(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: -
Stoke City Scorers: -
Date: 13 January 2001
Attendance: 14,154

Reading: Howie, Gray, Viveash, Hunter, Newman, Parkinson, Caskey, Murty, Cureton (Butler), Rougier (Jones), McIntyre (Hodges). Subs not used: Howie, Igoe.

Stoke City: Kristinsson, Hansson, Dorigo, Mohan (Thordarson), Gunnarsson, Thomas, Kavanagh, O'Connor, Gudjonsson, Thorne (Dadason), Cooke. Subs not used: Clarke, Muggleton, Petty.

Bookings: Kavanagh (Stoke) McIntyre , Viveash (Reading)
Referee: R D Furnandiz (Doncaster)

A much changed Reading side ground out a goal-less draw at promotion rivals Stoke, to earn a valuable point and restore some confidence among the players and the fans. While a 0-0 is never an ideal result, the clean sheet may be just what our defence needed, after a number of very shaky performances which have seen us leaking far too many goals. It certainly wasn’t a boring 0-0, and an attack-minded Reading midfield line-up had the better of the game and could have earned all three points for the Royals.

Alan Pardew’s starting eleven included a number of surprises, most notably that Martin Butler was dropped for the first time this season. When Butler was left out at Hereford, everyone assumed the 14-goal striker was being rested. However, it appears he is instead paying the price for a number of below-par performances, as today Tony Rougier was started up front with Jamie Cureton. Pardew has clearly shown this season that nobody’s place is guaranteed, as Butler joins both Cureton and captain Darren Caskey in being dropped after hitting a poor run of form. Hopefully, Butler will respond as well as the other two have done, and will reward Pardew for his brave management policy.

With left-back Matt Robinson out injured for up to eight weeks, Stuart Gray was given another chance in the back four. Pardew had the choice of Gray, Gurney or Haddow for the role, and his choice was perhaps surprising given the consistent performances put in by Gurney this season. However, Gray showed he deserved his place today, with a good performance within a generally solid back four. For a team that have been letting in so many goals recently, the defence played with a surprising air of confidence and resilience. This was the most encouraging thing about today’s game, because if we can get the defence working as well as our lethal attack, we all know Reading are easily capable of getting promoted this season.

The midfield was one of Pardew’s most attacking selections of the season. Hodges and Smith were both left out, as Graeme Murty and Jim McIntyre were brought in to play on the flanks. Darren Caskey was given a rare chance to start in the middle, alongside the ever reliable Phil Parkinson. This was a clear response to the Millwall shambles, when our defensive midfield had failed to perform and we were easily beaten.

Reading got off to a good start, and had a couple of early corners after a spell of pressure. Rougier looked determined to do well against his former club’s biggest rivals, and had another good game despite the barracking from the Stoke fans. As had happened at Hereford, most of our attacking play came from Murty and McIntyre out wide, with Rougier running all over the place. The Stoke defence was much improved from the shambolic 3-3 draw at Madejski though, and we struggled to create any real openings in the first half. The best chance came from a long range effort from Phil Parkinson, who is starting to get a taste for goal after netting 3 times already this season!

Towards half-time Stoke came into the game more, but their pressure failed to produce a shot on target as Phil Whitehead was never tested in the Reading goal. Murty and McIntyre showed they were willing to help out in defence more than Igoe and Hodges ever do, strengthening their case for regular inclusion in the side.

The second half was much the same story as the first, as possession was very even with neither side making any clear-cut chances. Tony Rougier had one of our better opportunities, but his unchallenged header was too weak and was easily saved by the Stoke keeper. Rougier was our best player throughout the match, and he fully deserved the ovation he got from the Reading fans when Keith Jones replaced him towards the end of the game. Martin Butler was also welcomed on when he came on for Cureton with 20 minutes left.

With the game still at 0-0, both sides looked determined to get the first goal which was likely to be the winner. There was some rare aggression from Darren Caskey, as a foul on the half-way line led to a mini punch-up between the two teams. It was nowhere near Bristol Rovers scale though, and thankfully both sides continued with eleven men. Caskey can consider himself very fortunate not to have even been booked though, as the ref chose not to take any action.

Caskey almost scored with six minutes left, from his usual free-kick move. While the other Reading players pretended to fight over who was taking it (to the amusement of the Stoke fans), Caskey stepped up and curled his shot just the wrong side of the far post. There immediately followed a heart-stopping moment at the other moment, as a scramble in the Reading box led to muted penalty claims from the Stoke players and fans.

The ref again waved play-on though, and he eventually ended the match with the score still goal-less. The Reading team should be very encouraged by this performance, as we kept one of the better Division Two sides very quiet on their own territory. The Stoke fans were silent, and the fact that we didn’t hear a single rendition of “Delilah” shows how Reading were on top for most of the match. We now have a series of matches against lower opposition, and a run of wins is badly needed to keep our promotion hopes alive.

Report by Neil Cole.

Post Match Opinions

Interesting to look round all the fans' faces today. Before the match started a lot of worried looks, noone really smiling. At half time lots of anticipation. At end of match slight disappointment but satisfaction at a solid performance. Truth to tell this is not a match that will linger in the memory but Stoke had a string of good league results behind them and noone needs reminding about our bad patch. We did the business without being spectacular. Parkie seemed to be everywhere. He stood tall in midfield, almost scored with a cheeky lob from near the halfway line and got himself into great positions in the Stoke box. Whitehead's kicking was still suspect and Hunter hoofs as always but both defences smothered attacking play.
There was disappointment that Rougier did not run non stop Butler style towards everything that moved but the fact that Stoke had two or sometimes three defenders smothering him showed their concern. Kingsley Royal won the penalty competition again. And we all breathed a sigh of relief that Caskey wasn't ordered off. Keep it up Darren! One niggle - let Igoe start.

