MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

14 December 2002: LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
Reading: -
Sheffield United
: Harley (59 mins), Windass (76 mins)
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 18,534

DIVISION ONE  14 Dec 2002
Pos Team P Pts GD
5 Sheff Utd 22 39 +11
6 READING 22 39 +8
7 Wolves 22 36 +16
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Williams, Mackie, Harper, Hughes, Watson, Salako (Cureton 71), Forster, Rougier (Butler 71). Subs not used: Ashdown, Tyson, Newman.
Sheffield United: Kenny, Jagielka, Harley, Murphy, Page, Ndlovu, Montgomery, McCall, Tonge, Windass (Allison 84), Kabba (Asaba 69). Subs not used: McGovern, Javary, Kozluk.
Reading: Forster. Sheffield United: Harley, Montgomery.
Referee: M A Riley (Leeds)

Reading's fine run came to an abrupt end today with a victory which can be attributed mainly to the experience and tactical acumen of Neil Warnock. United had clearly done their homework. The Royals recent run has been based mainly on a solid defensive formation and the ability of the back four to support and contribute to the attacking play. This afternoon United pushed two pacy wide players forward to occupy Murty and Shorey and closed players down quickly in midfield. Consequently Reading had to resort to playing too many long high balls to an isolated Forster who was unable to win the ball in the air. Last week against Portsmouth Reading looked likely to score but today did not manage to produce a single shot on target.

United took control of the game from the outset and Hahnemann was forced to parry a fierce shot as early as the third minute. With three men pressuring the back four Reading were unable to settle into a rhythm and get into the game. A run from Hughes, and some good work by Murty and Rougier on the right were the best the Royals could muster. On the whole Reading's distribution was erratic. In contrast United passed and moved with greater cohesion. Reading's defence held firm with Mackie looking as sharp as anyone. A sweeping move from Reading produced an opening on the half hour but the shot from Hughes was blocked. As half time approached Reading started to give United something to think about, but the next meaningful strike on goal came from United when Hahnemann had to dive smartly to his right to scramble away a shot from Harley. For me the most significant indicator of how the game was going was that on three occasions the Royals were awarded free-kicks inside their opponents half and ended up being forced to pass the ball back to Hahnemann.

Reading started the second half brightly and there were moments of uncertainty in the United defence. The best effort in this period came from Forster when for once his pace took him clear of the his marker. Kenny was stunned by the pace and power of the strike and was rooted to the spot as it flew narrowly wide of his left post. At the other end United squandered a good chance.

On fifty-nine minutes United carved open the Reading defence with a superb piece of football. Murty committed to a challenge out wide and Harley skipped past him. Having left Murty floundering he played a one-two on the edge of the box and slipped the ball cleanly past Hahnemann. Pardew gave his starting line up just over ten minutes to respond but the equaliser did not look likely as United defended well and looked more dangerous than ever on the break. With just under twenty minutes left he replaced Salako and Rougier with Cureton and Butler but I don't think even he believed it was going to work. Cureton seemed to drop into midfield and disappear. Butler once again demonstrated that he is not the finished article and clearly not of the quality required to carry a team into the Premiership.

A disappointing afternoon was capped when a fairly harmless looking cross was nodded in from close range by Windass as Williams and Hahnemann stood by as bemused spectators. A soft goal which killed the game off. Those of us that did stay to the end left wondering what it might have been like with Upson around. Not a lot different I suspect! We were well beaten.

I hope Pardew does not abandon the system which has worked so well, especially away from home, but he will now have to think about how to change his tactics when faced with a team like United. Clearly when we are forced into playing long balls, as all teams are at times, we need a forward who is strong in the air and is capable of holding the ball and laying it off. Such a player is currently not in the squad. It must have been frustrating for Pardew to see his side struggle and not be able to make the changes required to combat the tactics of his opponents.

Looking at the fixture list over the next few weeks I would very surprised if we don't drop a couple of places. Unless we strengthen the squad I think tenth place is the best we can hope for this season. Not that I would complain about that. I'll be happy as long as the team continues to develop as it has so far this year. I also hope that some of the recently acquired additional fans will stick around through the next month or so because the team deserves to be well supported.
Report by John Wells

