(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: McIntyre (90 mins)
Walsall Scorers: Matias (58), Byfield (86)
Date: 4 November 2000
Attendance: 7,772

Reading: Whitehead, Gurney (McIntyre, 83), Viveash, Mackie, Newman, Caskey, Jones (Smith, 74), Parkinson, Rougier, Butler, Hodges (Cureton, 61).
Subs not used: Howie, Murty.

Walsall: Emberson (Walker, 45), Brightwell, Tillson, Barras, Aranalde, Hall, Bukran, Bennett, Matias, Leitao (Angell, 82), Byfield (Marsh, 88).
Subs not used: Keates, Roper.

Bookings: Gurney, Rougier.

Walsall moved back to the top of the Second Division just a week after Reading took the leadership away - but they can consider themselves very lucky to do so. The game was always going to be a tight match between the two top sides in the Division, and Reading could easily have left Walsall with at least a share of the points, if not more. Reading had what seemed a perfectly fair goal disallowed in the first half, and the bad luck continued with some terrible refereeing in the second half when Rougier was clearly brought down inside the area. With Reading a goal down inside the second half the penalty would have almost certainly seen us draw the scores level. Worse was to come with events outside the referee's control when Caskey, and then Cureton both hit the post with Reading attempting to get back into the game. With Reading pushing for the equaliser Walsall scored on the break, and although Jimmy McIntyre's goal at the end was the best of the match, Walsall already had the game won. Having said all that Walsall were certainly one of the strongest sides we've played all season - they defended well and looked dangerous almost every time they came forward - they'd worked hard for the victory, but it still didn't make it easy to take.

Pardew rewarded Rougier's superb performance after coming off the bench to score two against Oxford last Saturday and claim the three points for the Royals - with Cureton on the bench and Rougier starting alongside Butler. However the first half was much more of a battle of the defences and midfields than the front lines. For the first 45 minutes there were very few chances to score for either side - but plenty of action on the pitch.

The neutral might not have found this the most interesting of first halves but both sides were battling as hard as possible for the ball and it was developing nicely into a fast and frantic midfield battle. Everytime a player got the ball they were immediately closed down meaning plenty of first time touches and plenty of hard tackles. It was the kind of game that allowed Parky to shine - and shine he did with one of the best halves he's put in this season. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere... playing off some first time passes, winning the ball, and capping it all off with a long range effort that for a while looked like it might fly into the top corner of the Walsall net.

Despite the lack of shots on target during the half Reading easily had the upper hand - and it looked like we'd taken the lead after 15 minutes. The Walsall keeper came running out to the corner of his area as the ball was played forward. Butler put his head on it as the keeper challenged and the ball was played nicely into the middle of the box with the keeper stranded and no defence near. The ball dropped nicely to Jones who side footed it in. We were all on our feet, some nutter invaded the pitch and got dragged away, and then we realised the referee had disallowed it for a foul on the keeper by Butler. Never.

At half time Walsall replaced their keeper who had a dodgy first half after kicking the ball all over the place and almost conceeding a goal by dropping the ball with the Reading attack on the prowl. Perhaps they thought he would be too much of a risk playing in front of a packed away end filled with 2,000 travelling Reading fans in full voice. Reading continued the second half like they'd played the first - and we continued to look the most likely side up until Walsall took the lead just before the hour mark. A Walsall attack down the right was crossed to the left and volleyed in from inside the area. 0-1, and immediately Reading were up against it. For the next five or ten minutes Walsall threatened to increase their lead looking dangerous every time they went forward with some fast runs forward - but thankfully not many shots on target.

Down the other end Reading were giving it their best shot to pull the game level. We won a free kick on the edge of the box that allowed another of the usual routine free kicks with Hodges pretending to take it before Caskey curled one onto the wrong side of the top of the post and out. Cureton soon replaced Hodges as Reading went on the attack.

