LEAGUE DIVISION TWO - PLAY OFF SEMI FINAL, FIRST LEG
WIGAN ATHLETIC 0 READING 0
(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: -
Wigan Scorers: -
Date: 13 May 2001
Attendance: 12,638

Reading: Whitehead, Gurney, Viveash, Hunter, Robinson, Parkinson, Jones (Caskey), Igoe, Cureton (Forster), Butler, McIntyre. Subs not used: Howie, Williams, Harper.

Wigan Athletic: Carroll, Bradshaw, McGibbon, De Zeeuw, Sharp, Green, Nicholls, Martinez, Beagrie (Roberts), Liddell (Ashcroft), McCulloch (Haworth). Subs not used: Stillie, Sheridan.

Bookings: Martinez, McGibbon (Wigan); McIntyre, Parkinson (Reading).
Referee: R Pearson (Peterlee)

All things considered this was an excellent result that sets us up perfectly for the second leg. Before the game we'd have settled for a draw, and leaving the JJB stadium at full time it felt like we'd pulled off an amazing result. The performance wasn't the best by any stretch of the imagination, but the tactics had worked. The Royals spent most of the match defending and letting Wigan attempt to score what would have been a vital play-off goal. Wigan got close on plenty of occassions but our second half defending ended up leaving the home side frustrated and more than likely on their way out of the play-offs. During the first half we relied on clearances off the line and superb goalkeeping to keep the scoresheet blank - so arguably our second half performance was better despite our only real chances of the game coming in the first half when we could have taken the lead ourselves.

Before kick-off the game felt more like a final then the first leg of the sem-final. The turn out from Reading was fantastic, with Reading cars and coaches in a massive convoy up the motorways. On arrival there were Reading fans everywhere - it was hard to imagine we were about 200 miles away from Reading. Before the home stands started to fill a bit we outnumbered the home fans - and the atmosphere felt amazing. So many people had made a real effort that the JJB was a sea of orange with everyone dressed in either blue or white or orange - and the biggest percentage of orange dyed hair I've seen in a while at a game! Considering Reading's contribution to the gate, with between four and five thousand Reading fans, the attendance was pretty low. Perhaps Wigan have become all too used to failing at the play-off stage that these play-off games no longer attract any extra fans for them. The home stands had massive gaps in them and it was clear which team was better supported when the Royals came out to thousands of orange baloons released by the travelling fans. Lets hope we can make a repeat of this atmosphere at a sell out Madejski Stadium on Wednesday night as we attempt to finish the job!

With Murty out with another mysterious injury and Whitbread unable to play due to the FA refusing his loan extension, the Royals were forced to re-organise the defence. Gurney came into the full back position and Barry Hunter started along Viveash in the centre of the defence. McIntyre started with no sign of Rougier and Caskey and Harper on the bench. With a totally different defence and playing away from home in such a vital match managing to keep a clean sheet would always be viewed as a massive success - especially since we'd clearly come to defend. It didn't look like we could possibly play out the whole game without conceeding a goal as the game got off to a fast start with Wigan doing most of the attacking.

Wigan followed up an early attack that was well defended with a fast attack on the break that caught the Reading defence out. The ball was played quickly forward down the left and crossed to the middle where it was met with an excellent header that end the ball towards goal on target. Whitehead managed to save it well, but for a moment it looked like it would still sneak in before he somehow managed to scoop it off the line with his right arm in the air. Wigan appealed for the goal - but Whitehead had done just enough to keep it out for the corner.

A few minutes later it looked like we were in for an excellent game of two attacking sides as Reading almost took the lead from a couple of attacks. We won a free kick diagonally out on the left which was pumped into the box, flicked on, and Hunter connected and looked like he'd scored until we realised his header had found the Wigan keeper in the right place at the right tip to push it wide. From a corner on the right Parkinson went just as close as the ball was played quite short into the box. Parkinson found himself with plenty of room to make an impressive diving header sending the ball towards the roof of the net before Carroll in the Wigan goal pushed that one over too. The sight of another Reading attack and the atmosphere seemed to expload with everyone sensing a Reading victory. Reading followed it up with another attack a few minutes later when Butler cut into the box but failed to connect properly to send a weak effort goalbound. It was going to be a frustrating afternoon for both Butler and Cureton though, and Reading's attacks become more and more infrequent.

Reading's attacking play become very disappointing. We seemed totally incapable of passing the ball successfully forward. Matt Robinson was guilty of a series of careless passes that gifted possession back to Wigan, and we were all too happy to defend. We'd looked good earlier in the game coming forward and looking for a goal. The best form of defence seemed to be attack with a Wigan defence that Cureton and Butler seemed capable of breaking down given a bit of service. The service dryed up and the rest of the game was Wigan's to attack at will against a very deep Reading defence.

