(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: Caskey (90 mins)
Northampton Town Scorers: Gabbiadini (87 mins)
Date: 1 January 2001
Attendance: 10,599

Reading: Whitehead, Newman, Viveash, Hunter, Robinson, Caskey, Smith (Igoe), Parkinson, Cureton, Butler, Hodges (Rougier). Subs not used: Howie, Gurney, Mackie.

Northampton Town: Welch, Chilvers, Sampson, Green, Spedding, Savage, Hunt, Hargreaves, Hodge, Gabbiadini, Howard. Subs not used: Hope, Thompson, Hughes, Sollitt, Gould.

Bookings:  Hunter (Reading); Hodge, Sampson (Northampton).
Referee: A R Leake (Darwen)

With Reading slipping away from the leaders of the Division a home win was a must today against a Northampton Town side looking for a play-off spot themselves. Reading must keep the top two positions in sight, and with league leaders Millwall at home next week a victory seemed to be the only acceptable result. However, after slipping behind with just three minutes to play we were happy enough that we managed to take a point from this match, when it looked like we'd lost the lot.

Despite a disappointing result there was plenty to entertain in a match which was always going to swing one way and then the other, with plenty of end to end football. Reading probably had the best of the game overall but failed to break down a tough Northampton defence, while at the other end Northampton continued to threaten on the break. Once again Reading failed to make the most of their chances and although we had two goals disallowed we simply didn't get enough shots on target to justify taking the full three points.

With Neil Smith preferred to Keith Jones in the centre of midfield and Parkinson in action despite being carried off last week at Bristol Rovers, Reading looked to be fielding a strong side. Cureton and Butler started up front, and with Rougier and Igoe in reserve it was hard to complain about the starting tactics with Reading looking up for the win. Unfortunately Northampton put up a stronger fight than most teams that have visited the Madejski Stadium this season. The first half could have seen either side go in ahead after plenty of attempts on goal and was entertaining with a big midfield battle for possession. Parkinson had clearly shaken off the concussion suffered at Bristol Rovers and was all over the place challenging for, and winning, the ball. Meanwhile the rest of the side were following his example with Caskey and Butler both working hard all across the pitch as the game developed into a fast and frantic Second Divsion match.

Northampton had clearly come to keep it tight at the back and go for goals on the counter attack. They successfully restricted Reading to a batch of long range shots, and we only effectively broke into the box twice when Cureton and Butler might both have done better with their chances. Both attempts saw the strikers turn on the ball well inside the box only to screw shots low and wide of the keeper's left post. If they'd hit them with a bit more power, or got them on target it might have been a different story.

On too many other occassions Reading were simply outnumbered inside the box with five Northampton defenders back and just Cureton and Butler in the box - and unlikely to cleanly win the ball. With a serious lack of crosses being provided from the wings Northampton coped well as Reading ran at them through the middle instead - they always seemed to have enough players back to cover. We seemed most likely to score from one of the shots just outside the box. Hodges hit a good powerful effort that was well saved by the Northampton although it was directed right at him. Caskey put one just over the bar and sent another decent shot diagonally from the right corner of the box that ended up just wide of the post.

It was hard to fault Northampton's strategy at half time after they created plenty of chances on the break forcing Whitehead to pull off some superb saves. Northampton won a whole load of corners on the left, but looked most dangerous when they took the direct route. Twice they broke free in the area and looked certain to score. Once from the left Whitead saved well to push it out for a corner, and once from the middle Whitehead pulled off a great reaction save to send the ball over the crossbar to safety.

Reading's clear cut chances inside the box during the first half were limited - but in the second half they seemed even more limited. It wasn't an unfamiliar story as Reading played some decent football in the middle of the park with some nice passing moves along the ground - however as soon as it hit the edge of the Northampton area it all broke down as men crowded around the ball and Reading were bloked from getting a shot in again and again. Down the other end Whitehead threatened to undo all his good work from the first half by almost throwing a goal away by attempting to dribble past a Northampton forward. However it wasn't his fault moments before that when both Viveash and Hunter just stood still to let Northampton run through and have a free shot at the Reading goal. Whitehead did well to come out and then give to his right to make another vital save.

