(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: -
Northampton Scorers: -
Date: 1 April 2002

Reading: Whitehead, Murty, Shorey, Viveash, Mackie, Hughes (Harper 87), Parkinson, Watson, Salako (Rougier 72), Cureton, Forster (Henderson 80). Subs not used: Williams, Talia.

Northampton: Welch, Hunter, Marsh, Burgess, Sampson, Hope, McGregor (Forrester 37), Hunt, Hargreaves, Frain, Parkin (Asamoah 76). Subs not used: Hodge, Carruthers, Sollitt.

Bookings: Burgess (Northampton), Parkinson, Cureton (Reading).
Referee: W Jordan (Tring).

Report by John Wells
This was yet another frustrating afternoon for the Royals and their fans. It is hard to remain rational when you see your team throwing away their chance of the championship and seriously jeopardize their chance of automatic promotion. I am sure many will direct their venom at Alan Pardew after this performance and not without some justification, but the players also have to accept some responsibility. Clearly everyone at the club is finding it hard to handle the pressure - especially at home.  Most often victory goes to the team that is bold, confident, and aggressive, with their selection, their tactics and their play. It was obvious that Northampton would come to stifle the home side, and that a team capable of breaking down a resolute and packed defence was required. Once again Pardew played safe in midfield with three players that are strong defensively. Also, I'm not sure much was gained in replacing Williams with Viveash. We are always vulnerable against pace with Viveash at the back.

Reading completely dominated the game against a five man Northampton defence which was perfectly content to hoof it into touch when danger threatened. Reading mounted some pressure early in the game but the first real threat came from a Watson strike that was deflected and eventually scrambled away by Welch. Two minutes later Forster broke through and struck a good shot wide of the far post. The best move of the first half ended with a great ball from Cureton sending Forster through. This time he struck it well with his right foot only to see his effort parried by Welch. Hughes was following up but could not get to the loose ball. The Royals came closest to scoring when Mackie timed his run superbly to meet a Salako corner and send his header crashing against the bar - a repeat of the move that had worked against Bristol City earlier in the season. Although there had been chances we were generally finding it hard to create openings.

There were no substitutions at half time and I did not feel we would be able to break through without making changes. Reading continued to press forward but seemed to be getting increasingly anxious and hasty around the penalty area. Shots were miscued, crosses were being over hit and Northampton remained disciplined in defence. Forster shaved the post with a header after sixty minutes and a couple of minutes later Hughes came close from twenty yards.

Pardew persisted with his formation until the 70th minute when he replaced Salako with Rougier which I found puzzling. Salako wasn't setting the game alight, but he was at least keeping the ball and sending in some decent crosses. The obvious change was to take off Hughes and play Rougier wide on the right - especially when Henderson, the player most likely to do something in the air, was due to replace Forster. The best chance of the game fell to Forster in the 74th minute. He completely lost his head and fired the ball high into the stand with the goal at his mercy. That is how championships are lost! Hughes was finally taken off and replaced by Harper when it was too late for him to make an impact. The play deteriorated as the game drew to a close and Reading began hitting balls forward hopefully and giving the ball away carelessly.

The shortcomings today were not only tactical. Murty and Shorey who have been brilliant for most of the season were not at their best. Cureton passed the ball well but was a bit slow to come off the defence when it was played in to his feet and was consequently often second to the ball. Hughes passing was poor again.(Which has nothing to do with him playing wide on the right!) The quality of the crossing was poor. Often the ball was delivered from deep positions which made it easy for Welch to come out and claim it. Having said all that I would have gone home happy if we had scrambled the ball over the line for a last minute winner. We haven't suddenly got a bad team or a bad manager. There is no doubt about the ability in the squad, what is being tested now is character and temperament.

I listened to the commentary on the Brighton game before today's match and it sounded like they owed their win to an outstanding performance from their 'keeper as well as a last minute winner. I would have been thoroughly depressed this evening but Bury made my day. Brighton look set for the title and Brentford have the toughest run in of the three clubs in contention for automatic promotion. Unless we lose the next two games and Brentford win theirs we will still be in with a chance of going up on the last day, and I'm not sure it is a disadvantage being away on curent form. My biggest nightmare, which is a distinct possibility, would be for us to go to Brentford on the last day only needing a draw - and then playing for draw. It is just as well that I have a standing ticket for that game - I don't think I would feel comfortable sitting down.

