Harper ready for friendly ire

JAMES Harper knows exactly what to expect at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow.The ever-present Reading midfielder will be harangued from start to finish, which is always the case when Ipswich are the visitors.

JAMES Harper knows exactly what to expect at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow.

The ever-present Reading midfielder will be harangued from start to finish, which is always the case when Ipswich are the visitors.

But the former Arsenal youngster has no complaints - in fact he thinks it's all a bit of a giggle - because it's one of his closest pals who will be delivering the tongue-lashing.

Harper, 23, said: “I've got a mate called Ben Shadwell who is Ipswich through and through. He never misses a game.

“When he comes to the Madejski he really lays into me and gives me lots of abuse.

“But it's nothing more than good-natured banter. I'll go over to take a corner, for example, and I'll hear Ben above the rest of the crowd.”

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The pair have been mates ever since their school days in Chelmsford, when they did athletics together between the ages of 11 and 15.

They are still in regular contact and Harper added: “At the last couple of home games against Ipswich I've gone over at the end to see Ben and we've had a chat.

“He always sits in the same area and is easy to find, mainly because I can hear him above the rest of the crowd.

“I'll be giving him a call beforehand just to check he'll be in his usual place and I'll probably go over at the final whistle.

“He has asked if he can have my shirt and last year I was nearly going to peel it off until I realised the stick I would get from their fans.

“My girlfriend still lives in Chelmsford and when I go back there I sometimes see Ben and a few of the lads as well.

“They're a good bunch. Ipswich is their team but the fact that I play for Reading is neither here nor there. We're still mates.”

Harper is well aware of the importance of tomorrow's showdown, with the fourth-placed Royals anxious to reduce the nine-point gap separating them from leaders Ipswich.

He added: “We didn't have the best of times over Christmas and New Year. We had a good win over Watford that was on the telly but it was a bit disappointing after that.

“We've had a lot of travelling in the past week and played on two heavy pitches at Burnley and Swansea, where it went to extra time.

“To be honest we were a bit tired at the start of the week and since then we've not done too much in training. We've just been looking to recover.

“Ipswich is a must-win game because they're so far ahead. Even a draw would be disappointing from our point of view.”

Harper has two goals to his credit this season, both scored in the first three games, so he is looking to end a 30-game drought.

He moved from Highbury in February 2001 and has since made 162 senior appearances.

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