The lineman on the Reading right failed to give a penalty after Caskey went down in the area under a challenge and then added insult to injury by ignoring two Northampton players give Caskey a bit of a kicking as he lay on the ground. Two of our best moves of the game resulted in the ball getting stuck in the back of the net twice - but on both occassions the same linesman flagged. Firstly Caskey set up Cureton well inside the box. Cureton's shot hit the crossbar and rebounded back to Lee Hodges in the middle of the box who slid in the rebound. Unfortuately Hodges was stood offside when the original shot came in. Moments later Rougier bundled it into the back of the net at the far post after the ball was crossed from the right. This time it was judged the ball was already out of play for a goal kick before it was sent across into the middle.

Once again it was almost expected that after Reading had enjoyed most of the ball and the chances throughout the game Northampton would go and stick in the winner right at the death to punish the Royals for missed chances. It was a shame that the goal three minutes from the end of normal time was set up by Phil Parkinson who had a superb game chasing every ball and every man. Parky put in a tackle about a third into the Reading half, and although he successfully took the ball away from the player, he sent it speeding towards the Reading goal. Northampton's Gabbiadini was quick to react, to pick up the ball, take it just inside the area, and fire a decent shot across Whitehead and into the bottom left corner of the Reading net. 0-1.

With Igoe on for Smith and Rougier on for Hodges Reading appeared to have a bit more down the wings - but it seemed too late for them to make an impact despite a couple of great runs down the right from little Sammy Igoe. But then into injury time Rougier went on a little run down the left and was bought down just outside the area, just left of centre. Certain Caskey territory, and Caskey on the pitch. As usual a couple of players crowded around the ball, Parkinson stepped away from it, and Caskey drove the ball over the wall and right into the top left corner of the net. A fantastic free-kick, and at least something to celebrate as Reading drew level. 1-1, and a share of the points.

Before kick-off we'd have been gutted with a draw, but it was certainly better than nothing. Reading couldn't be faulted for effort today but they failed to take the limited number of chances created. In the second half we seemed unable to get a shot in as we continually ran into a dead end on the edge of the Northampton area. Northampton deserve plenty of credit for a superb defensive performance, but Reading need to come up with more ideas of how to break teams like this down.

Following report by Neil Cole:

A last minute Darren Caskey free-kick rescued a point for Reading, after it appeared that a succession of missed chances had cost us the match. The Royals seemed unable to find the net against a resilient Northampton defence, and when the visitors found the net on 87 minutes it looked certain to be only our second home league defeat of the season. Yet Caskey stepped up in injury time to earn a point that on reflection we thoroughly deserved.

The side was once again unchanged, with Neil Smith retaining his place in preference to Keith Jones. This was a justified team selection, after the win over Luton and the Boxing Day point earned at Bristol Rovers. However, it soon became apparent that today was to be a very different game to previous home match against Luton. On that day, we created few real chances but somehow won the match 4-1. Today, the chances were there from start to finish, yet somehow Reading were unable to find the opening goal.

Northampton were intent on playing counter-attack tactics, and to their credit they did it very well. Despite playing most of the match in their own half, the few attacks they did have caused real problems for Reading, and they had as many chances to score as we did in the first half. The first indication of this was very early on, as a Reading attack broke down and Northampton surged forward. A cross from the right found a man over in the middle, and his header forced a good save out of Phil Whitehead.

Reading came back, and Neil Smith had a good chance after Caskey picked him out at the far post. Yet his shot was poor, and he could only scuff it the wrong side of the post. Butler made a similar error later on, dragging his shot across the goal mouth instead of burying it after being found unmarked.

Darren Caskey had a superb game, and as well as creating a number of chances, he had a few shots at goal himself. He had two long-range efforts in the first half that narrowly missed the target, as Reading piled on the pressure. Yet Northampton nearly went in at half-time with the lead, after another counter-attack forced Whitehead to save well once again from Northampton skipper Ian Sampsom.

The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, as Reading failed to make their superior possession count. The Royals did find the net twice, but both were fairly disallowed by the linesman. First, Hodges knocked in the rebound from an offside position, after Cureton had hit the bar. Then, a corner was knocked in by Rougier, but the floating cross had drifted out of play before curling in at the far post.

Darren Caskey did his best to win a penalty by falling over in the box after a good run, but the referee correctly waved play on. He did the same shortly afterwards, as Cureton appealed for a spot-kick after being brought down by a fair tackle inside the box.

The game somehow looked to be heading for our first goal-less draw in over a year, as the chances came and went for both sides. Yet with just three minutes left, Marco Gabbiadini scored once again against his favourite opposition. The former Derby man raced through on goal, easily out-pacing Barry Hunter before beating Whitehead with a well placed shot.

