MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

Reading: -
Stoke City:
Akinbiyi (55 mins).
Half Time: 2-0
Attendance: 20,477

Pos Team P Pts GD
3 Sheff Utd 46 80 +20
4 READING 46 79 +15
5 Wolves 46 76 +37
6 Notts F 46 74 +32
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Viveash, Mackie, Shorey, Salako (Henderson 63), Harper (Watson 77), Sidwell, Chadwick (Cureton 70), Forster, Little. Subs not used: Ashdown, Newman.
Stoke City:
Crossley, Thomas, Handyside, Shtaniuk, Hall, Hoekstra, Gunnarsson, O'Connor, Neal (Clarke 79), Akinbiyi (Cooke 59), Greenacre. Subs not used: Banks, Williams, Iwelumo.
Reading: -
Stoke City:
Referee: C Webster (Shotley Bridge)

A victory against Stoke would have secured a third placed finish for the Royals and our highest ever points total in Division One, so the resulting 0-1 defeat against the side four off the bottom of the Division was a little disappointing as Reading prepare for the play-off finals. The eventual result saw Reading finish fourth in the table and the Royals will now go on to face Wolves in the semi-finals - starting off next Saturday at Molineux and continuing at the Madejski Stadium for the return leg on the following Wednesday. A different result could have seen the Royals face Nottingham Forest instead - but thankfully it makes little difference with Reading having the second leg at the Madejski Stadium regardless of today's result. The final first Division table is an amazing sight with the Royals finishing nine points clear within the play-off positions - it's been an amazing season and lets hope it continues that way.

In truth the game meant much less to Reading than it did to Stoke City. Reading's concentration must already be fixed firmly on the play-offs. This fixture had little effect on our season, but Stoke were required to pick up at least a point to guarantee survival in the First Division. WIth so much pressure on the home team in front of a massive home support it was always going to be a bit more special for them and their demonstration of effort and determination on the pitch showed this. Reading certainly did not roll over and let Stoke take the points as both sides played hard looking to take something from the game. As a result the entire match saw some heavy tackles as the ball remained locked in midfield for the most part. Stoke got off to the brighter start before Reading enjoyed the best of the possession only to see Stoke City take the lead not long after the half time break. The rest of the second half saw Reading have plenty of play but fail to create enough chances to find the equaliser. It was a game of few chances throughout the ninety minutes.

After the inclusion of a few fresh faces during the week against Watford, Pardew returned to what could be considered a close to first team ahead of the play-offs. The weakest area was probably the defence with Williams and Brown both still rested with injury. The pairing of Mackie and Viveash was generally sound, thanks to an excellent Viveash performance, but looked second choice with Mackie making a couple of non-fatal mistakes during the second half. Murty and Shorey were in their usual full back positions and had decent enough games. It was good to see Harper return in midfield, and up front Forster was back by himself and had some good moments where he caused danger by cutting through the defence.

Stoke got off to the strongest start looking to get the early goal to secure survival. Marcus Hahnemann was in good form to make a couple of early saves - one was hit straight at him but another was a half decent effort. After a shakey looking start the Reading defence got itself together and both sides attempted to play the ball out through midfield with some solid challenges leading to exchanges of possession. Stoke got in a couple of long range efforts but failed to seriously threaten the Reading goal. It took Reading nearly half an hour to get in their first shot when Forster set up Sidwell in the centre of the area - however Sidwell's effort was well over the Stoke crossbar. Reading started to play the ball around quite neatly but never broke through a strong Stoke defence. The last shot of the half belonged to Stoke but was well wide of the target.

Reading appeared to make the strongest start to the second half after Nicky Forster did well to beat a couple of players and get in a shot which was saved by the Stoke City keeper. We won a couple of corners that were wasted as the defence weren't put under any real pressure. Stoke desperately needed a goal to calm the nerves and it came on 55 minutes when Murty was beaten and the ball was crossed in from the left. Mackie came off second best with Akinbiyi who headed home from close range to put Stoke 0-1 up. Shortly afterwards news filtered through that Grimsby had pulled level against Brighton and it became clear that Stoke City were on their way to survival and Brighton were on their way back down to Division Two. The Stoke fans relaxed and started to make some noise - and it was clear that it was their party and not Readings.

