Church lights the way for new-look Reading
At the Madejski Stadium
Best of, worst of, quotes of, top 10 of this and most repugnant list of that - the Noughties have been appraised, assessed and put firmly to bed over the last week or so.
But watching Reading draw with Liverpool during their engrossing FA Cup tie on Saturday I wondered how the two teams would prosper in the new and as yet unnamed decade that we have entered upon.
Certainly Liverpool, trophy-less since 2006, appear to be as far from ending their wait for the Premier League title as they did at the start of the millennium.
With more and more serious rivals intent on breaking into the top four, Liverpool currently have their work cut out qualifying for next season's Champions League, let alone winning the league title.
If you were to select the strongest XI from all the teams (apart from the current top three) seriously aspiring to a top-four finish - Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham - how many would come from Rafael Benitez's squad? A disappointing number I suspect.
With Liverpool already out of the Champions League, the names on their team sheet on Saturday - Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina - told you all you needed to know about the importance of the FA Cup to Benitez this season.
"We realise we have two clear chances to win a trophy this season, the FA Cup and the Europa League," said Benitez afterwards, with the Spaniard hinting that defeat at Reading would not have been worth contemplating.
Gerrard looks as far away from winning the title as he has ever been
The current season could yet end in qualified success for Benitez but with off-field problems such as the fractious relationship between the clubs American owners allied to the disappointments on it, the new decade starts uncertainly for Liverpool.
This campaign has hardly been plain sailing for Reading, who are in their second season after relegation from the Premier League and occupy a lowly 20th in the Championship table.
They have won just five of their 24 league fixtures - only one at home - and their largely dire form saw Brendan Rodgers, only appointed in the summer, dismissed as manager in December.
It is a measure of the speed of Reading's recent decline that their previous home meeting against Liverpool was a league fixture in December 2007 that the Royals won 3-1.
Of the XI that started for Reading that day only skipper Ivar Ingimarsson remained for Saturday's FA Cup tie. The team that Steve Coppell built has been broken up, while the manager himself was at the stadium on Saturday but only in his new role as a television pundit.
The Noughties were the most successful decade in the history of Reading and even accepting their recent disappointments they still start this one in better shape than they did the last, as a mid-table League One club.
With Stephen Darby starting for Liverpool on Saturday, the Reds had an all-too rare Academy graduate in their XI. Reading's fortunes in the near future rest in part on their new generation of Academy graduates, a group of players who are determined to forge another successful era for the club.
Saturday's line-up included Simon Church, Jem Karacan and Gylfi Sigurdsson, while Alex Pearce, Hal Robson-Kanu and second-half substitute goalkeeper Ben Hamer were on the bench
"We have a group of players who have been together since they have been 15 or 16," Church, who scored the opening goal on Saturday, told me in a recent conversation.
"We have grown up playing together and it explains why there is such a strong bond among us. We have lost a lot of good players at the club but it is a good opportunity for the younger group."
Church, a Wales international who was linked with Liverpool at the start of the season, put the Royals in front on Saturday with an instinctive close-range finish.
The striker, who recently turned 21, has been at the club since switching from his local side Wycombe as a 14-year-old.
Like several of his contemporaries he has been out on several loan spells to gain valuable first-team experience before returning to Reading to try to establish himself in the first team.
He has scored six goals in 21 appearances for club and country this season, with the young forward citing his debut international goal against Scotland in November as a particular highlight. He pointed to the heavens in celebration, a tribute to his father who died in September.
Approachable, honest and engaging, when I spoke to Church he admitted that he had been curious when he heard the speculation linking him with Liverpool.
The story goes that former Liverpool manager and current assistant Wales boss Roy Evans was so impressed with his movement and attitude during training sessions for the national team that he recommended Benitez monitor his progress.
"I am in my first full season in the Championship and I need to gain experience, play football and learn every day in training," said Church, who made his Royals debut in January and scored his first goal for the club against Peterborough in September.
Church's movement strikes me as being particularly impressive but he told me that he has wasted too many good chances this season and is busy working hard to improve his finishing.
Church was an impressive performer for Reading
When I spoke to Church prior to the Liverpool tie he was particularly fervent in his praise of Fernando Torres, though it struck me that he tempered his appreciation by noting that he was his own man and was prepared to take anything from anyone that would help him improve his own game.
After Saturday's 1-1 draw the young striker was candid enough to admit that he knew little about his close-range equaliser, quipping that it might have hit his knee or his shin but it definitely went in.
It could yet prove to be a crucial goal for Reading.
Liverpool will be obvious favourites to win the replay at Anfield but Reading have different priorities.
They are a club in a state of flux. Brian McDermott, former chief scout now temporarily in charge of first-team affairs , was quizzed about his future after the game. He drily noted: "I'm a bit of a Buddhist; I just live for the moment."
Yet owner Sir John Madejski must decide who he now wants to take the club forward in the long term.
The club have an excellent stadium and an established managerial infrastructure with Nick Hammond as director of football and Nigel Howe as chief executive.
Relegation to League One would be a disastrous start to the decade but the new-look Reading showed on Saturday that they have the capability to produce the calibre of performance that ought to see a team challenge for the top rather than labour at the bottom of the Championship.
Alas, the atrocious performance witnessed by 900 away fans at Plymouth on Monday, when Reading lost 4-1, is a more familiar script this season.
And unless Saturday proves to be a watershed for Reading, I cannot help but think that Madejski must make some tough and quick decisions in January to ensure that his club do not ask too much of a fledgling group of players for the remainder of the campaign.