Attendance: 12,638
Scorers: Forster, Butler Date: 5 February 2000
Team: Howie, Gurney, Primus, Hunter, Robinson, Grant, Parkinson, Caskey, McIntyre, Butler, Forster.

Audio: Supplied by Classic Gold radio.
0-1: Forster puts Reading ahead
PNE score
PNE take the lead
Butler scores on his debut

Match Heroes: Butler & Forster

Another great result and performance from the Royals as the fight against relegation continues. A result that was completely unthinkable just a few weeks ago. After last weeks victory over Colchester this result seems to indicate the corner really has been turned. It may only be on the evidence of one game, but the signing of Butler means we have an unstoppable stike force now in the shape of Forster and Butler. Butlers equalising goal for the Royals was his twentieth of the season. A goal from each striker away at a team on top of the league is really quite some achievement. But it was a huge achievement from the whole team after taking the lead and then going 1-2 down, only to fight back for a deserved point. Right now Reading look nothing like that side that might be on the way down.

More reasons to suggest that Reading are on the up come with the introduction of Martin Allen as assistant manager and a near unchanged side each week. "Mad Dog" Allen is clearly one of the most passionate members of the Reading management team for years and years, and he's Reading through and through. Speaking after the game in true Allen-esque fashion he confidently declared that Reading are the best side in the division. Allen is bent on success for the Royals, and is confident that he and Pardew can achieve it. After just two games it seems there's some evidence there. The Reading line-up is starting to look similar each week for the first time in seasons, and all the players out there are prepared to battle for success. In midfield Grant and Parky are the perfect heart of team at the wrong end of the second division. Reading's only change in line up was the introduction of 750,000 quid Butler in place of on-loan Nicholls.

After a scrappy first half Reading took the lead with five minutes of the half remaining - and it was a superb goal from Nicky Forster. Gurney, Butler and Forster were all involved before Gurney supplied Forster with the ball inside the Preston half. Forster went on a run, stormed past the defender like he wasn't there, and in finished in real style - driving the ball into the top corner of the net to make it 1-0 to the Royals.

In the second half Preston were always going to taking the game to Reading - but Reading remained strong. Five minutes after the break Howie came to the rescue to keep the Royals ahead. The ball was headed down in the area, Howie made a one handed save at full stretch and then grabbed the ball on the line to keep it out. To prove the level of Reading determination on show, we took it right down the other end and almost made it 2-0 when Butler supplied Forster and Forster's shot was saved by the Preston keeper.

The home side drew level, and then took a 1-2 lead in the space of three minutes, ten minutes into the second half. As they laid siege to the Reading goal it was 1-1 after the ball was crossed from the left, knocked forward across goal and stuck home from not far out. The second was similar - a free kick that was flicked on and found the net. Now, 1-2 down, away from home against the side on top of the league - normally we'd be used to Reading sitting back and accepting defeat. But not today, Reading never stopped battling for the ball and attempting to work it forward.

We were rewarded on the hour when Butler scored his first goal for the Royals, on his debut, to make it 2-2. Caskey worked his way into the corner of the area and crossed, the ball was headed clear, but Forster was there first. Forster supplied the perfect cross for the perfect header from Butler which flew into the back of the net. And he'd already paid off part of the huge transfer fee. Not long after he could have paid off a bit more after supplying Grant to run at goal. Unfortunately Grant didn't put the Royals ahead after firing a weak shot at the keeper.

As time started running out Preston pushed forward but strong defending keep the score level. After what seemed like hours of injury time the final whistle went and Reading had done a great job in collecting a point when before kick-off it had seemed like mission impossible. More like this from Reading and the safety of midtable beckons.

Report from Alex Craven follows:

Royals travelled to the scene of last year's 4-0 drubbing with their new strike partnership of Forster and Butler, both of whom had turned down moves to Preston in favour of Reading. It was, I suppose, inevitable that these two players would be involved in some kind of controversy during this match. A large group of highly vocal Reading supporters helped contribute to a 12,600 crowd.