Post Match Opinions

Another depressing result, another reasonable performance. The team lacked nothing in effort and commitment, what it did lack was flair and subtlety. I thought that the performance of Murty summed up the whole afternoon. He could not be criticised for his lack of effort, as he continually looked to charge down the wing. So often though, he ran out of ideas or his cross was just not good enough.
The game started very brightly from a Reading point of view as we took the game to Northampton. Apart from ten minutes we dominated the first half and might have scored on several occasions, but the woodwork, the keeper or just a lack of composure prevented that happening. To be fair, Northampton defended well. They adopted a deep line giving Forster little room to run into, and were prepared to make good blocks when they needed to. What we needed was some craft. Watson showed what an excellent passer of the ball he is, but most of his work is switching play without really hurting the opposition. He and Parkie play quite deep and so there was noone from midfield getting up and beyond the strikers.
I thought Cureton struggled, for although he worked hard, his control today ws poor. If we were going to break them down it was to be via Forster and the unpredictable Hughes, who did somethings very well. Solako and Shorey linked well but again not really hurting the opposition. Solako is undoubtedly the best crosser of the ball that we have, but they do tend to be balls that require someone good in the air. That is not Cureton and Forster's strength and so we should be looking to vary the delivery. Low drives into the box, the cutback for the oncoming midfielder just were not seen and of course driving oneself into the box would have all added to the problems for the Cobblers but we did not have that variety. Towards the end I thought some of the players looked tired. I would have liked to have seen Roug and Harper on earlier, but we are all graet managers after the match.
Let's not forget what Pardew has achieved since he has been in charge. We have a better squad and some good young players coming through which we have not had for a long time. There are only three games to go, Brentford have a much harder programme than we do. Like the players we need to relax and keep our composure.

-- Ken C

Since we moved to the Madjeski, I have lost count of the number of teams that have come down with the same game plan.
Defend like bastards, play one up front, and bring a goalkeeper who has his best game of the season.
Our constant inability to break down dogged defending will see us forced to keep playing out the same dross teams, in the same shite division with match officials who seem to bring a new rule book to each game.
This is a serious slide now. Look at the record going into this. Northampton had earned more points in the last 5 games than Reading!
We now have to win at Tranmere and Peterborough to stand any chance on the final day.

- Paul L, Hacked off Thatcham Royal

I so angry I can hardly bring myself to type. It's nearly two hours since the final whistle and I still fuming. This column is all about personal opinions not judging or commenting on others, so, here goes... We are a bloody laughing stock in this league. I know we may still do it, but the way I feel tonight, we've more chance of signing Beckham than going up. The players are an absolute disgrace as is the manager. What does it take to get motivated and die for the club and the fans? The moment a bloke told me in the bog just before kick off, that Brighton had scored in the last second to win, I knew we would blow it.
Never in the history of football can there be team who bottle it when the big moment comes. Perhaps that's the reason why after nearly 125 years we won absolutely fuck all! What more motivation do they need than the chance to go back to the top of the league with three games left. I don't give a toss about Northampton, putting ten men behind the ball, so what. With the league at our mercy, we've taken nine points from the last twenty one, what a load of bollocks. If we can't beat the likes of Northampton, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Bury and Swindon we deserve nothing.
I don't give a toss about the players either just the same way they don't give a toss about us. We will still be here in years to come they wont. It's the fans and John Madejski I feel sorry for. I was looking around the ground today, looking at the fans faces, the anxiety, the anguish, the torment, the torture was there for all to see. Any one of them, may not have the skill or fitness, but they have passion and given half a chance would give everything they have on the field.
This will go down as one of the biggest chokes, in domestic football history if we blow this. They say things go in threes, well following Bolton and Walsall this will really take the biscuit! I feel humiliated. let down and down right pissed off. The performance today was unbelievable, they may have done ok before but Shorey and Murty were so bad at crossing and passing it was laughable. The midfield didn't have a clue, with just Watson being the exception. Cureton swanned about like a tart, and Forster showed the composure and finishing in front of goal that my granny could have done better , and she's been dead twenty years. Solako done nothing and was a disgrace to the shirt, and has done bugger all since he got a contract.
We were clue less and didn't have a clue how to break a shit team like Northampton down. Pardew! This is a tough game mate, and although he's a likeable chap, if we do blow it, there's no doubt what so ever he must go. He blew it last year, and if he blows it this year, then he should do the honourable thing and go. Pardew has had more money and resources than the whole of the division and half of the first division put together and has made us struggle like this. What's the bloody point of taking a striker off today, who ever he may be, when desperate for a win and still 0-0. Any body with half a brain could see that we needed Harper on and perhaps Parky off to try and create something. What does he do, bring Henderson on and so we resort to a big hoof game and bring Harper on with three minutes to go. Yes I am upset , yes we still have our destiny in our hands, but talking to mates after the game and fans I don't know, I think most have similar thoughts.
Nothing would give me more pleasure than to have these words rammed down my throat if we do win out last three games. Somehow I don't think thats going to happen. Your eyes don't lie. The final league table won't lie. We're simply not good enough.
I hope I'm wrong.