We had reason to worry throughout the first half with our new defensive line up doing a good job - but not a great job until they'd really got used to each other. Gurney made a weak start losing out far too often as Wigan attacked down the left wing - but his performance became better and better as the game went on. Wigan's best chance of the half came down the wing when the ball was crossed in and then played on to a spare man at the right post. We looked certain to score, but Viveash was there on the line to get in the way of the ball before it found the net. One advantage of having so many men back defending I guess. The pressure wasn't over when Wigan again broke into the box. Whithead came off his line and the Wigan forward took it into the box and attempted to lob the keeper. It seemed certain to find the net as it dipped over Whithead's head - but somehow fell on the top of the Reading net. Another lucky escape.

The second half continued with Reading content to defend and any attempted attack going astray from some very dodgy Reading passes. No wonder the crowd started to chant for Caskey - we desperately needed some decent passes played forward. As we continued defence it was hard to fault Viveash and Hunter for their hoofs forward that stopped the danger for another few moments each time. Man of the match had to be Phil Parkinson in the Reading midfield who once again played like a man possessed, and was everywhere winning back balls lost by silly passing of the ball. Parkinson picked up an early booking in the first half after a two footed tackle on his opposite number Martinez. The referee wasn't going to give the foul but Martinez cheated Parky into the book by lying on the floor pertending he'd been killed or something. For the rest of the game Parky more than got the better of Martinez with some superb challenges, and later Martinez's frustration was clear - picking up a yellow card himself for an assault on Parkinson. Jones didn't fare so well in midfield - the ball seemed to continually avoid him as Reading suffered in the battle of the midfields.

Reading hardly managed a shot in the second half, but the defence was much improved from the first with Wigan settling for plenty of long range shots that failed to trouble Whitehead. The ball all too often failed to find the target, and when it did Whitehead was there to claim it comfortably. The game suited Barry Hunter perfectly, and he was more than content to win everything in the air and hoof it forward out of danger. Wigan would build up another attack only for the game thing to happen again with one of the Reading defender's hoofing clear. Wigan themselves started having trouble passing the ball, and it seemed the second half was always going to pass without major event - fine by the Royals.

At the final whistle the Wigan fans embarrassed themselves with a pitch invasion from both the North and South stands. It was all kicked off a few minutes before the end of the game when the stewards and police totally ignored a single fan who ran out from the Wigan stands, across the pitch when Whitehead was waiting for take a free-kick, and returned to the stands without being questioned. At full time the stewards chose to stand in front of the Reading fans and allowed the home fans to spill out of the stands to confront us. A few Wigan fans attempted to kick something off, but it was all too easy to stay in the stand and wing them up with chants of "we're going up, we're going up, you're not, you're not.", and to sing support for the Royals. The home fans cleared and eventually Alan Pardew's men came back out to salute the travelling fans who had stayed, and warm down on the pitch.

So congratulations to the Royals for successfully pulling off a draw. Pardew's tactics were clearly to defend, get a draw, and win the game at home. And we're well on course for that, so the Reading performance deserved plenty of credit. It may not have been the best match, but it will be Wigan who now have an uphill battle after a frustrating afternoon. We can beat this side on Wednesday to go through to the play-off final in Cardiff on the 27th of May.
Graham

Following report from Neil Cole:
Reading gave themselves a great chance of making the play-off final in Cardiff, after securing a draw at Wigan's JJB Stadium. The match wasn't really what 5000 travelling Royals fans had hoped for, as a game of very few chances ended in a goal-less stalemate. Alan Pardew got what he wanted though, and Reading will start Wednesday's game at the Madejski on level terms.

The travelling support from Reading was superb, as one whole side of the stadium was taken over by the Royals. The huge following must have put Wigan to shame, who barely managed to half-fill their ground for the biggest game of the season. If the Reading players needed any more encouragement to perform, they must have got it as they ran out of the tunnel to be greeted by so many Royals fans, who released thousands of orange balloons to mark the occasion.

As the game got underway, it became clear that Pardew was taking a cautious approach to the game. Parkinson and Jones were in the middle, and they seemed to be playing an even more defensive role than usual. Reading constantly had men behind the ball, and didn't seem to be taking any chances when they were in possession. There was no place in the side for Caskey, Harper or Rougier, all of whom could be viewed as a defensive liability. McIntyre and Igoe started on the flanks, but they rarely threatened the Wigan goal, leaving Cureton and Butler chasing plenty of lost causes up front.

