MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

Reading: Brown (66 mins), Harper (90 mins).
Crystal Palace:
Johnson (76 mins)
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 18,063

DIVISION ONE  15 Mar 2003
Pos Team P Pts GD
2 Leicester 36 71 +26
3 READING 37 64 +12
4 Sheff Utd 35 62 +17
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Brown, Mackie, Shorey, Chadwick, Hughes, Harper, Sidwell (Watson 32), Tyson (Salako 68), Forster. Subs not used: Ashdown, Viveash, Henderson.
Crystal Palace:
Berthelin (Kolinko 21), Powell, Popovic (Symons 45), Mullins, Butterfield, Derry, Thomson (Freedman 69), Routledge, Borrowdale, Johnson, Whelan. Subs not used: Black, Gray.
Reading: Watson, Mackie.
Crystal Palace:
Referee: M Fletcher (Warley)

After the disappointment of last Wednesday's home defeat against Wolves this was just what we needed to bounce straight back. The manner of the win made it even better as James Harper's injury time winner for the Royals sealed the three points and concluded a very entertaining afternoon of football at the Madejski Stadium. This was so much better than Wednesday night and not just the result as Reading worked really hard and never stopped working to attempt to win this game. Crystal Palace also played their part in a good afternoon's display of football but Reading edged it and deserved the win after having the better of a lively second half. There were similarities to last Wednesday's game too though with Reading creating a whole series of chances and having difficulty in finding the back of the net. It looked like once again we'd leave moaning about the missed opportunity to pick up some extra points - but Harper's strike in the second minute of added time sparked huge celebrations and joy about the continued push towards the Premiership as the Royals moved back into third place.

With Williams still missing through injury the centre back pairing of Brown and Mackie started for the Royals. Other than that the line-up was exactly as expected with Forster the loan man up front with Chadwick and Tyson going back the wings and Sidwell, Harper and Hughes in midfield. Once again there was a huge turnabout to see the promotion chasing Royals with Crystal Palace bringing a decent away following. Although the attendance was nearly a couple of thousand less than during a week it was another set of huge gate receipts that seem certain to see Reading march towards a profit making season. Everything is looking very rosy at Reading Football Club at the moment thanks to Alan Pardew and his players. Much like Wolves spoiled the party it was Crystal Palace that got off to the better start of the two sides.

Early on Palace made it clear they hadn't come to sit back and attempt to play out a draw. They put in a couple of dangerous crosses within the opening five minutes and won a corner which saw the first shot of the game not too far wide of Hahnemann's post. After a determined start from the visitors Reading eventually settled down and both Tyson and Forster had attempts down the other end with Forster's shot needing a save. With Reading starting to really take the game to Palace we won a couple of corners that needed the Palace keeper to be awake. However their keeper didn't last long before being replaced by the substitute keeper. Unfortunately, the new keeper quickly settled in without Reading putting on any instant pressure. Reading also made an early substitution with Sidwell leaving the field to be replaced by Kevin Watson after just half an hour. It must have been due to Sidwell taking a knock or something but there wasn't an obvious injury. After a poor game in the week Sidwell had failed to really impress during his short time on the pitch and Reading looked a lot better with Watson on the pitch.

Watson seemed to open the game up more for the Royals as Reading's passing game really started coming together. We seemed to find a lot more space to work the ball around and our passing was a massive improvement - although there were still plenty of poor final balls to break down some excellent looking moves. The game was being played at a decent pace as well and it generated plenty of action with a few goals from Reading always looking likely. We managed to get the ball into the net during the first half but it was disallowed - I guess for a foul on the Palace goalkeeper. Nicky Forster really should have stuck one away as well after Hughes put over a great ball for Forster to run on to. It landed perfectly and you would have expected Forster to come out the best in the resulting one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he put his shot wide of the right post.

