(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: Cureton (pen 83 mins, 89 mins).
Port Vale Scorers: -
Date: 1 January 2002
Attendance: 10,743

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty (Gamble 25), Mackie, Williams, Shorey, Jones, Hughes, Igoe (Cureton 69), Forster, Rougier (Henderson 59), Salako. Subs not used: Ashdown, Alex Smith.

Port Vale: Goodlad, Carragher, Walsh, Burton, Rowland, Cummins, McClare (Paynter 84), McPhee, Armstrong, Brooker, Durnin. Subs not used: Delaney, Dodd, Byrne, Burns.

Bookings: Forster, Henderson, Jones (Reading); Brooker, Burton, Carragher (Port Vale).
Referee: P Walton (Winwick)

With nearly the entire set of Second Division fixtures frozen off today this was a big victory for the Royals. Stoke and Blackpool were the only other teams in action with Stoke's 2-0 victory taking them to the top of the table. The promotion race is wide open as we enter the new year, and with over half the games already played, Reading are now in a strong position - just three points from the top of the table. Things are looking up after a poor run of form just before Christmas. However, we left it late today to claim a deserved victory over a Port Vale side that had clearly come for the draw.

The first half was massively uneventful. The only really memorable moment was for all the wrong reasons as Murty was stretchered off the pitch midway through the half. The injury really didn't look good as Murty raced back between Hahnemann and the Port Vale forward and lay motionless after the impact. It was hard to see what the injury was but he was clearly in a huge amount of pain as the game was held up for several minutes. Murty seems set to join a growing list of players on the injury list that includes James Harper who is out for a month after his injury last Saturday. There's worringly little cover for Murty's position. Murty was replaced by Joe Gamble today with Andy Hughes coming back from his central midfield role to play at right back with Igoe in front of him.

Reading stuck with Rougier starting and again Rougier looked involved in the game but frustrating. Rougier worked hard and seemed more determined than ever to play a big part in the game. He provided a number of great flick-ons and pushed through the Port Vale defence on a few occassions - but couldn't deliver the final pass or final shot to make the difference. Port Vale defended well though, and Reading failed to make any serious impression from anywhere on the pitch as Vale seemed content to defend in numbers.

Reading enjoyed most of the posession and did well to keep the ball on the ground and try to work an opening, but unfortunately the ball was too often played across the pitch or backwards rather than forwards. Port Vale on the other hand seemed to look more dangerous than Reading as they broke forward at speed through the middle of the pitch. However the away side also failed to test the Reading keeper and we were left with just a handful of shots throughout the first half.

The entertainment level wasn't helped by a huge number of stoppages including several extended stoppages for injuries. Reading simply didn't have enough time to make an impression during the first half with the half mysteriously ended far too early with just four minutes or time added on when there should have been at least double that.

The second half was much better with Reading really taking the game to Port Vale. Right from the off it seemed like it was just a matter of time before Reading found the net, and even more so when it appeared the Port Vale keeper couldn't hold the ball. We had a couple of good crosses into the box from Salako which could have come to something if we'd had a few more men in the box. Salako had a couple of free-kicks from the edge of the area that nearly found the target with the Vale keeper having to push the ball wide of the target.

The introductions of Henderson and Cureton was a clear sign that we needed to add something up front and both players were well involved as Reading went on the attack with the game in it's last quarter. Henderson nearly got on a couple of crosses and nearly won a penalty as he broke into the area and went flying over. It would of course have helped if they'd been some contact with a Port Vale player and he was quite rightly booked for his dive. Jamie Cureton was a bit more productive connecting with a low cross but sending it way over the bar when it should have at least required a save.

The breakthrough did eventually come from the penalty spot with about eight minutes left to play. Reading broke into the Port Vale box and found the keeper all over the place. A Forster shot came back out to the edge of the area with the keeper stranded and Cureton's follow up shot was "saved" by an outstretched defender. The penalty was given, but it was another mysterious decision when the player wasn't booked for his bit of goalkeeping. However, we didn't care about that when moments later Cureton stepped up and gave Forster a penalty taking lesson by firing the ball into the roof of the net with force. The keeper wasn't close. 1-0 to the Royals.

Port Vale had been wasting time like anything as they looked to grab the point. With the game slipping away they started playing and pushed forward looking for an equaliser. There were a few nervous moments as Vale broke into the area, but thankfully shot wide then they should have perhaps done better. With the scares out of the way Reading had a few good chances to extend the lead. Salako put a header wide and Henderson was tackled when he looked likely to score after being delivered the ball. Reading would have scored a few more with some more careful passing, but it didn't quite run right as we confused ourselves in attack.

