(Half Time: 1-0)
Reading Scorers: Hodges (16), Cureton (60), Butler (72), Jones (87).
Grays Athletic: None
Date: 18 November 2000
Attendance: 5,643

Reading: Whitehead, Gray, Viveash, Mackie, Newman, Igoe (Gamble), Jones, Parkinson, Cureton, Butler, Hodges (McIntyre).
Subs not used: Howie, Rougier, Hunter.

Grays Athletic: Desborough, Risley, Taylor, Moseley, O'Sullivan, Dickinson, Feddis, Hazle (Snowsill), Wright, Wallace (Nesling), Hazleden.
Subs not used: Blaney, Prudence, Baker.

Bookings: None.
Referee: P E Alcock.

Reading did all they had to do this afternoon to gain a comfortable victory over Ryman Premier side Grays Athletic at the Madejski Stadium. Grays arrived as massive under-dogs for this FA Cup tie - around 90 league places behind the Royals and without an away victory in the league all season. Reading were always going to be winners, and although the difference in class was clear Grays certainly weren't disgraced after a decent defensive performance. Their travelling fans were brilliant, the 500 or so of them created all the noise throughout the entire match - in contrast a disappointing home crowd sat back in silence and watched their side never really get out of first gear. The game was far from being spectacular, and it was only late in the second half when Reading really started looking for goals that things got a bit more interesting. It took a full hour for Grays to get in their first shot of the game, and although that was a fair reflection of the play, Reading didn't create as many clear chances as they might have done - and even the clear chances kept sailing over the bar.

The first half was enough to make the few home fans wonder why they'd bothered with Grays continually frustrating Reading by defending far too well. The biggest suprise was that Grays were keeping the game tight in midfield as well as in defence giving Reading little space to move the ball around. Reading seemed to be finding it hard to break cleanly through so instead seemed to content to wait for the openings. Despite Grays getting to the ball quickly it was clear they were going to be spending most of the game chasing the ball, and the Reading player with the ball, around the park, and defeat seemed inevitable for the Essex side. Reading took sixteen minutes to take the lead, and from that moment it was clear Grays weren't going to be able to fight back against a side divisions above them.

With Caskey and Gurney out suspended Sammy Igoe and Stuart Gray started for the Royals - and it was an Igoe cross that set up the first goal. Sammy legged it down the left wing and whipped over a cross into the middle of the box. Hodges connected in the middle and sent the ball towards goal - but with the keeper in the way. The Grays keeper had been having a good game after clearing a couple of crosses and the odd corner well, but he failed to catch the ball cleanly and it spun under him and crept over the line. 1-0 to the Royals and early disappointment for the Grays fans - not that it stopped them singing.

At that point we kind of hoped we might bang in a few more goals, but instead the first half continued to follow the same pattern with Reading holding up the ball but failing to look as dangerous as they should against a non-league defence. Butler seemed to be having real problems with his marker who put in a good set of tackles on Butler whenever he got the ball. Instead of using the wings we semed to be working it through the middle to eventually run into a packed Grays defence who just wouldn't let us through. After every pass we'd be closed down again which meant although we kept posession we weren't going anywhere. Grays rarely broke out of their half, and when they did Whitehead only touched the ball from a back pass or for a goal kick. Hodges could have grabbed a second with a header from just inside the box which was narrowly over the crossbar. In the end Reading looked most dangerous from long range - we almost made it 2-0 with a Newman effort before the break - a powerful shot from well outside the area which the keeper failed to hold, but the post kept it out.

The second half continued the same.... Grays defending and Reading playing it around nice and slow. Thankfully after the hour things picked up with Reading creating double the chances than they had during the hour before, and Grays ventured forward to win a couple of corners and get in a couple of shots towards the end. On the hour Cureton and Butler were at last given on-side as they broke through the defence, and rather than hoof it over the bar Cureton took it into the box and fired it into the left side of the net. 2-0 to the Royals. Grays took the opportunity to take it straight up the other end and produce their first shot of the match - a long range effort well over the Reading crossbar. With Reading 2-0 up and Grays starting to tire after running around endlessly for the whole game we started to look far more dangerous, and it looked like we might get all the goals that we should have been scoring on paper.