Goalscoring remains a problem for Reading this season and in the end we needed Steve Brown to put us in front with his first Reading goal just after the hour mark. Andy Hughes was having a storming game through the middle of midfield and threatened to cause further problems for the Palace defence when he exchanged passes before attempting to run through the defence for the return. He was rudely stopped a bit outside the area and the resulting free-kick was moved forward right to the edge of the box after a Palace player went into the book for mouthing off. With the entire Palace side behind the ball Forster calmly knocked it back for Brown to run onto and unleash a powerful low shot that flew past the wall and into the bottom right side of the net. 1-0 to the Royals!

With Reading a goal up and not that much time remaining Reading looked comfortable and in control of the game. With Watson on the pitch the passing addiction spread throughout the side and we started to knock the ball around the pitch very nicely keeping possession of the ball. It must have been very frustrating for Palace as they seemed to be a step behind with Reading keeping hold of it and looking unlikely to present any real openings - until there were 75 minutes on the clock and we conceeded a free-kick midway inside our half. It wasn't clear what the free-kick was for and while we were still discussing that the ball was worked down the right and Johnson cut into the area on the right and drove it across Hahnemann and into the back of the net for the Palace equaliser.

With the game at 1-1 and time short on supply Reading went on the immediate hunt for the late winner. Murty was making some excellent forward runs down the wing and combining with Luke Chadwick who was starting to create problems for the visitors. Nathan Tyson had been replaced by John Salako and he was also looking good after coming off the bench. Andy Hughes continued to play a major role in the game. After being hacked down before on his run through he set off and and looked to be successful after riding a few challenges, working his way into the box and smashing the ball confidently past the keeper. Half of the Madejski Stadium erupted while the other half had spotted that the referee had already given a handball against Hughes as he ran through the defence.

A few minutes later and we had an even better chance to go back ahead when the ball was worked forward well to Forster on the edge of the area. Forster had managed to draw a couple of defenders and rather than shoot he generously prodded the ball to his left and into the path of the incoming John Salako. Salako couldn't have wished for a better opportunity, with the defence occupied he had just the keeper to beat. Rather than driving it home he sent his shot wide of the right post - harmlessly wide. For a while it looked like it wasn't going to be our day but with normal time played out a massive roar went up with the announcement of four minutes stoppage time - a last chance for Reading to grab a win. And they responded to the crowd for a dramatic late winner - a just reward for the chances that had gone before. Chadwick broke down the left and sent over a cross for James Harper who stuck it home in James Harper style. A confident solid finish sending the ball into the back of the net from the right side of the area. 2-1 to Reading and yet another big win.

Following report from John Wells

This game had the sort of climax that makes football so addictive. It was not the finest display of football I've seen this season but when James Harper lashed in the winner in the 93rd minute it felt like we had just won the league championship! A game which started quite poorly gradually built up to a tremendous finale with the best possible outcome - another three points. The goal itself was real cracker. Neat passing and a superbly struck first time shot, which anyone who has kicked a ball will appreciate, is never easy, especially when the ball is coming across your body.

The opening minutes gave no hint of what was to come as the Royals put themselves under pressure with some sloppy play. The first clear chance fell to Popovic who thankfully blasted wide from close range with a clear sight of goal. Soon after, a slick move ended with Murty's dangerous cross being hacked away for a corner. Forster and Tyson had shots blocked in quick succession and a goal was disallowed for a foul on the 'keeper.

Mid way through the half Berthelin was replaced in goal by Kolinko and he did not have to wait long before being asked to prove he was up to the job. A delightful corner from Harper found Hughes running in at the near post who tested the 'keeper with a well struck shot which was just tipped over. It was far from one-way traffic. Shorey gave a short pass and Palace broke quickly outnumbering the covering defenders but Hahnemann kept his head, stayed on his feet and made a good block.

Pardew decided to make a tactical change and replace Sidwell with Watson. The young midfielder looked as disappointed as I felt as he left the field. I could not understand why the change was made. As the game progressed it turned out to be a shrewd move. Watson's passing and experience proved to be a crucial factor in the victory.

