MATCH REPORT: 2003/2004 Season

Reading: -
Byfield (73 mins), Smith (74 mins).
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 18,019

DIVISION ONE 20 Mar 2004
Pos Team P Pts GD
7 Ipswich 38 59 +9
8 READING 38 57 -4
9 Millwall 35 56 +10
Reading: Ashdown, Murty, Newman, Ingimarsson, Brown, Salako (Brooker 69 mins), Harper, Sidwell, Hughes (Murray 80 mins), Goater (Morgan 60 mins), Kitson. Subs not used: Savage, Young.
Poom, Wright, Babb, Breen, McCartney, Thornton (Piper 73 mins), Oster, Whitley, Thirlwell, Kyle (Smith 69 mins), Byfield (Cooper 86 mins). Subs not used: Williams, Myhre.
Reading: Brown
Thornton, Thirlwell, Byfield, Whitley (two yellow cards, sent off 83 mins)
Referee: P Taylor (Cheshunt)

Sunderland delivered a massive blow to Reading's play-off hopes as they took away a two goal victory from the Madejski Stadium. Reading were finished off with two goals in the space of a minute, with less than twenty minutes left, when a draw was looking the most likely result after an average afternoon's entertainment. With a number of key players still out for the Royals we started with the same eleven that took the three points at Cardiff. Although the game was played at a lively pace in the first half and Kitson was certainly involved up front, there were few chances for either side. When the chances did come it was Ashdown, who had a solid performance, that was called into action more often. He held a header from a corner that was directed straight at him and saw Sunderland put a couple of other efforts high or wide. Reading started to look the more comfortable side on the ball and played some reasonable football to little effect.

The second half saw Sunderland gradually get a better grip on the game and Reading begin to simply hoof it up-field. Reading seemed set to hold on until a move down the left saw a cross headed home - a free header but an impressive goal. After the celebrations died down and the game restarted it was all over for Reading when Sunderland swarmed forward, Ashdown made a good save but the ball came loose in the middle to be proded home and put the visitors 0-2 up. As a sign of Reading's lack of forward play they won their first corners of the game with ten minutes left - but could make nothing of it. Sunderland were reduced to ten men after a second yellow card for Whitley with seven minutes still left but Reading failed to pile on the pressure. The result saw Sunderland claim sixth place in the table, and with Ipswich also victorious today Reading slipped down to eighth. The Royals are only two points out of the play-off positions but with a very hard run in to the season and other teams having games in hand it looks like the play-offs will be a very tall order.

Following report from John Wells
Having forced their way back into the play-off positions with a great win at Cardiff during the week, the Royals were brought back to earth with a bump by a Sunderland side whose season has gradually gained momentum. On today's showing they looked far more likely to be serious contenders for a play-off spot. A two goal burst with around fifteen minutes to go gave the visitors the points when the game looked to be heading towards a scrappy draw.

The game started at a fast and furious pace with Sunderland closing Reading down very quickly all over the field. Neither team were creating clear chances. Sunderland were controlling the midfield but unable to break down a well organised Reading defence in spite of Shorey's absence and a far from match fit Brown at centre back. Newman played superbly throughout at left back, and was just about Reading's best player, but he could not provide same creative options as Shorey. Hughes and Murty were mainly occupied defensively so there was no attacking threat down the right. Salako managed to squeeze in a couple of crosses but they were comfortably dealt with by the Sunderland defence. Goater was looking sluggish and although Kitson was working hard and showing some nice touches he was not really getting very good service from midfield and kept straying offside. Sunderland had the best chances of the half just before the interval when Whitley headed straight at Ashdown from a corner and then Ashdown had to get down quickly to block along range effort from Oster.

The heavy rain stopped for the second half and the wind picked up sending a vast amount of litter swirling around the pitch. It was an untidy game in every sense! Moves broke down frequently through misplaced passes and Reading were content to pump long balls forward which Sunderland coped with easily. Morgan replaced Goater with half an hour left and Reading seemed to perk up a bit. A Salako cross was met by Hughes but he failed to get any power into his header and Poom was not tested.