Cureton fired a low shot in from the right that went right across the face of goal to Butler at the far post. If Butler had stuck his leg out it would have been another goal - but instead it flew wide to safety. Cureton set Butler up a treat again after racing through the middle and supplying Butler on the right inside the box. Butler should have driven it home with ease from close range but instead sent it flying over the crossbar and away. After being beaten too many times by his marker during the first half things weren't going well for Butler who couldn't beat the Grays defence until the 72nd minute when a Cureton cross at last saw him stick it in the back of the net to make it 3-0. Relief for Butler and relief for Reading with a scoreline that was a fairer reflection of the chances made.

McIntyre came on for Hodges and started suffering the same fate of being unable to get the ball in the net. Moments after Cureton raced past a couple of players into the box only to be tackled at the last moment McIntyre did the same. When he went over in the area it looked like it might have been a penalty - but the referee seemed to let it go. This was definately a game played in the right spirit - with no bookings during the whole game.

With time running out Grays had their best spell, both sides could relax a whole lot more and Grays won a few corners. Every time they won a corner it was like they'd scored - bringing a huge roar from the fans behind the goal. Reading defended the corners with ease and could have increased the lead down the other end with everyone having a go at scoring. Grays always got the better of the goalmouth scrambles with a defender always prepared to launch themselves in the way of a shot on target. Gamble came on for Igoe and looked very bright - he helped get the ball into the box more than a couple of times. The fourth goal game with a few minutes left, Parkinson cut the ball back from the right into the centre of the box to find Jones unmarked. And to sum up Reading's attacking display he drove it against the foot of the right post, but it span across the goal to creep across the line. 4-0 to the Royals.

At the end of the match the home fans let out their biggest chant of the afternoon - "Come on you Grays" as they fired over a last minute corner into the Reading box. For Grays to come to the Madejski Stadium and play against probably the best strike force out in the entire first round of the competition, and only lose 4-0 was quite some result. On another day Reading might have converted a few more of the chances created in the second half - perhaps because the game was already won Cureton and Butler weren't quite as careful as they might normally have been - everyone was firing shots in from all over the place towards the end rather than passing it to the unmarked man in the box. But Grays didn't deserve to get stuffed - they certainly seemed to put more effort in than Reading on the day. Reading have a decent chance of getting to the third round this season - and perhaps a big draw at home - but they'll need to have the right attitude as they travel up North for round two in a few weeks.


Following report from Neil Cole:

This was probably the easiest game most of the Reading players will ever play, against a team struggling at the bottom of the Ryman league. In contrast, this was the biggest game of Grays club history, and every one of their players and fans put everything into this match. The difference in class was obvious for everyone to see, yet the sheer determination of the Grays players meant the Royals struggled to break them down. Only a huge error from the Grays keeper allowed Reading to get in front, and this ended any hope of an upset as it became clear the non-league side weren’t going to score.

Alan Pardew resisted any temptation to field an under-strength team, an indication that the Reading management took Grays seriously and weren’t going to risk becoming victims of a giant killing. The suspended Andy Gurney was replaced at left-back by Stuart Gray, while Sammy Igoe came in for Darren Caskey. Butler and Cureton started together once again up front, and the Grays team must have been fearing the worst against the best attack in Division Two.

Yet somehow Reading failed to click in the first half, and didn’t create many real chances. Grays defended very well, and the only goal of the half came from a blunder by their keeper. A cross from Sammy Igoe was knocked goal-bound by Lee Hodges, and the shot which really should have been saved was somehow fumbled over the line. It would have been easy for Grays to collapse after letting in such a soft goal, but full credit to them for sticking at it and keeping the Royals out until half-time. The Reading attack had been anonymous in the first half, with Butler being marked out of the game, and Cureton hardly getting a touch.

It was inevitable really that as the Grays players tired Reading started to find some scoring chances. They added three in the second half, but it really should have been a lot more. Jamie Cureton started to look lively, and was involved in at least six golden scoring opportunities. He converted his first chance early in the second half, as he ran on to a through ball and comfortably beat the keeper. It was three soon after, as again Cureton was found unmarked and this time he crossed for Butler to tap in from close range.