Before half time Forster had two great chances, both provided by Hughes, to put Reading ahead. The first was a shocking miss. He beat the offside trap and with only the 'keeper to beat hit his shot feebly wide. The second chance was created by a superb cut back from Hughes and Fozzy struck it well only to see his shot hit the outside of the post. Half time came and the outcome was still in the balance. Palace were playing well and Reading were wasting chances.

Reading's passing looked much sharper at the start of the second half and the game opened up. Tyson almost opened the scoring with a brave header but we had to wait until the 66th minute for the deadlock to be broken. Hughes was bundled over as he tried to play a one-two on the edge of the area, and Shorey rolled it to Brown who drove the ball low and hard into the net. Reading on top and in the lead. Surely the game was safe. Ten minutes later Palace were level, but from where I was sitting it looked like the goal should never have been given. Johnson looked a couple of yards offside when he received the ball and finished smartly. There was no signs of panic yet as Reading went looking for the winner.

Hughes had a goal disallowed for handball. With three minutes of normal time left Reading built a fine move which left Salako in space in the area with only the 'keeper to beat. He steadied himself before hitting an awful shot which curled away from the goal without troubling the 'keeper at all. The passing then became untidy and the game scrappy and it looked as though we had blown a good chance to pick up three vital points. Then came Harper's rescue act and we all went home happy.

Before the game I had a beer with two Royals fans that had travelled down from Scotland. I hope they felt their journey was worthwhile. Start checking on flights to Cardiff in May lads - it's my round!