Right near the end Cureton sealed the win after Forster did all the hard work. Forster broke at speed into the left side of the box and drew the keeper before shooting low across him. It seemed to be the perfect shot - beating the keeper and sneaking inside the far post, but it hit the base of the post and came out to Cureton. With the keeper still recovering Cureton blasted it home from the middle of the area. 2-0 to Reading and the win was, quite rightly, ours.


Following report by John Wells:
To use a cliché - this game was all about the result. This is the sort of game where Reading have come unstuck on more than one occasion this season. Port Vale were mediocre opposition and they were sent packing with exactly what their negative performance deserved - nothing. Reading, depleted further by the loss of Parkinson and Harper, were forced to re-organise following a serious looking injury to Murty. However they persevered and got the reward they deserved. The Royals dominated the game and had they made the breakthrough sooner would probably have rattled in a few more goals.

Cureton once again demonstrated what a fine finisher he is by taking his two goals cleanly. We were all relieved that he was on the field when the penalty was rightly given for deliberate hand ball. The frantic protests from the Vale players at the award of the spot kick were clearly a smokescreen designed to persuade the referee not to dismiss or book Carragher. It was a blatant hand ball and he should have been off! It was just one of many appalling errors by the referee who had both sets of fans seething at times.

The first half didn't really get going. There were frequent and lengthy stoppages for injuries and Reading had to bring on Gamble when Murty was carried off. Hughes was asked to fill in at right back and Gamble went into central midfield. Murty was a significant loss but Gamble had a very good game. He chased, tackled, and made good runs with and without the ball. He is definitely worth a full game on this showing. He has excellent touch and passes quickly and accurately.

Vale wasted their best scoring opportunity early in the second half when Durnin headed straight at Hahnemann from a corner. It was slack marking that allowed the Vale player a free header from that range but it would have been a travesty had they scored.

With time running out Pardew needed to change something. He took off Rougier and Igoe replacing them with more likely goalscorers Henderson and Cureton. Rougier was not as impressive today as he had been in the two preceding away performances but I will be surprised if he doesn't start on Saturday against Q.P.R.. Forster is too much of a handful to leave out but he needs either Henderson or Rougier up there with him. Selection of forwards has been a headache all season for Pardew. There is no obvious best combination up front and I think he will have to continue to juggle them around as the opposition or situation dictates.

The goal that secured the points was made by Forster's pace and persistence. He wriggled free of a couple of desperate challenges near the halfway line and closed in on goal. He fired in a low shot which Goodlad deflected onto the foot of the post. Thankfully the rebound fell to Cureton who planted it in the back of the net.

Stoke hit top spot today and they are going to be difficult to dislodge. Today's result, given the injury list, is encouraging. Surely we can finish in the play off places - and in the absence of clear thinking I'm beginning to get the feeling we can take second spot!

Post Match Opinions

Yes! That's what should happen to all teams who come with Vale's stifling game plan. The team who tried to play Football all afternoon finally won comfortably. What a difference Cureton can make. I seem to remember him also scoring both our goals the last time we played.
-- Paul, Thatcham Royal

I agree completely with the main report, but would add a few comments. My son and I went to the match looking forward to an attacking contest given that both sides won on Saturday, but were sorely disappointed with the Vale tactics. I have a soft spot for Brian Horton and Vale, having supported the club and player while I lived up in Stoke 25 years ago, but their approach today was not exactly a credit to the either.
Frequently they had 10 men behind the ball and showed very little ambition to attack. Indeed we debated at half time whether we should cut our losses and head for some central heating early, such little entertainment was there. None of this reflects any discredit on Reading, who tried their best to break down a stubborn defence, but without that bit of good fortune you need. Even in first half injury time, when there was a melee in the Vale box, you just knew that any shots would be charged down. Throughout the game, the team spirit was very evident in yet another version of the Royals lineup. Even after 75 minutes without reward, the workrate was still impressive and I never gave up thinking we would shade it.
Persistence eventually brought its reward, and the lads throuoghly deserved it. Conversely Vale went away with what they deserved too - nothing. If I were a travelling fan making the journey in today's freezing conditions, I would not be amused. I would mention the ref, who issued one or two cards when he should not have, then inexplicably appeared to "let off" the Vale defender who seemed to deliberately handle Cureton's first shot during the penalty incident. He also seemd disinclined to operate "advantage", to the detriment of an already disrupted game.
Nevertheless, I did agree with all the penalty decisions he made, and we are probably indebted to him for disallowing a Vale appeal in the first half when a Vale forward went down pretty convincingly just inside our box. And finally back to an old chestnut - our crowd. Where we sat near the middle of the East Stand, they were virtually useless as supporters. Yet again we seemed to have found ourselves amongst that breed which sits and watches impassively, moved to make any noise only by an actual goal. I felt almost embarrassed at shouting support in case I was asked not to disturb! I do have to wonder why this type comes to matches at all, although I guess the cash is always handy.