leicester royal
Great! There we were, tanking down the M1 from Leicester, when Alan Pardew comes on Radio 5. Asked about Reading's great run he says it's down to their ability to retain the ball. So we get to the Mad Stad and Santa presents JM with the ball. Then Reading spend the afternoon giving the same ball away to Sheffield United - I know it's Christmas, but come on! Harper, Hahnemann and Shorey shone in an otherwise lacklustre performance. Forster was cut off at source as Sheffield sealed up the middle and I don't know what they did to Rouge and Salako but whatever it was it worked - they were just not effective. Opposing teams are getting used to the way that Forster operates. In the end, Sheffield seemed to want the win more than Reading.
nick newbury
No excuses, best team won and nobody can say different. Shame it was last home game before Christmas, and like most games this month this was a massive six pointer. It would be so churlish to criticise the team after the recent magnificent run that sees us in our current top six position. The system of one up front has got us to this lofty height and the league table never lies, so have no doubt Reading's league position is thoroughly deserved. What will happen though if we persevere with a lone striker at home, is just what happened yesterday. Opposition teams will do their homework and play three at the back, three up front, put us under massive pressure and cut us to pieces at the back. How ironic that after so many clean sheets it was the defence who were to blame for both goals conceded. Their first goal must have consisted of three one twos with the defence looking like statues and when Ade Williams watches the reply of their second, he'll probably want to curl up and die. What the bloody hell was he doing ducking under the cross, if you didn't know better, you'd say he was on a bung for a Sheffield 2-0 win! One player deserves mention and that is John Mackie. He was under tremendous pressure replacing Upson, and I thought he had a super game, showing both great character and commitment, well played mate. We are not going to win every game. We are going to lose more games and perhaps having had a little taster of play offs talk and the hype that goes with it, we've become a little carried away? We clearly still need improvement and quality in a few important positions, but when all is said and done, only a lunatic would not be happy where we are in the league or have our accepted our current position at the start of the season. Let's see where we are at the end of February before we start singing silly songs!
y24 east
Cohesion. Quality, Confidence, Creativity, Understanding all of these were missing from a terrible Reading performance yesterday afternoon. Add to that another poor performance from a Premiership prima donna referee and it all adds up to a miserable afternoon. Reading were poor in all areas but in particular their attacking options were so easily snuffed out by what was only a workmanlike Sheff Utd team that it raises grave concerns not only about the quality of our squad but also for the remainder of the season. Playing 4-5-1 has worked well for us recently particularly in away games but yesterday it was almost embarrassing at times watching Nicky Forster trying to compete with 3 central defenders. It should be said that he didn't have much to compete for because the service coming in from either flank was virtually non existent. Sadly, Rougier was back in his headless chicken mode and on the other wing Salako was not much better. Just as worrying though is that even with the introduction of Butler and Cureton we still didn't look like we would score if we'd have stayed there all night! In midfield we had in James Harper probably the best player on the pitch from either side but apart from him we created very little. Kevin Watson gave the ball away more than he normally does but even his 'good work' only ever consists of knocking the ball sideways or backwards. He really needs to take far greater responsibility and look to deliver far more decisive passes! As for Hughesy, well for two home games on the trot now all he has done is run with the ball into blind alleys! Regarding the two goals we conceded. Give credit to Sheffield for their first because it was created from cohesive attacking pass and move football, (yes I know we gave the ball to them in the first place) and was finished with some quality. As for the second though, I'm sure most fans were very surprised by the lack of communication between Hahnemann and Williams which gifted Windass his free header. Just a note on John Mackie to finish with. It couldn't have been easy for him to come back in with all the hype surrounding the performance of the team with Matthew Upson in it but I thought over all he did very well and grew in confidence the longer the game went on. However getting involved in off the ball scuffles with the likes of Windass and Asaba particularly with a referee who likes to steal the show will ultimately only be detrimental to both him and the team. The onus is now very much on Pards to quickly get the team back on track as our fixture list over the coming weeks does not contain any fixtures where on yesterdays performance you could be confident of picking up any points. Come on URZs
caversham royal live in the world of Radio Berks. In the world of Pete 'spot the brain cell' Morris, and even Mick Gooding who I thought knew better, Reading played quite well today and were just beaten by a better side. I wish I was in their little world......In the one I was in today, we were pretty dire to be honest. The passing was very poor, a lot of players just were NOT putting in the effort, and going forward we had as much bite as an old dear who's had her dentures half inched. And in Radio Berks world, they even thought the ref did ok........God help them. I'm desperately searching for a positive from this game. Up until the second Sheffield goal, which was AWFUL, I thought the defence was doing pretty well with Mackie and Williams putting in pretty solid performances. But we just never looked like we could mount a concerted threat on their goal today. I felt very sorry for Forster at times, as he either watched the ball sail over his head or ran around up front ON HIS OWN chasing lost causes. Sheffield looked a fairly useful side, with a bit of pace up front and also showed what can be gained by being positive in attitude and style. For me, the game has shown that our defence can be fallible (we were always going to concede eventually, Upson or not), and that we still don't have enough going forward to compensate for going a goal down, let alone 2. Some of our other attacking options need to be explored. Forster needs support up front from a strike partner, not just the occasional run from the midfield if he's lucky. I started to wonder if his greedy nature isn't just because he doesn't actually expect there to be anyone else other than him up there...... Oh God, I'm sure I turning into Scrooge in time for Christmas I'm being such a miserable sod. Please RFC, bounce back with an improved performance against Forest to restore my Christmas spirit before my miserly negativity swallows me....COME ON.......