The defence was also changed from last week, with Graeme Murty missing presumed injured, and Adie Whitbread unavailable. Their replacements were transfer-listed Andy Gurney, who had a decent game and showed why he is still a valuable squad member; and Barry Hunter who did a great job at stifling any threat the Wigan forwards posed.

There were a number of heart-stopping moments for the Royals fans, but Wigan managed to demonstrate perfectly why they've scored so few goals this season. The Latics' biggest weakness is a complete lack of the killer touch that is needed to break down the top teams in this division, and it was to our benefit as their chances went begging. Their first opportunity came early on, when a quick break down the left led to a dangerous cross being put into the Reading box. Wigan player Scott Green got a good header in, but Whitehead saved well and then palmed the ball away before it could creep in. The Wigan fans claimed the ball was over the line, but the players' reaction showed what a great job the Reading goalie had done in keeping the ball out.

Later in the first half Wigan had an even better chance, as Wigan forward Andy Liddell found himself through on goal after getting the better of Hunter for the only time in the match. Phil Whitehead was indecisive, before finally rushing out to meet the Wigan striker. Liddell saw his chance and lobbed Whitehead, only for the ball to land safely on the roof of the net.

Reading's only two real efforts on target in the whole match came within in a minute of each other in the first half. Barry Hunter came forward for a free-kick, and his powerful header forced a good save out of the Wigan keeper. From the resulting corner, Phil Parkinson found some space and put in a great diving header, but Carroll was again equal to it and kept the score goal-less.

The second half was very nervous for the Reading fans, as Wigan dominated possession and had the ball in the Reading half for much of the 45 minutes. On the few occasions Butler and Cureton had the ball, they seemed to lack something and failed to trouble the Wigan keeper. Cureton was caught offside nearly every time the ball was played to him, and he could have no complaints this time about being taken off with half an hour to go. The Reading fans still booed the decision, but the introduction of Forster for Cureton was a sensible move on Pardew's part. In an attempt to improve the service to the front two, Jones was replaced with Caskey, and this time the change met with great approval from the stand.

There was one comical moment in the second half, when the referee stopped the game for an injury in the Wigan half. All of the players on the pitch stopped, with the notable exceptions of a Wigan forward and Adi Viveash. The Wigan striker ran all the way to the Reading goal, eventually beat Viveash, and put the ball in the net, only to turn round and see everyone else still in the Wigan area at the other end of the pitch. It wasn't the only time the Latics had the ball in the net, as another goal was disallowed for an earlier foul. The closest Wigan came to a legitimate goal was a header by Lee Ashcroft that was brilliantly tipped over by Whitehead, and a Roberto Martinez effort that curled just over the bar.

The final whistle was met with a great cheer from the Royals, who realised that in this situation the negative tactics were probably a good move by Pardew. It gives us a great chance on Wednesday, and with our home record it is Wigan who should be worrying the most. The game is sure to be a sell-out, with hopefully somewhere around 22,000 Royals fans in the Madejski. Hopefully, the game will match the occasion this time, and we'll all be on our way to Cardiff in two weeks time.

Post Match Opinions

Much has changed since my last visit to Wigan to watch Reading play back in the early eighties. Not least the pre-match entertainment which now, somewhat bizarrely, consists of an opera singer deafening the crowd with Ole Sole Mio and Land of Hope and Glory among others. The football seemed similarly incongruous in this fine stadium. The two sides slugged it out in the sunshine with Wigan getting by far the more chances and unlucky not to win. On five occasions you thought to yourself: ďThatís it. Weíre behindĒ but then, miraculously either Whitehead somehow saved or the ball just went over the bar. Yes: the Royals rode their luck. At the other end they were distinctly lacking a cutting edge. Cureton was anonymous and I canít even recall a Reading shot on target in the second half. Still, we finished level so itís all to play for the second leg, Brian.
The best thing about the day was getting out of Wigan. This isnít a slight at the town Ė but more a compliment to the stadiumís parking facilities. Their plentiful, right next to the stadium and free and it only took me 10 mins to get away. Many similar super-stadiums could learn from this, no names mentioned!
Good day out, bad game.