The misses started to mount up towards the end of the game. Butler fired over after more good work from Cureton, while Cureton himself wasted another chance by firing wide instead of passing to the unmarked Butler. Another of Cureton’s crosses rolled agonisingly across the box, with nobody in the right place to knock it in.

Grays had a small amount of pressure towards the end, earning a couple of corners and having a couple of long range shots at goal. Yet they failed to get anything on target, with Phil Whitehead having the easiest match of his career.

The highly rated Joe Gamble was introduced towards the end of the match. He has been impressing a lot of people this season, and is a potential star for the future. Understandably, Pardew didn’t want to risk starting any of the youngsters today. However, it may have worked in our favour if he had, since players like Gamble have something to prove and would put in more effort than the first team did. This was evident in the ten minutes he was on the pitch, as he made more of a contribution in that time than Jones and Parkinson had all game.

The fourth and final goal came right at the end, with Keith Jones getting his first Reading goal. His shot from the edge of the area rebounded off the inside of the post and into the net. The scoreline was far from the humiliation which I’m sure some people were expecting, and Grays deserve a lot of credit for keeping it down to respectable levels. It’s probably York away in the next round, and while that should be a tougher proposition than Grays, Reading should be in the hat for the all important third round.

Post Match Opinions

I remember wathching a game in the '80's between Branfoot's hoofers and a Sunday League XI and this game had a similar feel. Eleven plucky part-timers doing their best to contain eleven disinterested professionals. Fair play to Grays because they defended well as team and threw bodies in the way when needed. It's impossible to read anything into the Royals performance. To win comfortably without making any real effort can only tell you something about the gulf in ability between the two teams.
"Cheer when we score" sang the "lads" in the north-east corner. 2 comments to make on that: 1) When the opponents are so weak the fans are fully justified in making as much effort as the players 2) There's no glory or pride to be had in gloating over the win against such weak opposition anyway.
It was just a job to be done.

-- Mad Gerald

Brilliant, What an advert for cup football! Played in the true spirit of the game, All credit to Grays and their supporters. The score could have been in double figures but for some fine defending and more accuracy in front of goal.
What a shame that Jones got on the score sheet sadly it means he will be picked next week when he clearly deserves to be dropped, He was more lost out there then any of the Grays players!
Thanks again to Grays for making it an entertaining afternoon.

-- Pete

As a Grays fan who was at the game I'd like to comment on how superb the Reading stewards were. I've travelled all over the country following West Ham and have witnessed a lot of stewards causing ridiculous problems for themselves by their heavy handed approaches to fans standing/singing etc. Your boys obviously appreciated what a special day it was for us and just let us get on with having a laugh and trying to make it as memorable as possible for all the Grays players who got us there. Good luck in the cup, and thanks for the memories.
-- Chris, Grays, Essex.

A "doing the necessary" performance yesterday. Reading had the necessary players to out-score but not out-class to much Grays who put up a spirited performance. All credit to them as they closed us down at every oppurtunity and flinging themselves in the way of the ball whenever a Royals player made an attempt at shooting. The referee was a bit dodgy in places but overall he didn't do a bad job keeping the game flowing whenever possible. An apathetic performance from the Royals' fan today, but I think that was due to the quality of opposition, with the occassional drum beating. However, if Reading 4-0 on the pitch the Grays fans won by at least double off the pitch, singing their hearts out all the way through the match. Anice gesture by ourselves, cheering on the Grays team towards the end, when the game was won, and in some respects I would have liked to have seen Grays score, purely to give their fans something to take home with them. Also a nice gesture was at the start and end of the match by the Grays players - kicking balls into the stands at the start and applauding the Royals' fan at the end.
A poor game, played in good spirits - what the FA Cup is all about for the non-league sides. Lets hope for a good result up at York (who beat Radcliffe 4-0 today), a nice draw in the third round and a working tannoy system against Cambridge!

-- reading_fan - Shropshire Royal

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