As Reading looked more and more likely to get something out of the game the referee turned a blind eye to all kinds of challenges flying all over the place. It was a miracle that only two yellow cards were dished out during a very physical ninety minutes - but even more strange that Walsall continued to escape from the referee's book. Butler was clearly brought down right on the edge of the box, but play continued. Worse was to come when Rougier steamed down the left wing and started twisting and turning the Walsall defence all over the place - he beat two men and then cut deep into the area before being hacked to the ground as he threatened to continue. You'll never see a clearer penalty, and 2,000 Reading fans behind the goal were all on their feet. Yet the referee failed to give it.

If we'd pulled level at that point who knows what might have happened. Cureton almost grabbed a goal for the Royals after being delivered the ball on the right. He took it into the box, went past the defender and shot low to the keeper's right. The keeper, outstretched, just got a hand on it to tip it onto the post - and keep out Reading's closest effort yet. With a bit more luck we could have been ahead, but instead Walsall, who always threatened, took it down the other end with five minutes to go and sealed the win with their second goal. Mackie, who had a superb game overall, was beaten allowing a cross from the right to find a header at the far post beating Whitehead in the Reading goal. 0-2.

Reading's consolation goal was the very least we deserved - if it had come ten minutes earlier the outcome may have been very different. Jimmy McIntyre had replaced Gurney with ten minutes left as Reading went full out attack with Rougier, Butler, McIntyre, and Cureton all on the pitch. With the game in injury time McIntyre slammed home a shot from well outside the area into the bottom right corner of the keeper's net. 1-2, but it was too late.


Following report by Neil Cole:

Our spell at the top of the league only lasted a week, as defeat at Walsall continued our disappointing away form and returned the Saddlers to the top. However, judging by today’s match, they won’t be staying there for long, as Walsall were very fortunate to take all three points from an exciting game. Reading dominated for a large period of the match, but once again a combination of missed chances and poor refereeing cost us what would have been a massive win.

Alan Pardew once again showed his reluctance to start with Jamie Cureton away from home, as Tony Rougier took his place in the starting line-up. Rougier had scored two goals as a second half sub against Oxford the previous week, and this was obviously enough to convince Pardew that he was ready to return to the first team. The rest of the side lined up as they had against Oxford, with Gurney and Mackie continuing in place of the injured Robinson and Williams.

Reading were the better side for the whole of the first half, yet somehow failed to capitalise on this and the match was goal-less at the break. Reading were denied the lead by the officials, who disallowed an early goal by Keith Jones. Martin Butler had done well to beat the Walsall keeper to a high cross, heading back across the goal for Keith Jones to put the ball in the net. It was difficult to see why the goal was disallowed, and by all accounts Reading were robbed of a vital early breakthrough.

Towards the end of the half, Andy Gurney came very close to scoring his first of the season. Gurney, who had another good game, struck a fierce effort from outside the area which went narrowly over the Walsall goal.

Walsall looked lively on the break, with Portuguese striker Leitao and ex-Portsmouth midfielder Paul Hall looking dangerous. However, they failed to create any real openings in the first 45 minutes, and at half-time Reading were the clear favourites to go on and win the game.

Phil Parkinson had been the outstanding player on the pitch in the first half, covering a lot of ground and winning absolutely everything. The effort the whole team put into the first 45 minutes was clear for everyone to see, as the Royals desperately searched for the first goal. It was almost inevitable that Walsall would come more into the match, as the Reading players tired and slowly became disheartened that they couldn’t find a way through.

The Reading end of the ground was sold-out, as 2000 Royals travelled up and packed their end. Yet the atmosphere was not as good as might have been expected, and Martin Allen tried to remedy this at half-time by coming over to the fans and telling us to keep the noise going right to the end. This had the desired effect, and the atmosphere got going with Reading attacking towards their own fans in the second half. However, things soon got very tense as it became apparent that Walsall were a stronger force in the second half than they had been in the first.