-- Paul Kirkwood, Reading exile in York

Why didn't Pardew play Caskey from the start? I thought Jones was pretty ineffective, and after making such an impact in the Bournemouth game and today in bursts, surely he must start on Wednesday night. At least with Caskey in the team you know that he will start some passing movements in the midfield rather than just play the long ball into the "channels" for Butler and Cureton to chase. Why didn't Harper start? Does Pardew know his best midfield line-up? Phil Whitehead was superb again and that save in the first 2-3 minutes looked world class from where I was sitting. Brilliant!! It's a shame he always seems so miserable. Cheer up Phil, give us a smile.
The "battle" of the fans was easily won by the Orange Army. We even managed to outsing the opera singer before the match started. What was he doing at a footy match anyway? At half time he came out again and they turned up the volume on his microphone so that he was heard throughout most of Wigan, Manchester and Liverpool. This time we just stood there with our fingers in our ears. At the end of the game the Wigan morons (there were quite a few) ran onto the pitch and tried to provoke us into a fight. We just continued singing and supporting, especially when the team came back for their warm-down. A moral victory for us to take into Wednesday night.
Final Score: Reading fans 1 Wigan "fans" 0.

-- Telford Royal

I did'nt make it to todays game, credit to those who did...but i'm still confused as to why Pardew did not play Caskey from the start or at least bring him on earlier. While 0-0 is a creditable result the fact that once again Butler and Cureton were starved of opportunities and Reading reduced to back foot tactics is a concern.. Nonetheless, we've still got a good chance on Wednesday and although i'm sick with the tension of it all, it should be a great night....lets hope! Rightly or wrongly I believe Reading need to go all out and play to their obvious strengths...i.e give the front two the service they deserve. Come on you RRrrrrrr'ssss
-- Nigel, Chippenham

What a stressful match!
Great effort by all the Reading fans for the best support I remember. Took the Wigan stewards ages to clear all the orange balloons released by Reading at the start. Have to say I was a bit confused at Pardew's tactics of leaving Harper and Caskey on the bench to start, and not replacing Jones earlier when he was looking ineffective for the majority of the match. But the tactics worked and got what we played for. Fantastic match for Parky again, true Reading spirit and almost a great goal to show for it. Whithead as well proved himself as a fantastic asset to the club with several vital saves.
Just a note about the Wigan fans: although many of them rushed the pitch and presented their cheeks to us at the end, before leaving we had several Wigan fans come up to us and apologise for the those fans behaviour so respect to those fans who we had a good chat with afterwards.
Also, anyone else see the Fan in a Crewe Alex top in the away end? Obviously knows good football when he see's it!

-- Nobby - Loyal Royal

Hi just a real quick note over my lunchtime in Cambridge to say that I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday at Wigan. Whoever came up with the orange day idea deserves a medal, I wish I had been sitting in the West stand so I could see how great we all looked especially when the boys came out. The match was nerve racking and I still don't quite know how it ended up 0-0 execpt to say - great defending especially from Hunter who hasn't always looked so solid, good job that Wigan's finishing was so woeful tho'!! Looking forward to Wednesday.
URZZZZZZZZZZZ

-- Steve, exile in Cambridge

For the second leg Alan - Please play Caskey, please.
-- Anon

Best Atmosphere at a Reading game I've experienced for a long time. Pity about the Wigan idiots at the end (and I mean the idiots that came running towards the Reading Fans, not the fans that stayed back). The noise was deafening, especially before the kick off, it seemed to me everyone was joining in, which is definitely unusua! More of the same on Wednesday please! The game wasn't up to much, but who cares, we got the right result. Let's hope we win on Wednesday and do the business in Cardiff! The Reading support, in good and not so good times over the last couple of years deserves it!
Urrrrrsss

-- Loyal Royal - Isle of Man

Just like to back up Nobby's comments about the Wigan fans - we met a great bunch in the Brickmakers Arms who made us feel very welcome both before and after the game.
-- Coley Parka

Great day out, and probably the best result we could have hoped for, bearing in mind the way we set out our stall. As long as we do win on Wednesday, we cannot criticise the management on their negative tactics. Personally, I think it may have been better to offer some sort of attacking play, if only to show Wigan that we can. As for the previous comments on Darren Caskey, he puffed and panted through the few minutes he had. He would never have lasted 90 minutes. It was incredibly hot yesterday afternoon, and physical fitness would have been a must. He is still the most talented player we have, but his other unique quality is that he is the most unfit player in the squad. Wednesday's game will be played at 7.45 in the evening, and I expect Darren to play a full part. If he doesn't, then we must ask why. We are in the favourites spot now. We must not blow it. One slightlly negative observation: Why did we not sign Whitbread to the end of the season? Surely he was brought in the bolster our chances of promotion. At the time, the play offs were our best chance. Seems a bit naive to me.
-- Kevin, Worthing Royal.

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