(Half Time: 2-0)
Reading Scorers: Viveash (1 mins), Parkinson (35), Gurney (70).
Cambridge Scorers: None
Date: 2 December 2000
Attendance: 9,601

Reading: Whitehead, Gurney, Viveash, Mackie, Robinson, Igoe (Smith,78), Jones (Caskey,87), Parkinson, Cureton, Butler, Hodges (Rougier,78). Subs not used: Howie, Hunter

Cambridge: Perez, Cowan, Joseph, Duncan, Dreyer, Mustoe, Gudmundsson (Oakes,54), Ashbee, Youngs (Axeldal,88), Connor, Russell. Subs not used: Marshall, Hansen, McNeil.

Bookings: Butler , Gurney , Parkinson , Robinson (Reading)      Referee: B Knight

After a pointless month in the league through November it was vital we returned to winning ways at home against Cambridge United. Reading lost two league games in November and the postponement at Bournemouth couldn't have come at a worse time with all the other teams at the top collecting points, but hopefully today signaled a return to winning ways as Reading put three past Cambridge without reply. It wasn't the best performance ever - but it was a decent solid performance that was enough to see off a half decent visiting side. In the end it was an entertaining game played in front of a below average crowd - however the main thing was collecting three points and close the gap on the leaders.

With Newman out suspended Robinson made a return to the defence - and with Gurney playing at full back it meant we had two different full backs than the team that beat Grays at the Madejski two weeks ago. In midfield Caskey was left on the bench to give Igoe a start alongside Jones and Parkinson. Having won player of the month for November, Parkinson went on to do more than enough to put himself in the frame for the same award for next month, and with Igoe putting over plenty of crosses from both sides of the pitch we didn't seem to miss Caskey too much. In fact after the first minute Pardew's decision to leave Caskey on the bench seemed to be the right one as Reading got off to a dream start.

Butler was brought down on the left side of the pitch, just outside the box, and with Caskey on the bench Igoe stepped up to fire the free kick across into the box on the right to find Viveash. Viveash's header flew diagonally into the middle of the box, and after a bit of a bundle on the goalline was in the back of the net. 1-0 to the Royals with only a matter of second gone. After some big home wins not too long ago the home fans could be forgiven for hoping it was going to be the start of a whole series of goals, but Cambridge weren't going to let that happen and the game quickly calmed down.

It wasn't clear what Cambridge's game plan was going to be, but a goal down right from the start meant they had to change it all around to try and get back into the game - to their credit they kept trying to play the ball forward on the ground. Thankfully Reading seemed more than able to soak up the limited pressure Cambridge put on Reading during the first half. Cambridge took plenty of time trying to construct some moves playing it from left to right and then back again, but they were getting closed down almost instantly by the Reading midfield and they away side struggled to break through. When they did manage to get in the box Mackie and Viveash were more than capable of clearing up any danger. At a goal up Reading were more than happy to allow Cambridge to enjoy a bit of the ball, and it was clear we weren't going to be in for a big goal win - instead a sensible approach to collecting the three points.

Just after 15 minutes Jones fired an excellent drive into the bottom right corner of the net - however play had already been stopped well before hand for an offside. After a long spell without any real chances Reading made it two-nil ten minutes before the break. Robinson got down the left wing well, beating his man and then sticking over a great cross to Parkinson who had managed to get himself all the way forward and into the left of the area. The ball and Parkinson found each other and the ball flew into the back of the net. A beautiful goal to make it 2-0 at half time.

Almost straight after the break Reading had the chance to seal victory. The ball was played into the path of Cureton who made a dash towards the area, just right of centre, with the Cambridge defender. With the two players side by side Cureton broke into the box before going down after contact from the defender. With the linesman flagging like a nutter it was judged that the contact was inside the box. The away side weren't too happy - but it made no difference. Cureton stepped up to take the penalty kick... and didn't even get close! After watching fans at half time taking penalties and sticking them all away, it was a bit disappointing to see Cureton's spot kick well wide of the base of the left post.