The Reading fans left the ground in streams as it appeared we had thrown away another three points. As the 4th official signalled five minutes of injury time though, the players didn't give up hope. Tony Rougier, a second half substitute, went on a run through the middle towards the Northampton goal. He powered past two defenders before being tripped on the edge of the area.

With Caskey still on the pitch he resumed his role as dead ball expert, and his shot was perfectly placed to beat Cobblers keeper Keith Welch. The draw felt more like a win after such an exciting finish, but in truth this was a disappointing result. With such poor away form, we need to continue winning at home if we are to maintain a top six place.

It's the big one on Saturday, as Mark McGhee returns to Reading with his table-topping Millwall side. Revenge is in order after our opening day defeat at The Den, and the appointment of McGhee adds even more to the occasion. The game has the possibility of our biggest ever crowd at the stadium, and hopefully the team will get back to winning ways against our promotion rivals.

Post Match Opinions

This match confirmed that Reading will have a battle on their hands to make the play offs. The entire Northampton team cost less than Martin Butler and the fans' usual alibis for failure were missing: Cureton started, Caskey played much in the middle, Jones wasn't playing. This time, there was service to the front players with at least ten shots at goal and the first half was open and end to end. Our finishers didn't finish. They worked hard but weren't sharp or on target. Credit to the Northampton defence for shutting play down but we have to prise open teams like this. Oh well, now for the big one.
-- David

Reading played some nice football but really only looked menacing I think when Igoe and Rougier were introduced. For me Hodges never looks impressive and when playing Cureton against tall centre backs surely players who can run at the defence and cause them problems (Igoe & Rougier) are a better option than Hodges. The centre backs look a little vulnerable and I think the management team should be looking for another quality centre back in the mould of Adie Williams. With Williams out we always look like conceding goals.
On the plus side I thought Caskey had a good game and his goal was deserved.
Whitehead for me (apart from one moment of madness) was Readings best player though his opposite number probably got man of the match for some great saves in the first half. We seem to be nervous at home all of a sudden which may be a result of not having confidence in the centre backs. We have the quality to get out of this division but we need to start showing it.

-- Mark - London

An excellent game for the neutral but for us long suffering Royals it was another dissapointment. In Kevin Keegan style "if the game was about endeavour we should have won 3-1" however it is not and I'm afraid we HAVE to change some of our approach play if we are to finish in the top 6 let alone the top two.
Our main problem as I see it is the final third. We knock the ball about well and create space but then why oh why do we insist on lumping it in to the middle with players that are a) not tall and b) are not good in the air!. When we were beating the likes of Oldham, Brentford and Swansea we were playing THROUGH them and not hitting hopeful balls for players to run on to and NEVER to feet. I guess Pardew is the tactician and it remains to be seen whether he can see this and change things. We have no chance of beating the better teams at The Mad Stad if we don't correct this and work on playing incisive football on the deck. In the teams of 93-95 we played outstanding football never giving the ball away cheaply, every time Phil Whitehead had a ball knocked back to him yesterday he smacked it up front and on almost every occasion we gave away posession.
Finally though, on a more positive note I do think some of our players have been exceptional lately, Whitehead, Parkinson and Caskey all doing what they are paid to do very well. In particular though what about Ricky Newman - A legend in the making at right back, he seems to have it all and if there was a 'player cam' at Reading you would see a guy who has hardly put a foot wrong this season.
Still loving every occasion with URZ and still looking forward to Millwall.
Let's cheer our boys on with POSITIVE singing and chanting and not just 'cheer up Mark Mcgee' for 90 minutes.

-- Dean - Crowthorne Royal.

Yet again we can't seem to get the job done.
Having brought a half-season ticket with my Christmas money. I was beginning to wonder why I had brought it. I love the club and I bleed blue and white but we were too small upfront. Everytime we pumped the ball forward in the air and we got beaten in the air. It might just be me but we look too small up front. Cureton was too small to contend with the centre-half for Northampton, who dare I say played a blinder, and Butler was no where to be seen. Hodges is so good in the air but why did we take him off. I remember his first game for Reading when Terry the Taxi was boss. He was not at all good but Pardew and Mad Dog must have shaken life into him, Keith Jones must be sold. We got him in on a Bosman so why don't we make some dosh form him. The Back Four is safe going forwards get rubbish going back. Pardew needs to win a few if we are to go up.

-- Graham Bell

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