Brooker replaced Salako in the seventieth minute and four minutes later Byfield put Sunderland ahead nipping in between Reading defenders to head past Ashdown. Almost immediately Sunderland scored again with aid of a poor decision by the referees assistant. Two Sunderland players were offside when a ball was played down the right. One of the offenders, Smith, ran on to the pass, cut inside and fired in a shot which Ashdown saved well. Unfortunately the ball ricocheted around the six yard box, was cleared off the line by Brown, and finally tucked away by Smith with Ashdown stranded. That seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Royals who hadn't really looked like scoring all afternoon anyway. Morgan then set about taking on Sunderland single handed and came close to scoring twice in the last few minutes. First he nutmegged a Sunderland defender in the box but was foiled by Poom when he shot, and then he cut in from the left and unleashed a vicious drive which flashed wide of the far post. It was the sort of direct and aggressive play that had been lacking around goal for most of the match. Whitley's sending off for second yellow card seemed harsh and had no bearing on the outcome of the game, but at least we were treated to the sight of an outraged Mick McCarthy throwing a tantrum about the decision which made me smile. Not much else did this afternoon.

When you look at the league table, mathematically we are still in the hunt, but games are running out, and there are some tough ones looming. There were some important players absent today but even with them I don't think we are quite good enough to force our way into the play-offs. I hope I am proved wrong. We will soon find out how good we are with home games against Norwich, West Brom and West Ham.


It was my first time as a Royals fan today. I shall soon be moving into the area and therefore went along (newly brought shirts from the mega store and all) with my 5 year old son to the North Stand. The weather conditions were less than desirable and the game was certainly not the greatest I have ever watched. The issue for the Royals as I could make out was not their conviction in tackling or their dazzling display of one touch passing football but their conviction in front of goal. Shaun Goater particularly was unimpressive and it seemed as though no-one dared risk a shot on target. This was the major difference between an unsurprisingly physical Sunderland team. You thought given the opportunity in front of goal (which due to their uncreative midfield pair was rare) Sunderland would threaten our goal. They did with devastating effect. The scoreline was unfair. The game less dirty than the bookings suggest. The problem for the Royals is simple : get some forwards who believe they can score! Belief is a very strong thing!
Pastor Andy Phillips

There is no doubting that Sunderland are a physical and good side yet the most dissapointing aspect coming out of this match was two sloppy mistakes through two lapses in concentration. The most frustrasting thing about this Reading side, is they show glimpses of quality, yet this happens on an inconsistent basis. Did we ever really look like scoring on Saturday? The answer is simply no. A lack of fire power and creativity were the two biggest reasons. Dave Kitson tryed very hard to lead the line affectively and admittedly failed, but Goater on the other hand was found wanting. The expression "feed the Goat and he will score" will only become reality if he is given service. A lack of quality from the wings and also through the middle was the main reason why Goater was so innaffective.
This brings me on to Harper. Harper is very effective when in the last third of the pitch with his ability to beat players and also create chances. Therefore, why is Sidwell (a ball winner) playing as the furthest forward midfielder when Harper (the creator) is sitting in front of the back four? They say Coppell is a good tactician, yet this seems a very basis error. Shorey was missed at left back and this represents a lack of depth within our squad. There are two solutions. Either Mr Madeski put his hand in his pocket (very unlikely) and buys cover throughout the squad or we continue with the same squad that is simply not good enough for promotion.
It is unfair that fans think Coppell should be sacked, as he is a proven manager and should be given a good chance at the helm. It is also dissapointing that so called fans continually give players such as Andy Hughes a hard time. Is getting on the back of players likely to improve their performance or make it worse?? Sunderland are a typical play off team and showed that over two games against Reading that they are a better side. Notice the amount of ex premiership players they have compared to ours and also the genral experience within their team. Perhaps promotion is an unrealistic target this season but it proves the point that we have a very inexperience squad- maybe building for the future is the answer as opposed to demanding success, which is unlikely judging on the Sunderland performance.

You could not fault the players for lack of effort, but today we simply were not good enough against a resolute and efficient Sunderland side. Whilst the team might have been good enough at Cardiff, today we were up against a better side. Sunderland were better equipped at holding onto the ball. Our front men, who did not get the best of service, were not able to hold the ball and therefore it just kept coming back. Sunderland played a high line in defence and it called for Forster to burst through. As he was missing we needed the front two to hold the ball and then one of the midfielders to take the ball at pace at them. Easier said than done. We missed Shorey's creativity but you could not fault the job that Newman did - it just was not as good. The first goal was always going to be important and when it came it was simply a case of one of our back four loosing their man and an easy goal was scored. the second goal had a hint of offside, but it was no more than they deserved. We did not look like scoring and though Morgan came on and showed that he has the potential to offer something different, it was too little too late. It means that we have a lot to do if we are to reach the play offs, and they do seem a long way off at the moment given our injuries. hat is a problem that we are not used to, and credit goes to the players who have come in. At the moment though, there are too many of them!!!
Ken C

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