Shortly after that Robinson set up Butler again for what should have been the third goal. Butler did all the hard work to get to the edge of the box in the centre, but then failed to play it to his right after drawing two defenders. Cureton, unmarked on the right just inside the box and onside could only watch as Butler drove a tame shot straight at the Cambridge goalkeeper. After Reading had failed to wrap up the game Cambridge saw their chance to get back into it and enjoyed their best spell of pressure of the game so far. After a good ten minutes of pressure they were unlucky not to pull one back.

The Reading defence looked all over the place as Cambridge threw players forward - luckily Whitehead had everything under control. Firstly he tipped a header just over the bar, and moments later pulled off a great reaction after a volley from the left side of the box - well inside the area. Although he didn't have much to do in the first half Whitehead was more than making up for it - not only pulling off the two blinding saves but coming well to cleanly catch some dangerous balls played into the Reading box. With Cambridge looking like they might get back into the game Reading started fighting back and the game really picked up. The referee helped out with a couple of really stupid bookings - for example booking Butler when he was walking away after a Cambridge United player took a free kick early and deliberately kicked it at him... The East Stand started really getting behind the team, and they responded with a third goal.

With twenty minutes to go we won a free kick in typical Caskey position just outside the box on the left. Hodges, Gurney and Parkinson gathered around the ball. Parkinson to stand in way and either Hodges or Gurney to put in the free kick. All of a sudden, and to our total surprise, Gurney strode up and fired in a low free kick that flew across the ground, through the wall and tucked itself delightfully into the bottom left corner of the Cambridge net. The home fans loved it - but not as much as Gurney who legged it to the East Stand to celebrate in style after scoring his first Madejski Stadium goal for the Royals. 3-0 and the game won.

In the end this was just the performance we needed. Cambridge didn't look a bad side even though they failed to create that many chances and, excluding a long spell in the second half, we looked tight at the back and strong in midfield. Up front Butler and Cureton will be disappointed they didn't get on the score sheet, but it's great when three non-forward players can get the goals. Parkinson must take man of the match - especially after so many people had started writing him off.


Following report from Neil Cole:

Reading were back to their best at home today, and went some way to repairing the damage caused by the two successive defeats that preceded this meeting with Cambridge United. The home defeat to Colchester seems a long time ago, and we were helped to forget that woeful performance with a comprehensive home victory which keeps us in touch with the leaders. Another three goals today takes our home tally to an impressive 32 this season; if we could begin to match that with our away record, promotion would be a certainty.

The starting line-up was sure to raise a few eyebrows, as captain Darren Caskey was dropped and was forced to watch 87 minutes of the game from the bench. Caskey has not been particularly effective of late, as speculation surrounding his future seems to have had a negative impact on his game. There have also been rumours of an attitude problem, rumours which were strengthened by Caskey’s substitution at half-time against Colchester, and his appearance in the reserves in mid-week. It seems ever more likely that we will lose Caskey at the end of the season, after five years of inconsistent performances from the former Tottenham man.

The postponement of the Bournemouth match meant Ricky Newman’s one match suspension was carried forward to today, and robbed Reading of one of their players of the season so far. Fortunately, the suspension coincided with the return to fitness of Matt Robinson. After a successful appearance for the reserves, Robinson was in the starting line-up today at left-back, with Andy Gurney switching back to the right. Caskey’s place on the right of midfield was taken by Sammy Igoe, deservedly back in the starting eleven after several good substitute appearances.

Any doubts over whether Reading could re-discover their scoring touch were removed within the first minute, as the Royals took the lead with the first attack of the game. As a cross came in from the left, Cambridge’s last man stumbled in the box and Adi Viveash was free at the back to head Reading into the lead. Viveash’s second goal for the Royals was of great importance, as the early goal restored the team’s confidence in its own ability. Statistics show that when we have scored the first goal, just two points have been dropped all season. That was at Wigan away, one of the toughest fixtures of the season where the eventual point we gained was a creditable result. It seems that once Reading have taken the lead, it becomes very hard for any team to stop them going on to take all three points.