Reading: Howie; Gurney, Primus, Hunter, Robinson; Caskey, Grant, Parkinson McIntyre (Hodges); Butler, Forster

There was controversy before the game even started, with both teams trying to warm up in the same half of the field. I can't fathom Reading's reasonings for this, but Howie refused to change ends despite repeated requests from the PNE keepers, stewards, groundsmen and somebody in a suit. This speread out over 15 minutes, with both teams cramping the far half. Finally, the man in the suit persuaded Mad Dog to take his troops into the other half, and the deserted Howie and van der Kwaak gave in and soon followed. Bizarre, but good fun to watch.

The game started with PNE very much in control. With Reading's central midfield featuring two hard tacklers, and with Caskey isolated on the right-hand side, it was not surprising that Reading's approach play was a little disjointed, or that we were giving away a lot of free kicks. It was a PNE player who entered the book first though. Butler won a free kick in the centre circle, and as the players set up for the set piece, Gregan appeared to strike him to the floor. With the Reading fans baying for a red card, Gregan appeared very lucky to only receive a yellow. Shortly afterwards, a Preston player went straight through Parky, leaving him curled up on the floor. I didn't see who committed the foul, but it was Gregan who was called of by the ref for a chat. If it had been the Preston captain who committed the second foul, then I think he was very lucky not to have walked early.

PNE were looking dangerous on the break, and were pinning us back in our half for long periods. Reading, on the other hand, were having trouble holding onto the ball and creating good chances. Too often we won the ball in our third of the pitch, and hoofed it down the pitch. Forster was showing good pace up front, but Butler wasn't having the best of debuts. Although it was clear he was trying hard, he kept seeming to have an unfortunate touch, or slipping at the wrong time, much to the delight of the PNE fans. Forster was also coming in for some stick from the home fans, but he silenced them with five minutes to go. A short ball to feet by Caskey found Forster with his back to a defender on the edge of the box. With a lovely little shimmy he was able to turn and leave his marker for dead, before hammering the ball across the home keeper and into the far top corner. It was a goal crafted out of nothing, and totally against the run of play - the best sort! He could have made it two shortly afterwards. This time on the left side, he used some good foot-work to go past two defenders and then hit a cross-shot along the floor, that rolled agonisingly beyond both Butler and the far post. Preston also went close through Gregan. Having beaten Gurney on the left, he cut inside and shot from the edge of the six yard box. The ball bounced off Hunter under pressure from Basham and fell at Gregan's for a second chance. The Northern Ireland international stood up tall, however, and sent the ball out for a corner, which was cleared.

Into the second half, and PNE picked up where they had left off. They continually looked dangerous, and it was all reading could do to win the ball and hammer it to the half way line. Having noticed a distinct lull in the Reading fan's noise, Mad Dog responded to a chant of "Martin Allen's Barmy Army" by charging down to the aforementioned Barmy Army. Here, despite the attentions of the fourth official, he spent a good thirty seconds screaming at his supporters, encouraging them to sing louder. Having acheived the desired results (the Royals fans kept standing and singing noisely from then on), he allowed himself to be escorted back to the dug out, but all the time geeing on the Reading fans some more. His efforts weren't transferred to the team, however, as in a quick spell Preston reversed the fortunes of the match. First, after Reading had repeatedly wasted opportunities to clear, a ball from the right side of the Reading box found Macken on the left, and he volleyed the ball back the way it had come, beating Howie spectacularly. Only a few minutes later, and Reading bubble appeared well and truly burst. Agains failing to clear, defender Michael Jackson stuck out a leg to connect well with a loose ball, and sent it flying past the helpless Howie.