Henderson, Watson and Cureton all came on as Pardew switched it around but despite the three strikers on the pitch we failed to turn the game around. The closest we came was with ten minutes left to play when Sidwell hit the crossbar with a long range effort after an extended period of Reading pressure. We had a good spell where we came close, but otherwise the home defence dealt with us. Forster looked dangerous when given the ball but Henderson and Cureton didn't make a massive impression. Stoke really wanted to win this one and it showed. The next time we see Reading play it's going to be a massive play-off game, lets hope our determination gets us the right result like Stoke's did today.

thatcham royal
When I bought the tickets I thought this game would be a formality for Stoke. I really thought they would be safe before yesterday. When it became obvious this was the biggest game of their season, I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive. Stoke don't have the best behaved fans at times. The local Police had said in the car park they were expecting a tough day. If we had relegated them I sure things may have been different, as it was I didn't see any trouble. Quite the opposite. Walking back to the car many Stoke supporters shouted "good luck next week". I'm sure this was because of the result, but also because of the banter inside the ground. Pretending Brighton had taken the lead, correcting the PA man on the half time Grimsby score, taunting Crossley (who responded well) and regular chants of "we can smell your fear from here" all made for a superb day out. Both sets of fans applauding each other at the end capped it all off.
The game itself was poor. I hope we see a huge improvement next week. Too many poor passes, too much time dwelling on the ball, just to see Stoke clatter in and take possession. Though most of the players were OK, I thought Viveash was excellent. He made a number of perfectly timed tackles in last chance situations. If Williams isn't fit, but Brown is, Viveash has to play before Mackie. Knowing we had Wolves it was fun seeing a couple of Wolves fans on the M6 coming home. I can't say they looked very happy with the prospect of playing us. With a wedding to attend next week I'll have to watch the game at the Pub. I'm looking forward to the 2nd leg when we carry a 3 - 0 lead to the Mad Stad. COME ON URZ!!!!
nick newbury
Not bad for a starter and now for the main course, bring on the Wolves! We'll certainly have to play better than today to make the final, but make it we can. I'm pleased with a few things, one we never finished third, two we won't have to play Wolves in the final and three, Sheff Utd have to play Forest. I will boldly predict a Royals v United final and anybody who witnessed the super win at Brammal Lane in February can only be full of hope for the impossible dream. Wolves will be a huge test, with the first leg being critical. I hope to see a game of time wasting, negative defending, play acting with injuries, Italian defending in fact anything that will secure the result that sees us with a chance in the return leg at the Mad Stad. Can we do it?... of course we can, will we do it?... not sure, but make no mistake, if we don't score another goal and get thrashed in the play offs, let us salute arguably the best team and season ever as Reading Football Club fan or associate. Many will describe our achievements this season far more eloquently than me, I just know I'm so proud to be a Reading FC fan... believe, pray, hope, wish and more than anything ask for one thing, luck and who knows what will happen over the coming weeks. I can't sleep already... come on URRZZZ, U Underdogs.. woof woof!
caversham royal
Hopefully, this level of performance won't be repeated in the play-off semi. Stoke had much more to play for, and this showed in the game as they looked far more committed than Reading throughout. It will be interesting to see what combination Pardew chooses in midfield now as Watson & Sidwell have done their causes for a recall no harm in the last 2 games. Although still showing a tendency to get caught in possession, Sidwell looked much more competitive than before he was dropped, and was very unlucky with his excellent effort that hit the bar. I do hope though that at least one of Brown or Williams are fit for the semi. I think Viveash will be fine if called on, but I've been a bit concerned with Mackie's last few appearances. In this game he was at fault for the goal and made a few howlers after that could have cost us another. I have a horrible feeling he would be the one person from our defensive folk who could make the error of have that lapse that could spell disaster in the next crucial games. I also couldn't quite see why Henderson got played as a left winger when he first came on, but there you go. Anyway, I queued for nearly 2hrs Saturday to get my place for the semi, and am waiting with anticipation, all be it with no finger nails left. COME ON......
emmer green royal
First things first along with most Reading fans I think this has been a great season and think the club, manager and players deserve a lot of credit fot where we have got. However I'm afraid after the Stoke game I have to be a bit negative. The performance was awful. Nick Ive summed up the game saying there was little in it and that's the problem. Reading are 4th and Stoke were struggling to stay up, there SHOULD have been a lot in it. It wasn't a very professional performance by the players but thankfully it didn't affect us. I hope they show more when it counts.
Somtething else I have to moan about is the selection for the game. For the last two games Forster has been unavailable and both Hederson and Cureton have more than filled in for him. Pardew said that many of the players in the last game had given him a selection headache and yet when it came to the selection it was the same as normal. It has seemed this season that there are certain 'inflammable' players who will automatically be in the team when fit however they perform. That to me is not right. This has been a good season but the team have been very up and down. I know we have a record points total and have won 25 games which is brilliant, but at the same time we have lost 17 games which is awful. The problem is that this team either plays like a Premier league team or like a second division team. I am not a fan of 4-5-1 (except maybe away) and think recently we have looked far more dangerous playing 4-4-2. If we do get to the Premier and sit back as we do with 4-5-1 against a lot of teams in that division we will get annihilated. What I'm trying to get across is that whilst we have had a superb season we are a long, long way short of being good enough (in my opinion) to have a hope of succeeding at a higher level and may well have over achieved this season. Make the most of it, next season will (probably) in one way or the other bring us back to earth. If I'm honest I don't think we're good enough to go up but as we all know in the playoffs anything can happenand we have beaten all 3 teams. Despite my criticisms I'll still be backing the boys, hopefully in Cardiff!
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