The rest of the first half was dominated by Reading, and Cambridge were forced to defend in numbers to stop the game becoming a rout. Martin Butler was kept very quiet, and was unable to score against his former club. Yet today showed that we do not need to rely on the strikers, and when the second goal came it was from player of the month Phil Parkinson. The veteran midfielder has proved that he is still a vital part of the team, and there is every chance of him winning a second championship medal with the club this season. The goal was again the result of a cross from the left, with Parky heading in from the near post.

Despite the scoreline, as the second half got underway it was the Cambridge fans who were making all the noise in the stadium. They were further encouraged by a penalty miss from Jamie Cureton, who shot wide after Martin Butler had been brought down in the area. Regular penalty taker Caskey was still on the bench, but Cureton looked confident as he had scored plenty from the spot for Bristol Rovers. Yet the miss indicated perhaps it might not be our day after all.

Encouraged by their travelling support, United got into the game and came close to scoring on a number of occasions. For fifteen minutes, it was sustained pressure from Cambridge, and if it hadn’t been for Phil Whitehead it could have been a very different result. Whitehead had a superb game, and as well as making two excellent saves in the second half, he commanded his box brilliantly and caught every cross that came into the box.

Mid-way through the second half, the Reading fans finally got singing as they realised the game wasn’t over. The atmosphere for the last half-hour was excellent in the East Stand, and Cambridge failed to keep the upper hand for long. Although we had missed Caskey when it came to the penalty, Andy Gurney showed there is more than one player at the club who can take a free-kick. The usual Hodges dummy routine was followed by the ball being rolled out to Gurney, who blasted the ball into the bottom corner from thirty yards. Gurney looked as surprised as anyone that it had gone in, but you can be sure he’ll be fighting Caskey for the ball next time we get a similar situation.

The third goal killed Cambridge off, and for a while we threatened further goals. Tony Rougier came off the bench looking very sharp, and he nearly set up a goal with an outrageous pieces of skill. Rougier twisted past his marker in the left corner before firing the ball across the box and somehow evading the oncoming Reading strikers.

Reading stay fifth after this result, but move a little closer to the top four of Walsall, Rotherham, Millwall and Wigan. It’s back to the cup at York next week, but we must not forget where our priorities lie. Notts County the following week is far more important, and today’s result should encourage a few more Royals to make the trip up there.

Post Match Opinions

First the good things. The result was more important than anything else today and 3 0 at home was a good result. Secondly the goal scorers. It was positive to see players scoring who are not renowned for hitting the back of the net. Given those two factors, how was it that there was some concern from the fans about the performance.
Cambridge did not look a good side, in fact, they were mediocre at best with a poor defence. We had the benefit of an early goal, possibly too early, and should have gone on to take them apart. We simply give the ball away too often and too easily. Too many straight balls were hit to our front men. They were hit too often and mainly in the air. This is not the sort of service to bring the best out of them. Having said that neither had a stunning game. Both missed chances that we have come to expect them to convert. They also seem to operate too far from each other. This could be resolved if we had midfield players who were willing to link up with them, but both Jones and Parkie are essentially holding players. Hodges is unwilling to gamble and Igoe prefers to stay out wide. The balance of the team was therefore wrong. The man who we need to be playing in the centre of midfield is Caskey. He does need a covering player with him though, to compensate for the lack of pace and tackling ability! He is the one player who can consistently keep the ball and provide the sort of service to Butler and Cureton.
The other individual who can consistently weave magic and keep the ball is Rougier. The difficulty is finding a place for him, Caskey and Cureton. It would be very entertaining if they were all at their best, but if they weren't, our defenders would be hard stretched. Balance is the key with any team and it was good to see Robinson back as he is a key to adding that for us. This was not a balanced performance. Cambridge had more of the ball, Whitehead the busier keeper ( and dealt with everything very well), they hit the woodwork twice. But we won three nil and that is what counts. We must impose ourselves more on the opposition. Not in the style that gives away silly bookings, look at the count yesterday (only Butler's was wrong). What is needed is more pace and composure on the ball, a higher tempo of playing and then more pressure on the opposition when it is given away. It is a demanding physical pattern in terms of concentration and effort, but once achieved you can then let the football flow. There are much better things to come from our players than what we saw yesterday. It was a good performance at Walsall but no points, yesterday we were average and got the lot and, at present, we will all settle for that!