In the past, Reading would have crumbled after succumbing to such a quick onslaught. However, they showed real character to pull themselves back into the match. Forster was showing real panache when he touched the ball, and Butler was growing in confidence, whilst Parky and Grant were effectively shutting down Preston's midfield. They actually started to attack Prston with real determination at this point, and were able to create some sustained pressure. From one such attack, a freekick was won which was floated into the box. Preston only half cleared and the ball fell to MacIntyre on the goal-line in the box. Butler had pulled off his marker to create a yard's space, and after McIntyre's neat chip had sailed over the defender's head, Butler was able to easily nod the ball past the keeper. Reading continued to pressure Preston, and could have had a couple more. At one point, a quick ball upfield released Butler to run at the defence. With just one player in front of him, and a Royal keeping pace to give him some support, a goal looked inevitable. As he entered the box he shaped to shoot, but instead laid the ball to his left, for Grant to race onto. The midfield general wasn't the right player for the right job, though, and his weak effort was easily clutched by the home keeper. Preston raised their game towards the end, and the last five minutes were extremely hectic, with Reading hanging on just by a thread at times. Hang on they did, though, for a well-earned point against a team who went top of the table with this result.

All in all, a dogged if unattractive performance for the Royals, which saw them carve out a good result. I think the word that really sums up the team today was character - they showed good resolve to come back after conceeding two goals so quickly, and then they showed determination to with-stand pressure from the best team in the league. If this kind of character can be reproduced consistently, then we should have no problem.

Butler did well to score on his debut, but he seemed to be suffering from a case of nerves. He and Forster look like they could be a good pairing though - several times Forster played Butler into good positions or vice versa. Butler has good strength, which is vital for this division. He has a good knack of dispossessing defenders by forcing himself between player and ball, and then holding off the challenge long enough to set up a team-mate. He also showed some good pace and times, and a good touch when not worried by nerves. Once he settles in, he should be a good acquisition - Keith Scott but with a good touch and good pace. More to the point, he was able to score despite playing badly - a knack few Reading players have had recently. He scored the kind of goal that the Royals have found hard to come by in recent years, and so I hope this really augers well for the future.

Forster was the man of the match, for me though. He showed good pace, a good touch, excellent awareness and some great fancy moves to flumux the home defence. Thanks to him we didn't suffer for our lack of a midfield, because he was able to outrun the defence onto long balls. As somebody said after last week - if this is Forster when injured, I can't wait to see him fully fit.

One final word about our formation, which despite the result didn't leave me entirely happy. With Grant and Parky both playing in the midfield, Caskey had to take the wide right position. however, this isn't his natural position, and I think his game suffered for it. More to the point, from habit he kept drifting into the centre of the field to look for the ball, leaving Gurney exposed. With McIntyre on the left, playing as a very wide winger, it gave our formation a real imbalance. I think Grant and Parky combined are what we need right now - Mad Dog's Dogs of War? - but something needs to be done to straighten the team's shape. Perhaps an extra defender in a 5-3-2 formation, but I don't know who we could afford to drop. MacIntyre played really well - it's so great to hear his name being acclaimed as he left the pitch - but he looks the obvious absentee. Still, nice to be considering who should be dropped for once, rather than where we need to fill in gaps.

Post Match Opinions

What a difference a week makes.
This game was a very good one, again like last week every player was extremely committed in the tackle (so much so that their local radio desribed us as 'cynical' and 'nasty'). Has the departure of Gorman made such a turn around or the appointment of Mad Dog Allen ? There were times where I really thought we were going to win this, after going 1-0 up with a goal that Michael Owen would have been happy with, by Forster. Caskey was clean through but delayed his shot too long. After the break we go 2-1 down , but the debutant Butler equalised soon after. Amazingly, we still pressed forward and this time Grant had a one on one with the keeper but shot straight at him. Over all a fantastic performance against the league leaders.
The last 5 minutes was a bit backs to the wall but we stood firm. Good displays from Robinson and Grant, Howie never made a mistake Parkinson as tough as always, and Butler played well despite special attention from their centre backs.However man of the match by a very long way was Forster, he was absolutely brilliant. It is no exageration to say it was like watching Owen play. At long last we seemed to have grasped that he wants the ball in front of him and on the floor and he'll do the rest. Their left back didn't know what day it was Forster turned him so many times, I don't want to rave too much about him in case someone buys him.
More of the same please.

-- Russ, Essex Royal.