andy r
The run was always going to come to an end but it was the way we lost that anoyed me rather than the result. United had done their homework and had us trussed up like the proverbial Christmas Turkey from the outset. Murty and Shorey were pinned back and were barely able to get forward all game. They harried and pressurised us across the park as soon as we got possession, continually forcing us to hoof it upfield where forster on his own didn't have a hope in hell of retaining it. It was obvious after 15 minutes that 4-5-1 wasn't going to work for us against their tactics so why didn't pardew change things sooner. Why wait until we go behind before changing things. You could argue that it was just one of those days where nothing fell kindly for usand with a Ref who was never going to give us anything but thats a cop out. On the day they out thought us, out fought us, created more chances and deserved the 3 points. HOWEVER if we had changed things at half time and put on Butler up front in place of Rouge (who had a mare) I think we would have got something from the game. Fortune favours the brave and yesterday we were to timid.
Angry or disapointed? I'm both, at the poor performance that Reading gave, and their inability to get back into the game. I've always said, Rougier isn't doing his job. It looks pretty, dancing around with the ball at his feet, but he always gives it away. Obviously we can't hack it without Upson, he looked solid in our defence, and was a leader too. I wasn't impressed by the hoof and hope tactics we employed, they only work if we are considerably taller than the opposing team, and with Forster up front, we are not. We lacked creativity, and didnt exploit the gaps that Sheffield Utd left in the middle of our defence, if we're going to play down the wings, then put Butler and Cureton on, they work well like that, Butler recieving the cross and laying it off to Cureton to score. There was nobody in the box when Salako put in the crosses, so what happened, Sheffield United took the ball and quickly worked it into our area, threatening our goal. We gave away too many passes, we need to control the ball and then play, not heading it about until the other teams get the ball. Playing Rougier and Forster doesent work, as neither of them are good in the air, Forster is a runner, so we need to play it on the ground, with Butler there to hold up the play, waiting for Forster to run up, playing it through for him to have a shot. the midfield were too deep, they didnt push forwards, and we lacked energy. Making Forster run for balls that were going nowhere, inevitably tiring him out for when he did get a chance. Sheff Utd were good, I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but I feel that Reading could have done a damn sight more to try and get something from the game, we lacked desire, and when they scored, we got desperate to score, and just stopped playing the decent football that got us into the top 6. that was not a good advert for 1st division football for the kids who turned up on the kid for a quid deal, lets hope we havent scared them away. On a positive note however, Forster ran well, he was the best Reading player on the pitch, Hahnemann was good too, saving well, but his distribution lacked a little bit, it's usually better than it was today. My advice for Pardew is to play a 4-3-2-1,Forster up front, with Butler and Cureton behind him, pushing forwards when we are on the attack, Maybe playing Butler back a little, as i believe he could be a decent midfielder in this division. Lets Get it Right Against Forest.
emmer green royal
After that performance on Saturday I can only assume that Reading had their Christmas party the night before and were all hungover. I haven't seen such little effort from a Reading team in years. Radio Berkshireís Pete Morris seems to think we played well but were just beaten by a better team. Well if we play like that every week we will find that there are 1 or 2 divisions of teams better than us.
Yes we were outplayed on Saturday but letís face it, it wasnít a difficult thing to do. Had we performed as we did against Portsmouth I have no doubt the result would have been different. The problem is we are too predictable. Neil Warnock was quoted as saying about Reading ĎWe know how they play because they always play the same way.í This makes it clear that people know we are only going to play 4-5-1 and will prepare for it. Iím not a fan of 4-5-1 but it has been getting results as the players have been working their socks off but it looked terrible on Saturday. Forster was completely on his own which would be ok if the midfield were forward but they werenít and this left both the fullbacks with nothing to do except push up. Itís obvious what the affect of this was as Harley scored. If we had more than one person up front they wouldíve been forced to keep more players back. At the moment Pardew seems tactically naÔve. He found that 4-5-1 worked and stuck to it no matter what. I think that was a mistake. We need much more flexibility if we are going to beat the better teams. When he did make changes on Saturday (to 4-4-2?) he played Cureton in central midfield?!!! I know he is a relatively new manager and I think we should give him time to learn, but learn he must do if we are realistically going to go up again.
Although we have gone on a good run Forster has only scored 1 goal in 7 games now. A lot has been made of how good heís looked but goals are what wins games. Cureton was dropped after getting 0 in 7 so what about Forster? I donít think he should be dropped but the point is we arenít creating chances. Yes it worked with Forster for a while but thatís because to a certain extent he was an unkown quantity. What we need to do is learn to vary our tactics. If 4-5-1 isnít working go to 4-4-2 and vice versa. One last comment about Cureton. Some people texted Radio Berkshire slagging him off and saying that he should be sold. Personally I think we should do everything to keep him. In 110 games he has scored 52 goals. That is a very good strike rate especially seeing as 27 games heís been sub. Cureton is one of the reason why we got to the 1st division. Both he and Forster are needed if we are to go up again.
lower earley
" All Good Things Come To An End "
Lets not be too critical, we're in the top six for crying out loud. We'd have grabbed that at the beginning of the season. We'll probably snatch another win at Forest on Saturday and everything will be fine again.
alan p
With 4 out of 5 midfield players having mares, its difficult to see what Pardew could have done to change things.
One positive is the continued development of Harper - hopefully soon him with one other (probably Newman) could cope in the middle of the park, so allowing Pardew to play a second forward. I live in hope anyway.
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