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By ESPN Staff

Sidwell's exit has left a 'big hole', admits Murty

Reading captain Graeme Murty admits the departure of Steve Sidwell to Chelsea has left a 'big hole' at the club.

The 24-year-old ended a four-year association with the Royals in the summer when he opted to join Jose Mourinho and company on a free transfer - and the fixture list has presented him with a speedy return to his former club tonight.

Sidwell, who has so far made two substitute appearances for his new employers, is likely to get a warm welcome from the Reading fans, according to Murty.

'He has left a big hole, not only on the pitch but in the changing room, because he is a fantastic character - you miss people like that, especially in games where you have to dig in,' said Murty.

'I talked to him the other day, and he is looking forward to coming back. We had a little bit of banter comparing changing rooms and training-ground facilities.

'Ours is a bit shabby in comparison, it seems - they have fingerprint entry to their place - but that's what an unlimited budget does for you.'

Back in his old surroundings, Sidwell will be made to feel at home.

'He will get a good reception, because everyone saw how he put himself on the line for us last season even when there was talk of him leaving,' Murty predicted.

'He never shirked a tackle and he never stinted in his spadework in the trenches for us. He is a top lad, and we wish him all the best - starting after this game.'

A reception of a different kind awaits Mourinho, thanks to his tirade against Stephen Hunt and the Berkshire ambulance service after the corresponding fixture in October last year, which Chelsea won 1-0.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech suffered a fractured skull in a clash with Hunt - and his replacement, Carlo Cudicini, also ended up in hospital.

But Murty is convinced Hunt will be able to cope with his first reunion with the Czech.

He said: 'He knows there is going to be intense scrutiny - but that's fine. He's been normal this week - what passes for normal in his world anyway.

'He will handle it well. He will want to look the Chelsea players in the eye and try to match what they do with the ball. That's the only way he can answer them.

'That's the kind of guy he is. I would never say it to his face, but he deserves a big pat on the back for the way he handled himself after that.'

With strikers Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita unavailable, the onus will be on Kevin Doyle to provide a punch in attack, with fellow Irishman Shane Long waiting for confirmation that he will be allowed to help him.