nick newbury
Woohoo... what a brilliant game and what a fantastic finish. There are very few things in sport that compare to the rush and buzz that a very last minute injury winning goal does! I thought like most I'm sure that the game was heading for a 1-1 draw which to be fair would have been a just result as both teams produced spirited displays to provide a most entertaining game. Credit to Palace for coming to the game with an attacking game and not just sitting back like most other teams do. It was a game where most Royals ran their bollocks off but often to only end in a poor pass, when we did get the chances, both Forster and Salako should hold their heads in shame by both producing appalling misses when one on one. The fat bloke in the Burger van outside the East stand could have done better, but all's well that ends well. Such was my confidence of us totally making a balls up of the free kick that resulted in our first goal, I boldly opened my big gob with the statement, that if we score I'll drop my trousers! Not a pretty sight, but many witnesses saw yours truly jumping up and down with his jeans around his ankles as Steve Brown's screamer nearly burst the net! Great result that means anything from the next two difficult away games is a bonus, two points would be great, but I truly believe we are a better team away from home, so we'll have to see. Finally, spare a thought for our mate Big Bob the Builder, he decided to get the beers in Shooters with one minute to go and missed the goal. He said the walls literally shook as super James Harper wonder strike winner went in! Oh happy days... UURRZZ
worthing royal
Back on track we are then! Apart from the Canaries and the Tractor Boys winning, everything else went well for us yesterday. Sheffield Utd drew and Forest and Wolves both lost. I really think Pompey and Leicester are pretty well home and dry. An improved performance by Reading that deserved the three points. I still think we need a striker. It looked for ages as though we were going to create the chances, and come away dropping points. We missed a hatful of opportunities, and looked like we could have been out there all night, and still not scored. Like Nick Newbury, I was certain that we would screw up the free kick. Normally, moving forward to the 18 yard line makes it difficult to get the ball over the wall, and under the bar. I had just told everyone around me that the ball would either end up in the stands, or in someone's bollocks, when we suddenly looked like we had practiced a training ground free kick. Great little back heel, and Browny there with his head down, firing it low and hard past the keeper. Fortunately for those around me, I had not offered the same bet Nick did. My trousers stayed firmly up as I jumped around like an idiot. It was pleasing that we didnt defend too deep after the goal, but we still managed to concede. I still dont really know how their guy had so much space, but he did what Fozzie couldn't earlier. One on one with Marcus, he hit the target.
Salako could and should have scored towards the end, and when that missed, I think the whole crowd expected a draw, and an inconclusive afternoon. The best possible end happened. Harper appeared in the box one last time and walloped a goal that sent the Reading fans absolutely wild. Injury time goals are so satisfying when you score, yet so depressing when you concede them. Palace may consider themselves a bit unlucky. Its always nice to get one over on that nice Mr Francis though. Wasn't it he that said before our game at Selhurst that Reading were one of the easier teams in the division? I wonder how he feels today having just had the double done over him. Bring on Ipswich. It's all getting a bit exciting! URZZZ!
thatcham royal
This was the reverse of Wednesday night. Today we started badly, and slowly improved. It was a good open game but dodgy passing from both sides at times made it frustrating to watch. I understand that Pardew took Sidwell off purely as a tactical move. It was brave changing things so early in the game, but it definitely worked. Watson had a great game. His introduction seemed to spark new life in the midfield. Especially the 2nd half. I thought Hughes & Chadwick really improved. Both got forward at every opportunity and we started to look very dangerous. It was dissapointing to see so many chances created, but only 2 goals. It has to be put down to bad finishing as their keeper wasn't particularly busy. In the end it took a great free kick & a superb finish from Harper to take the 3 points we fully deserved.
Though we should have scored more, the BBC Berks phone in is getting pretty tedious. The anti Forster/4-5-1, and pro Curo mob look more pathetic with each whinge. It's not about Forster v Curo. I think we all agree that Cureton in the box will score more than Forster. The problem is Cureton doesn't have the stamina to match Forsters work rate. Or his pace. This team is built around the formation. NOT Forster. With the midfielders we have, a bank of 5 works better than 4-4-2. This has got us to 3rd, so whats the point in moaning? Pardew and the team have shown great flexibility and have adapted to the challenges very well. We may not score as many goals as Forest, but the league table says right now we are better than them. Stop moaning about who plays up front, its an eleven man effort, support them all!
darren hall
Harper (90), 2-1, better than sex!
Bring on the tractor boys... URZZZ!
Felt I had to write in today because I too heard the phone -in on Radio Berks on the way home to Wales, and was astounded that so many people felt it necessary to spoil the moment by deciding to take the opportunity to moan about Nicky Forster. Luckily Paul from Thatcham has summed it up nicely and I don't need to go there. I felt that the game turned as a result of the Palace fans deciding to wind up the East Stand, which seemed to stir the slumbering Royals fans into some vocal support for a change. All of a sudden you could see the support lifting the likes of Harper and Murty and sure enough the goal followed. As ever, after completely slaughtering the Palace with every taunt going following the goal, we were all left gobsmacked when Palace nicked an equaliser, was it offside?, and Palace fans had their moment.