Apart from a couple of early Reading corners, most of the action was again centred at the other end of the pitch as Walsall came into the game. The first goal came just 15 minutes into the half, as Walsall’s Spanish striker Matias finished brilliantly from the edge of the box. The Saddlers fans finally came to life as it became increasingly likely that they would be returning to the top of the league come the final whistle.

The goal prompted Alan Pardew to change things, as Cureton was brought on for Hodges, with Rougier switching to the left-wing. Rougier looked more effective out wide, causing Walsall plenty of problems. He was the target of a number of vicious tackles from desperate Walsall defenders, most of which somehow went unpunished. One such tackle brought Rougier crashing down in the box, but the desperate appeals for a penalty from the Reading players and fans were once again ignored by the officials.

Neil Smith, complete with face-mask to protect his broken cheekbone, came on for the ineffective Keith Jones, and Jim McIntyre replaced Andy Gurney. Reading switched to 3-5-2 and threw everything at Walsall. Darren Caskey came close with a free-kick which curled round the wall and rattled the post. Worse was to follow, as a superb break and shot by Jamie Cureton was just tipped onto the post by the Walsall keeper. The tactical change was always going to be a big risk, and Walsall exploited it by countering and scoring the decisive second goal. Darren Byfield beat John Mackie to a cross and headed in to make it 2-0.

Many Reading fans started to leave as there were just five minutes left, but in doing so they missed the goal of the game. Jim McIntyre got the ball outside the box and hit a perfectly placed shot into the corner of the net to give Reading some hope. Yet with only seconds remaining it was too late, and the final whistle saw us slip back to second place. Fortunately, the Wigan-Rotherham match finished a draw, keeping us in the automatic promotion places.

Reading still look more than capable of winning the league this year, but something has to change when we play away from home. Five defeats out of nine on out travels is hugely disappointing. While it is true we have been unlucky in places (particularly Peterborough and Walsall) we can’t keep blaming the referees. With Millwall and Wigan closing in on the top two with games in hand, we have to start getting something from away games such as these, as well as winning the home matches.

Post Match Opinions

My fourth away match with my sister, and a fourth defeat! This time though the performance was much better, and a draw would have been a fairer result. All the way through the game Reading appeared to be the better side, with Walsall restricted to occasional breakaways, that were excellently dealt with by a well organised and committed defence. Their two goals were both well taken, and frankly there only two efforts all afternoon. The "goal" disallowed mid-way through the first half was a complete travesty, and basically summed-up our luck on the day. The match officials, and especially the referee had a bizarre game, making glaring errors for both sides, but unfortunately the important decisions did not go our way. Walsall appeared to be a good side, and I would expect them to be up there at the end of the season. I was very impressed how the team, and the supporters kept going, and despite this set-back the mood of optimism still remains strong and the players left the pitch with their heads held high looking forward to next Saturday and the chance to retake our rightful position at the top of the table.
-- David, Silchester

How much longer do we have to suffer the fate of bent, useless, crap, diabolical homer referees? Having just seen the disallowed goal and the Rougier penalty claim , both were atrocious decisions , which come the end of the season could cost us dear all due to an incompetent tosser!
Having got that of my chest, I thought the first half display was one of the best the Royals have played all season. It was always going to be tight, and sloppy play in the midfield in the second half cost us valuable possession. Jones had a poor game and doesn't look fit and once again Caskey had a poor game out on the right. He must play in the middle along side Parky who had an outstanding game to take man of the match in my opinion. It's the midfield that's proving to be our weekest link, we're sound up front and at the back, but with Jones, Parky and Hodges all playing in the midfield, we're very short of creativity. It must be sorted asap. Finally what has Pards got against Cureton? Just like Bristol City, we look far more dangerous up front with him playing, he's one of the highest scorers in the league for gods sake! We've now seen the back of a tough run of fixtures which has seen the Royals perform magnificently, Colchester gives us the ideal chance to bounce back and hopefully regain our top spot. Remember it's the end of May that matters not November.