-- Bucks Royal

Brave decisions made by the manager before the match. To leave Butler who, in the early part of the season, was undoubtedly Reading's best player was a brave move. The danger with Cureton and Rougier up front was that the ball would come back even quicker. Murty was rewarded for his good performance against Millwall with a start, and Jimmy Mac replaced Hodges. The other change was Grey in for the injured Robinson.
The result, a solid team performance, with a rare clean sheet.
We always looked comfortable against a Stoke team playing in front of a large but subdued home crowd. I cannot remember Stoke having a decent chance, or Whitehead having to make a save. The defence won most of the balls that were thrown at them and grew in confidence as the game went on. The distribution from the centre may not be the best, especially Hunter with his delicate chips into the corner, but he earned his money with an excellent tackle towards the end of the game. The clean sheet was not the only surprise in this match. We had a referee who would not be recognised by those who watch Premier League football. He let play go, continually recognising that the players were not involved in anything nasty. Even when Caskey was rolling around on the floor with one of the Stoke players after a bit of an altercation which involved half of the players on the pitch and, all around, assumed the two protagonists would be sent for an early bath, nothing was done. Well done the ref! It's not very often you can say that.
So what changed from the jibbering wrecks that we saw against Millwall to this solid, professional display. Credit must go to all involved at the club. The defence looked solid. Gray was not exposed for his lack of pace and though he did give the ball away a few times, he is a good passer of the ball. He linked well with Jimmy Mac. and provided some good crosses into the box. On the other side Murty again showed that he might be an excellent player, assuming he stays fit. I would like to see him get a proper run in the team so that we can really see him performing at a consistent level. Today he did well.
The outstanding player was Parkie. Winning the ball, good distribution, and probably more shots than any other player. It was good to see him getting into the box. It also confirmed that we do not need to play two holding players in midfield. The chances that we had were all half chances really, but there were enough of them to hope that at least one would have gone in. Cureton, Parkinson, Butler, Hodges, Rougier and Caskey all might have scored but did not. In general they did hit the target, which is the important thing.
It was a game that we won easily on points, but unfortunately we only took one of them!
We can take heart from this. It could, should, be the start of a good run!
Well done everyone today!

-- Ken C

A new year, new hope, same old bollocks.
Trains are still crap and we can't win away from home. Having been stranded in Stafford because our train was late and we missed our connection, we were in serious danger of missing this game.
Oh how I wish we had.
Confidence was not high, this was evident by the fact that no-one wanted the ball, and when they did get it, couldn't get rid of it quick enough, even if it was row z of the home support. Which was a great pity because Stoke were truly awful and we could have easily beaten them had we possessed a little more confidence. It took us about 85 minutes to realise they were crap and then we started having a few shots. Unfortunately every shot that we had on target, was straight at their keeper. Rougier had one of those days where eveything he did went wrong but he never stopped trying. Even Murty played well but he has got the strangest running style. Viveash was our best player, in a rather drab game. Overall though a point away from home against a top six side and a clean sheet isn't too bad.
A rather disappointing away support, I estimated about 350.
I know we haven't been good away from home but where is everybody?
I haven't stopped going, or is that because I'm stupid.

-- Russ. Essex Royal

I was the guest of a Stoke fan and sat in the main stand (quietly!). The home fans were pretty miserable and if Stoke play like that they will drop out of contention- they were awful. Reading looked so much better at the back compared to the comical defending against Millwall. If only Parky's effort from 40 yards had dropped in the goal instead of landing on the roof of the net. Royals had some good chances towards the end and they were definitely the better team. With Butler and Cureton getting back in form, Parky in the midfield and our solid defence (?), division 1 here we come. Is it my eyesight or is Caskey putting on the pounds again?
-- Telford Royal

I don't know what game Russ was at, maybe he didn't make it to the ground and had to listen to Radio Stoke's commentary or if he did make it then his journey put him in such a bad mood that nothing short of 10-nil would please him. I didn't think this was a bad performance, not good just satisfactory. It gave a lot of hope for the future; this line-up played more as a team than last Saturday's squad. For me the mid-field -played well, plenty of commitment, even Caskey was tackling back!
You may be interested in the following data from the game -
Corners - Reading 1st half = 5, 2nd = 0 ; Stoke 1 &1
Shots/Headers - R = 4 & 7* ; S = 1 & 2 (* includes Caskey's free kick)
Free Kicks taken - R = 1 & 9* ; S = 6 & 3
Offside - R = 4 & 0 ; S = 1 & 3
Goal Kicks - R = 3 & 0 ; S = 5 & 3
Throws Taken - R = 24 & 14 ; S = 15 &18.
I'm not sure what these figures prove if anything. It does show 11 - 3 in favour of Reading for goal attempts (although I admit I counted any kick or header intended to go near the goal) and even so the Corners vs. Goal Kicks still shows in favour of the Royals. With a bit of luck this could have been 3 points but Stoke would have needed a miracle (did anyone see JC on the Potter's bench?).

-- Eddie, Salop Royal

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