-- Nick Newbury

Well, the cobblers came and huffed and puffed, as expected, put 10 men behind the ball, as expected, created little, as expected. And what do we do, fail yet again to turn over a shite team like them, as expected. There cannot be a team in the entire history of the game that infuriates its fans as much as the Royals. This run of six draws in the last seven is simply not good enough especially considering the calibre of some of our recent opposition. Even with my wealth of knowledge gleaned from Sunday pub football it was obvious even after 15 minutes we would have to change our shape to win this vital game. So what does Pards do? Stands in the dugout waving his piece of paper about and sticks his head in the sand as per bloody normal. If we can see it why cant he? Bold decisions were called for yesterday and yet again he is found wanting in that and most defiantly the tactics department. To break down a 5 man defence and four strung across the middle you must get players forward from midfield. But Parky does what Parky does and sits in the hole and rarely looked like getting forward. And he chooses yesterday to give Jamie a rare full game when he looked decidedly off colour. At half time I would have replaced Parky and Jamie with Harper and Darius and told the greedy sod Fozzy to play off Hendersons shoulder if the dimwit could do so without getting caught off side. Given half decent service and his pace we should have destroyed them. But no, we are talking about Reading here! At the start of the season we vowed that we would not allow ourselves to be put through the torture of the Play off final again. To the extent that if that happened we would rather go fishing. Up until a couple of weeks ago it looked like the perch in the Kennet and Avon looked safe now I'm not so sure. Looks like I may be dangling me worm after all! URZZS
-- Lobby Thatcham

OK - it was a disappointment, no two ways about it. But lets not talk about Pardew and the players not having the bottle ... seems to me it's the contributors to this site who need to take a look at themselves. We controlled the match on Monday. True, we lacked the finish but we had plenty of chances and a few inspired saves from their goalie and some greedy/hopeless shots from one or two of our forwards denied us an easy win. But let's compare our performance with that of Brighton and Brentford. The latter got stuffed by Bury, Brighton got a lucky win. Of the top three contenders we gave far and away the best account of ourselves. So, we've now got a fight on our hands, but its a fight we can win. I'd rather be in our shoes than Brentford's ... and Brighton can still be taken. There's three games left ... two away and one home ... bit like the play-offs really ! Let's sew it up without the need to visit Cardiff this year ... but in the meantime, get behind the team and Pardew and show we've got the bottle too!
-- Seb from Crowthorne

I'm very disappointed, angry, really pissed - not only with the bastards that trashed my car to nick my radio but with this match. It's slipping away. What went wrong today.
1. The midfield played too deep.
2 The midfield were not creative enough to unlock a massed defence. I would have brought Harper on for Parky at half time. Give him the play maker role - When he first came to the club he showed real flair and was unfortunately criticised as 'show boating'.
3 I would not have taken off Forster - his pace always gives us a chance - wheras Cureton just feeds on scraps and with a five man defence there were no scraps.