-- Nick

Good game - shame about the result. The first half was dominated by a Reading side who were clearly there to impose themselves on a Walsall outfit who had slipped in recent weeks. Despite having most of the possession, Reading failed to turn that pressure into clear chances. They did have a goal disallowed, but as that was at the far end from the Royals' fans it was hard to see if it was the right decision. Certainly the decisions that we could see, simply indicated the incompetence of the referee. The first half ended in stalemate and we wondered if Reading were going to pay for not scoring whilst on top.
Walsall looked a competent outfit at the back and were quick up front, so the potential was there for that to happen. Certainly Walsall had more of the possession in the second half as the game became stretched. They seized on their one chance and got a second as Reading gambled on going for the second. At other times in a game we would have marveled at Jimmy Mac's goal, but in truth it was poor consolation in a game which should have ended as a draw but could have seen us taking all three points. Caskey and Cureton hit the woodwork, we should have had a penalty, but they were all what might have been.
You certainly could not have complained of the lack of effort. What was needed was little more craft and subtlety. There were too many high balls thrown up for the front men which made it hard for them. Not enough was played to feet, over the top or down the side. I thought Mackie had a tremendous game at the back with some great covering tackles and all played well. There will be debate over what our best starting line up should be. Cureton looks the sharpest in the box, but lightweight in other areas. We certainly needed Jones and Parkie in midfield (some excellent typical Parkie tackles yesterday). What we have got now is choice, and a choice based on quality which should see us well this season. Although we lost yesterday I would put us to finish above Walsall by the end of the season. Do we know what our strongest starting eleven is though if everyone is fit. After all even Man Utd. with all their stars know that.

-- Ken

Walsall perspective: First of all, despite some of the things mentioned in reports on your site and ours, both of these teams will be in the top 6 (at least) and I think probably the top 2, although Millwall, Wigan, and possibly Bristol City might change that.
You should have had a first half goal when Butler won the header fairly but I thought Brightwell's challenge on Rougier was fair. The ref was diabolical, but for both teams not just against Reading. It was your own manager, who started Rougier instead of Cureton, who gave us the most help, however. Our defence like most in this division struggle to cope with pace and directness. With Cureton on the bench, it gave us all a boost.
Reading had the better of a very poor first half display be the saddlers, following on from the worst performance of the season at Brentford. However, I can't remember any clear cut chances being created, as our defense coped without too much trouble despite the midfield not working well.
Butler was a great dissapointment. Depite scoring so many goals, he had not seemingly improved from when he played for us (although we should never have got rid of him). Did he have an off day? I thought we dominated the second half, until the final ten minutes when you pressed for goals. Ton Bennett and Pedro Matias were outstanding as we won most second balls and used it purposefully. For me, this was the best half we have played this season, as even the erratic Byefield held the ball and was a constant threat. We could have scored more was it not for some heroic defending from the last defender (whose name I don't know) who made some crucial tackles once Viveash had gone up front. He really impressed me with his pace and positional sense.
Reading try and play nice football but on the second half performance Walsall showed why they have done so well this season. I hope both teams get rewarded for their passing games, ahead of the crap that teams like Bury and Bristol City play.

-- D.Brown, Walsall

I'm struggling here to contain my abject disappointment. Just when you think we're on a roll, yesterday happens. It's very fashionable to blame referees these days, but at the final whistle I wanted to go and punch his lights out. I got as far as the six yard box then thought better of it and returned to the stands. He disallowed a perfectly good goal,which I have since seen on TV and I'm even more sure now it should have stood. We outplayed them in the first half but they came back at us in the second.
I'm convinced we deserved all 3 points, but the slaphead in the black obviously had a home win on his coupon. I would like to forget yesterday very quickly. There were loads of good points but I'm too depressed to talk about them.

-- Russ, Essex Royal.

A very fair analysis by Mr Brown of Walsall. And he gave us the opposition's view of the Cureton ploy - 'we all struggle with pace and seeing Cureton on the bench gave us a boost'. If the opponents think this it must be time to change the plan.
-- George Town

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