-- Ken

I was pleased that Reading got the result and three points against Cambridge, but I was disappointed by the manner in which the victory was achieved. Cambridge will play worse and win a game this season and I thought though Reading fort hard the general play was poor. Obviously Alan Pardew was pleased with the three points but he must feel in his heart that if we are to secure promotion the players must play the ball around and keep more possession. He cant con the fans, in the second half Reading hardly strung two passes together and continually put their own defence under pressure by giving the ball away. In that respect I am sorry to say Cambridge had by far the better of the play and possession and from where I was sitting if they had Butler or Curaton they may have made their neat passing count.Reading lack the ability at the moment to keep the ball and starting the second half with a two goal lead I would have thought they could have been patient in the build our play instead of playing the long ball from defence and giving it straight back to the opposition. Reading have got better opponents than Cambridge to overcome if they are going to see division one next year and if we give the ball away so much to better opposition I am afraid we will be punished as we were at Bristol City. I am not a football expert but I hope Alan can get them playing more economically by the next league match at Notts County or have I been watching too much Man U and is the second division all about kick and hope! What does Alan really think? as I don't believe he can be as happy about the play, as he was about the result. Anyway enough moaning as I know it is along season, so good luck Royals.
-- Paul

Man of the match for me was Phil Whitehead: two brilliant point blank saves in Cambridge's good spell in the second half, then saving Rougier's bacon with quick reaction to his under hit back pass. Then all thru the game every high ball cleanly taken, oh and one very good save to his right in the second half when he plucked the ball to the ground in textbook fashion. A close to perfect performance!
-- Glos Royal

Not the most beautiful game of football Reading have ever played, but it did the job. Whitehead was outstanding and Gurney had the best game I've ever seen him play. I just hope he can keep it up! By the way, do RFC hand-pick the worst refs in the country?
-- Nick B

Another great display from Phil Parkinson, I think his all round game has improved no end since Alan Pardew took over, and what a beautiful header for the second goal. I was also pleased to see Robinson back, it's great for the fans to have him and Igoe in the starting line-up, two players who aren't scared to run towards the opposition goal when they get the ball. Sounds obvious I know, but who remembers Tommy Burns tactics....'whenever we get the ball pass it sideways, backwards...in the stands....anyway but forwards.'
I hope Igoe gets more starts in the team as he is skillful and quick and I think he could develop into a real 'fans favourite'. Butler and Cureton seem to be in need of a bit of shooting practice, and it was frustrating how many times they needlessly strayed offside, I couldn't even moan at the linesman for most of the decisions....which was a shame! I could see they were having a few heated conversations with each other out on the pitch so I hope they can both build up a good rapport and start banging in the goals again to keep them at the top of the scorers charts. I do think Alan Pardew needs to sort out Smith and Jones, they seem to be more of a liability, I still can't see how Jones can get in the starting line-up as he gives the ball away so often, it's lucky that we've got Parkie there to cover up but he can't always be expected to be in two places at the same time. As for Smith, he really was lucky not to be sent off for his needless two footed lunge minutes after he took the field, I would love someone to write a report to this site and let me know if they have ever really seen him contribute anything positive.
There was a great atmosphere in the stadium in the second half, excellent to hear the crowd get behind the team when they went through a dodgy few minutes, it's nice to hear the away fans silenced when they start up 'You're supposed to be at home'. So, a good result, a really enjoyable game and a great atmoshphere....just a shame it wasn't Mates Day !!

-- Steve

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