. They were all over the place. It was manna from heaven for Holt and Chris Martin, whose partnership looked as strong as it did last season when they sometimes plundered League One defences at will.

Lambert had rested Wes Hoolahan and the diamond and retained Anthony McNamee in a straight-forward 4-4-2 - and with 16 minutes on the clock and City already looking bright, they went ahead.

Russell Martin and Korey Smith had teamed up well down the right a couple of times, but the one-two between them in Reading's half was immaculate. Martin made headway into the area, centre-half Zurab Khizanishvili didn't know whether to stick with him or keep an eye on Chris Martin, who was waiting for the cut-back. He hadn't made up his mind by the time the right-back pulled the trigger and hit the roof of the net and then embarked on the sort of crazy, mazy run usually reserved for those players for whom goalscoring is a rare experience.

Reading were sloppy, passes were going astray, and City were taking advantage every time. Mills was having a torrid time and when he picked up a Russell Martin clearance he must have been sick with fear. Chris Martin was at his back and perhaps just put him off balance a little, which meant his back pass to Adam Federici was short. Holt saw it coming, made tracks and collected the ball before the keeper. What followed was twinkle-toes stuff as Holt danced to the right and then somehow squeezed in a low shot from an acute angle into the goal. It was a magnificent finish.

City's problems with corners, which have cost them dearly in recent games, emerged again within minutes as Brian Howard slung one into the area. Noel Hunt, at the near post, flicked it on, David Fox, at the far post, couldn't clear it cleanly and it fell to Harte to prod it home.

It was more than Reading deserved, which is probably why City didn't panic.

Just after the half-hour mark the two-goal cushion was restored when Chris Martin sent in a peach of a free-kick from 30 yards which went through a hole in the wall and left Federici with no chance.

Holt could have had a second as he latched on to Chris Martin's glancing header but saw the keeper save with his legs.

John Ruddy wasn't entirely unemployed, getting right behind Howard's shot and then doing well to touch over a long-ranger by Shane Long.

An incident a few minutes before half-time was perhaps a taster for what was to come. Leon Barnett and Mills were left holding their heads after an accidental aerial collision.

The referee decided on a drop ball and, after some arguing, simply asked City to clear it downfield. Russell Martin had Howard a few yards ahead of him and, to effect a proper clearance, tapped the ball to his right to prepare to kick it fully. As soon as he did, Howard challenged. Martin hurried the clearance and it spun away for a Reading throw-in. It was unsporting, but it had a simple solution: tell Howard to shut up and move away and allow Martin to try again. The referee gave Reading the throw-in.

In time added on, Harte had the ball in the centre circle, Holt went in for the challenge, clumsily you have to say, and his right foot caught Harte's left shin. It wasn't studs up and it looked pretty harmless, although to be fair only Harte will know how painful it was.

Did his reaction persuade the referee or did he simply rely on the evidence afforded by his clear view?

Asking the referee for an explanation isn't an option: my post-match search was ended by a Reading official who said I wouldn't be allowed near him –four security men would ensure that.

Holt's absence meant a whole new ball game: Reading emerged with their tails up and used Ruddy's goal for target practice. The keeper had already pushed one effort on to a post before Hunt made it 3-2, the equaliser following two minutes later when Lappin brought down Long, who converted from the spot.

From then on it was a siege – with Chris Martin alone up front the ball just kept coming back towards the City goal, although Lambert did end the match with two strikers on the pitch.

His own banishment to the stands in time added on simply added to the frustration of the afternoon. The sight of stewards lined up to keep him away from the referee was a little surreal, but Lambert managed to make his views known.

Shame it had to end that way.

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