What can you say about that last minute goal - I'm still on a high now some 24 hours later! Anyway my main point is to emphasise what Pards has been saying in the programme notes and in his press releases - don't underestimate the influence of us fans as we get closer to the play-offs. We too have our part to play, it ain't 4-5-1 it's 4-5-2 if we get behind the boys instead of thinking the 'grass is always greener'. The Forster knockers should remember he's being playing the sole striker role for months now without a break and probably puts in more miles than anyone else on that pitch. Sure he's missed a few chances and gets caught in possession a bit too often but he's the guy who takes out the two central defenders and leaves the gaps for Hughes and Harps to exploit. Come on URZ's
emmer green royal
To get another 3 points on Saturday was great but it was a very dull match. I canít believe how many peoples think it was entertaining, and more so than against Wolves. Yes we lost against Wolves but it was a lot more fun to watch. The first half in particular was terrible. Despite the result it was a poor performance by the team and in particular the midfield. For the second game running our midfield was awful without the ball and in Sidwell's case just awful full stop. Harper was again the best Reading player, looked great on the ball and deserved a goal but the midfield as a unit was poor. When Watson came on we looked much more composed and had someone who at least tried to tackle. We must find a player in the Parky mould. Had Palace got a midfield like Wolves they would have over-run us.
We were also lacking a lot in the final third on Saturday. Again on several occasions we had a player wanting to cut the ball back into the box for someone to finish and there was no one there. If we play 4-5-1 then the midfield have to be sharp and support the lone striker but on Saturday they were often too far behind. The debate about strikers will continue to go on as long as Pardew relies on Forster as our main striker. The fact is that he has not got as good a strike rate as other strikers at the club. This season he has scored 11 goals in 27 games, which is an awful strike rate for a No1 striker. In the last two games Forster has missed two absolute sitters and if he is in the team as the lone striker he has not justified his selection. He does however work very hard and causes teams a lot of problems and in that way justifies selection. The thing is though hard work doesnít win games, goals do. It doesnít matter how hard a team works if they donít put the ball in the net. Pardew harps on about Forster being under-rated but I think he is over-rated as what he is used for, the only striker. He is a good player but not a good goals scorer and should not be relied on as such. If he is praised so much when he is clearly lacking in the most important part of his job then he will get slated. If we are to continue playing 4-5-1 we must get another striker who can score 20+ a season otherwise we will continue to struggle with goals.
One big gripe about Pardew I have after the game is about his programme comments. He said that 98% of the fans are thinking positively now and that Ďthat doesnít mean we have to tolerate the other 2%í. So if you donít agree with Pardew you are wrong and should shut up and go away, is that it? Well Pardew if thatís what you think of fans having their own opinion then you are a ****. He may have done a lot for this club but that doesnít mean he can ignore people who have a different opinion. I for one am not going to go away just cos I have a different opinion.
caversham royal
Whilst not the best of spectacles, this was yet another important result. To begin with I could see the midfield heading the same way as vs. Wolves until the introduction of Watson (Pardew thankfully learning from Wed eve) for the once again ineffective Sidwell. His presence brought much needed composure and intelligence into Reading's midfield which was lacking in the previous 90mins and a bit. Surely he should now start at either there expense of Sidwell or Hughes. Harper was once again our most industrious outlet and fully deserved to be the hero at the death.
Finally, there was a lot of debate via phone & text on Berks about the virtues of Cureton vs. Forster. A bit pointless in a way as Cureton is now so obviously an ex-Reading player in his complete disappearance in the last 2 months or so. They are very different players; Forster probably has more skill, and certainly more pace and a higher work rate. Cureton's strength is his ability to score goals, and his finishing is something Forster will never match. In the Norwich and Wolves games he missed good chances, and how he wasn't even on target with the real glarer he missed vs. Palace...... And yet to hear some go on about him, you'd think he was God's gift to striking. In that sense, I will always feel that Forster is the most over-rated player this club has had in some time. Don't get me wrong, his pace and ability to make chances out of nothing make him a very worthwhile part of any team, but he's not as flawless as some would have him be. Like him or not, Cureton would have buried at least 2 if not all 3 of the chances I mentioned, which is why I'll always feel there's room for them to play as a partnership. But not in Pardew's team it seems.
Oh well, Reading will hopefully be in the play-offs come the end and Forster's 'fans' will no doubt vote him player of the year. Rah Rah. And Jamie Cureton paid me £10 to say all that. A crucial night to come on Tues. COME ON......
I'll hold me hands up and say I've never been Pards biggest fan. My main concern was his previous reluctance or inability to change things when they were not working. Well I'll take me hat off to him after Saturday when he saw it wasn't right before half time and made the change that in my opinion won us the game. I'm sure Sidwell will come into his own on Wednesday against the tractor boys but he doesn't seem comfortable with the 4-5-1 at home at the moment and seems to run out of ideas. Watson sits a bit deeper than Sidwell and is quite happy to let the likes of Harper do his running while he hits the killer balls. A quick word for Nick Newbury. Next time you drop yer keks mate make sure you aint been wearing the same pair of shreddies for a week. You could have thrown those buggers at the wall and they'd have still been stuck there now !
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