-- Trevor, Reading

Bristol City and Northampton. Ifs and Buts. All is not yet lost. Brentford are losing form, they were lucky to beat Stoke and lost to Bury. It's quite possible that they will drop points to Huddersfield at the weekend and, if we can find a bit of form (or even luck) at Tranmere and at home to Peterborough, we could find ourselves going to Brentford on the last day already promoted. I think that Brighton will just scrape the championship with Reading second and Cardiff winning the play-offs (let's face it, who would fancy their chances against Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium?). With three games left it's too close to call. Although we've lost our big lead, none of the other sides in the top three is outstanding and any one could drop points unexpectedly over the next three weekends.
We only built the lead up in the first place because the other teams kept dropping points over January/February while we were surprisingly consistent. We're no longer in poll position but all it requires is a few cool heads in the next few weeks - three 1-0 wins would suit me fine, although my heart would prefer 3 or 4 nil. The Bristol game was amazing. I was proud to be part of the massive Reading support and the players must have been gutted that they couldn't deliver on the day. No-one could believe it at 2-0, and on-one had time to take it all in before they came back at us. Our defence should have been a more clinical in the few minutes after we scored. In particular Adie Williams should have had the ball over the stand rather than trying to be cultured, then we would not have needed to debate the handball and the pressure that led to the free kick / penalty etc may not have occurred either. Adie's indecision has cost us a lot in the last few weeks, beginning with Notts County's goal. Why have we got Roget on loan and yet we don't use him. By all accounts he put in a solid performance at Swindon. No excuses against Northampton though. They showed the least ambition of any team to have come to the MadStad this season but we had enough chances to score.
Pardew's previous substitutions have been much criticised here but when we ended up with Rougier, Henderson and Cureton up front I knew it was all over with 10 minutes to go. It left us without either pace or guile and looking extremely pedestrian. One of the worst games of the season and the players knew it too as they skulked off. Let's hope that Igoe and/or Branch are fit and available for the last few games. I felt that Igoe was playing well recently, even coming inside in support against Brighton, and we have missed his creativity on the right hand side since. Without it we are no longer able to stretch opposition defences and Forster and Cureton are having no space to work in. It's a bit disappointing that Branch arrived with an injury that nobody knew about, perhaps it explains his tentative performance against Oldham.
The fans still have a job to do.
It's a shame that the team don't get the support AT HOME that they got at Bristol. While the low roof helped to increase the noise level and atmosphere, the Reading fans gave 100% support right down to the final whistle. You could see what that meant to the players. At home the crowd starts well enough but within five minutes it all goes quiet unless we score or there is a decent opposition crowd. Then we get on their backs when things start to go wrong. It's up to us to get the players going, not vice versa. I'm pretty sure that Murty knows when he's put a dreadful cross in, the last thing he needs at that time is 16,000 people telling him that they think so too. Are we supporters or merely spectators wanting entertainment and expecting results?
Let's have 270 minutes of unconditional support and save the recriminations until the end of the season.

-- Spiller

Was this England/Poland 1973 re-visited or what? Reading had more chances than a lifetime of Monopoly but still ended goalless. I can't remember a game at which my head has been in my hands as often. Much like England, we certainly don't like to make things easy for ourselves. We want to go to Cardiff about as much as England wanted to go to the Ukraine.
-- Paul Kirkwood.

This was a heartening performance, but a very depressing result. The post/bar/keeper somehow conspired to keep this 0-0, however the opposition had a great chance to steal it too. Listening to the radio afterwards made me want to smash it up during the phone in. "Pardew's not the man for the job" and "the players are not motivated" ABSOLUTE BOLLOCKS!!
Lets not forget why we are second in the league with three games to go.
Pardew has transformed this club from top to bottom (clearing out the journeymen and developing the youth), but one day the negative idiots will drive him out and we will be a poorer club for it. But I digress. This result was deperately disappointing, as has been our recent run. We simply are not getting the luck - we were excellent for 75 minutes then it went to pot. I'm not saying Pards is perfect. He messed up with the substitutions - took off our best and most dangerous player, brought on Henderson and took off the best crosser!. If it aint broke dont fix it! We would have scored had we remained unchanged! Harps for Parky was a possibility that would have been better. The subs upset the balance for all to see, tiredness crept in. But again our finishing was suspect. You cannot blame Pardew for Forster's slice, etc etc. We have three games to go - and Brentford have a formidable run in. The support on Saturday and Monday was phenomenal and all we can do is keep it up. We must be due some good fortune. We NEED TO TAKE OUR CHANCES in front of goal.
Ultimately its still in our hands, and we are better away so there are positives. One things for sure, there's a couple more twists and turns to come - the faint hearted are advised to stay at home. COME ON READING.

-- Rob - Middlesex Royal

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