Just a quick word. What a result, and performance from the Royals. High flyers Preston 2 Reading 2. After reading the article in the Evening Post (Thursday 3rd Feb) from Martin Allen,which I must say brought a lump to my throat, this result today was brilliant. Forget the fact that we missed a couple of chances, that should of been finished off, the point is we played as a team,determined, and fighting for a win.
-- Graeme

2 points:
1. This was the best attacking display I've witnessed in a good few years of away performances. The Forster/Butler partnership took less than 45 minutes to prove fruitful against one of the best defences in the division, but most promisingly the two strikers inspired each other to create enough chances to win several away games. They complement each other well, both have good first touches, and Butler is as dangerous in the air as Forster can be on the deck.
2. Martin Allen getting the sizeable away support going at the start of the second half.
Enough said.

-- Larry Carr

Great game, good result - no doubt about that. But what was the rubbish during the warm up all about? I went to the game with a friend who is a PNE supporter so was sitting in the stand with him amongst all the PNE fans. I have never been so embarrassed by a Reading team who acted like a bunch of spoilt school kids during the warm up. Any neutral fans - like another friend who came with us - were turned immediately into PNE fans.
Obviously I don't know all that was going on and what was being said but if this is Reading's latest tactic, then we are not going to win any friends on our travels for our sporting behaviour.

-- Embarrassed of Cambridgeshire

I do get so annoyed with the coverage we get in the national press. One described this performance as 'workmanlike' and the so-called football paper Sport Today gave the impression that Preston were unlucky and had the chances to win the match. Well, so did we, and ours were more clear cut. I don't normally hold with criticising referees but this guy on Saturday gave the most one eyed display I have seen in many a season. Gregan should have been off inside the first ten minutes for two assaults that on the street would have been prosecution cases, yet talked his way in to staying on.
The free kick fro the second goal was questionable and followed directly from an unpunished foul on Butler. Yet we still overcame these problems with one of the best displays for three or four seasons. It was great to see Reading counter attack at pace and have players in support instead of admiring from the half way line. The jigsaw is not complete yet, we still didn't win enough second balls from defence which kept us under pressure, but we certainly shouldn't fear relegation.
Martin Allen's commitment and enthusiasm is brilliant but he has to bear in mind, particularly with the hard core away support, that we have twenty years plus of false dawns and, although we are committed to the Club, we are not always as vocal as he might wish.

-- "Pebejay"

I have been critical of Pardew and his teams over the last few months and rightly so because the performances on the pitch have been crap - however, if, as I am starting to believe, the corner has been turned, then Pardew will have won me over and I will start coming to games with optimism that we can win.
I doubt that I am the only one that has stayed away from the Mad Stad, not being able to stand the "whose turn is it to beat us this week" prospect so I wouldn't be at all surprised if the attendance for the next home game is boosted somewhat. Safety this season, promotion next season, a full Mad Stad, RFC making money - everybodys happy - Nuff said?

-- Paul

Now the opposing defenders are more worried about Martin Butler, it has obviously taken their attention slightly off of Nicky Forster. I bet he's loving every minute of it. Soon the opposition won't know who to mark! Then we've still got Darren Caskey! I love it. Keep it going Reading!!!
If the rumours are true, then still please don't sell Darren Caskey!!!

-- Dylan

Great result. The difference of Martin Allen or Martin Butler? Who cares but it looks like we might just be back on course. Let's hope for my like this untill the end of the season. I'm looking forward to next season, on this performance it should be a really good one. Let's hope so.
-- Porky

It is with pity and scorn that I write to you, expressing my indignation at your teams silly, pureile pre-match antics on Saturday. A 14 player warm up with coach is slightly uncommon, but yours was clearly designed to aggrevate our players and supporters, by waming up in a half of the pich the Preston players consider to be their own. Not only did our stewards ask the squad to move, but the Ground Safety officer, PNE's coach, players and finally the Preston Police. Clearly an underachieving side, your dirty cheating behaviour may have helped you earn a point.
-- Phil Moss, Preston supporter.

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