-- Richard, Newbury Royal

As we sat and froze this afternoon I began to compose a post match note 'dull' was the word that sprung to mind with Vale clearly playing for a draw and spoiling all attempts by the royals to play some football. When the break came and Curo dispatched the penalty we were a lot warmer and the second sealed it nicely It was not pretty at times and I still question the selection of Rougier, I have not been for a few games but heard that he had been playing well - seems to fall over too much for my liking a guy as big as him should battle more and make a nuisance of him self - perhaps he should watch young Gamble who looks to have a good mix of passion & skill. In any event 2-0 was a fair result and bearing in mind the extent of our injury list all the more satisfying - but please Mr Mad give Salako a contract!
-- Mark N, London Royal

Well my prediction of Reading 3 Port Vale 0 looked a distant prospect for the majority of the ninety minutes yesterday, Reading again found it difficult to break down an ordinary team who had come for a point and until the latter stages Port Vale looked as if their hard work would payoff and they would leave the Mad Stad with a clean sheet. Football is a funny game and one that is so hard to predict, look at Chelsea's result at home against Southampton and Liverpool against Bolton. Both teams chasing the premiership title, yet they fail at home against what on paper are inferior opponents, frustrating their ambitions and fans and making the cause that much harder. Perhaps there is so much at stake today in football, that there are no matches which are a foregone conclusion, or that three points are certain.
Up until Cureton's penalty, Reading showed little sign of breaking down Port Vale's defence and after the two marvellous away results at Cardiff and Wrexham, it was not going according to the script. Despite arguably our best player so far this year being stretchered off, I never felt Reading were remotely in trouble against Port Vale, what was frustrating though, neither were they. For all our possession we failed to open them up, get behind there defence and drag them out of position. There was a hurried panic about our play and a failure to establish any rhythm or tempo. Reading were like a boxer unable to break out of a clinch and establish their superiorority, Pardew must be a relieved man that in the end we did break free and deliver the knock out punches to beat Port Vale, who must travel home feeling they came and did the hard work only to let their guard slip in the last round. Should we be grateful for the three points earned at the end of the day despite the manor of the performance, or should Reading break down and dispatch more easily middle of the table opponents?
Home form will be crucial if we are to secure automatic promotion and from the stands it would be nice to see a little more authority imposed on visiting teams. QPR visit on Saturday and in a way this may be a more open contest where Reading will get the opportunity to open up the visitors and please the crowd. The key must be the control of midfield and the ability to take the game to the opposition and create chances which we convert. Gamble for me showed why he deserves his chance now, he is industrious, works hard and establishes the link between midfield and attack with simple effective football. His performance was far more effective than either Jones or Hughes have been of late and I feel he could be the guiding hand Reading have been needing to steady the ship and bring back some shape to our performances. Up front, still on home performances non of the strikers have laid claim to an automatic place on the team sheet. Cureton looked sharper for his rest and whilst Rougier went off early in the second half, his commitment and performance were clearly an improvement from earlier in the season. Salako looked out of sorts, must have a cold or something, or perhaps the rough and tumble of the second division didn't appeal, despite this his delivery at crosses and free kicks is still above anything else we served up and hopefully come Saturday, he will be up for it and raring to go! Henderson again came on and caused problems and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet himself. His strength and instinct to score mean he will always cause opposition defence's trouble and it must make sense to play him with Forster or Cureton as he is so dominant in the air whilst they are not.
If Salako does not remain at Reading, an attack of either Fozzy or Rougier out wide, and Cureton and Henderson in the middle ought to concern most division two defences! Reading's run continues and Pardew must be a happy man once again even if he did get a little stressed awaiting the break through against Vale. Lets hope things continue to go his way and Reading build from the last three performances, its getting tight at the top and someone has to break away and show their class and pedigree. Come on Reading now, every match counts and there will be no let up until the season is over, unless you find a gear that the other teams in the division have'nt got and you start putting together performances which leave other teams in our wake. The crowd would love it if you did, otherwise ground out wins like the one against Vale will have to do!

-- Paul Finch

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