By The Resident Alien
The sun was beginning to set behind the New Jersey hills as the match kicked off, but was still played in stifling heat and humidity, which led to much of it being played at three-quarters speed or slower.
Still, Bears making up most of the crowd had a good evening out, with much singing and a constant buzz of conversation going on as old friends were getting reacquainted, new friends were celebrating their common Bluenose bonds, and fans in general were excitedly discussing the club's prospects for the upcoming season.
Alex McLeish used four at the back to start the match, Bob Malcolm paired with Bert Konterman in central defence, and new signing Kevin Muscat on the right and Maurice Ross again in his role on the left.
Fernando Ricksen and Arthur Numan served as right and left flanks respectively in midfield, with Mikael Arteta and Stephen Hughes playing in the middle and Russell Latapy stationed just behind Tore Andre Flo and Billy Dodds, the starting strikers. Allan McGregor started in goal.
It was the Spaniard who had Gers first quality chance, blazing a left-footed drive over the bar just five minutes into the match. Reading answered back with Les Lundsford and Rory McGlasson linking before the latter sent a hard shot wide of McGregor.
In the 14th minute, Hughes delivered the first of several quality balls from deep in midfield, putting Dodds in behind the defence, but the shot was blocked and Latapy's resultant corner was easily cleared. Dodds had another chance minutes later as Ricksen stole a pass at midfield and and sent the Scotsman through. After neatly jigging the defender, he was unfortunately to sky his drive well over the bar.
Tore Andre Flo was denied a goalscoring chance by what seemed a clear penalty, as he was upended in the box, but the referee waved play on. It was the Norwegian though who put Gers on the scoresheet minutes later.
After a Dodds effort had been blocked by Reading keeper Steven Widdowson, Latapy chased down the ball on the left and sent a looping cross over and Flo stooped down to perfectly direct a header into the net. Gers picked up the intensity for a bit at that point, creating a number of chances. Hughes had a left-footed drove denied by the keeper's diving effort. Dodds followed with an open header from a Hughes cross, but sent it straight to the keeper.
IN the 30th minute Flo put in some great footwork, holding onto the ball while advancing against numerous challenges, and was unlucky to have his shot come off the bar. Two minutes later he again demonstrated his considerable skill at holding the ball and almost scored from a sharp angle.
Against the run of play, Reading's Romulo Viera ran with the ball down the right wing, getting around Muscat and then capitalizing on a miscue by McGregor to send a slow roller toward the open net. Malcolm just saved the goal, sliding in to clear. Late in the half Gers again threated, Dodds well saved from 20 yards out and Flo sending Ricksen in with a great pass, only to have the Dutchman muff the cross.
In the second half, Arthur Numan, Barry Ferguson and Ronald DeBoer came on, for Latapy, Ricksen and Arteta. Almost immediately the Rangers captain was on the scoresheet, taking a neat pass from Dodds and slotting it past the keeper. Flo almost made it 3-0 a minute later but Reading's Jeff
Koegel made a good last-gasp tackle to rob him. A perfect Flo dummy at 52 minutes gave Hughes an open drive, but the youngster's shot was well over.
Shota Arveladze was introduced for Flo at 62 minutes, with the Norwegian getting a nice round of applause and answering in kind to the support. It was Arveladze receiving the accolades shortly after, sublimely chipping the keeper after collecting a through ball from Ferguson to make it 3-0.
The match was really slowing down now, with the crowd noise alternating between renditions of The Sash and excited recollections from expats about visits to East Kilbride or County Antrim in days gone by.
Attention was drawn to the field when a Rage player handled in the area. Ferguson promptly stepped up to the spot and side-footed the ball home for a 4-0 advantage at 78 minutes. Rage midfielder Nicholas Chrisanthon grabbed one back for his side, drawing a foul from Maurice Ross just outside the area, and then cleverly sending a left-footed shot under the leaping wall, out of McGregor's reach. Dodds added to his number of misses late in the match, just before the referee blew time.
Full time brought a warm ovation from the supporters, second on the night only to the roar for a ballboy in a Rangers strip, who heroically pulled down a tricolor that had just been draped over a wall behind on the goals, by a mysterious man in a Celtic strip. The Tic man then raced to a nearby parking lot to link with waiting SUV and driver. The two culprits drove around to the main gate of the ground, presumably to ask security
"Can I have my flag back please?" Security retrieved the banner and ignored pleas from some supporters to burn the thing.
McLeish will be pleased with the workout received from the outing.
Passing and coverage appeared to be strong points, while finishing will not receive the highest of grades, even at this early stage. Rangers wrap up their USA tour Saturday at the Meadowlands with a match vs. Santos of Brazil.
Team: McGregor, Ricksen, Ross, Muscat, Malcolm, Konterman, Arteta, Hughes, Latapy, Flo and Dodds.