Team: Hammond, Booty, Bernal, Davies (Thorp), Swales, Hodges (Houghton), Parkie, Lambert, Morley, Asaba, Bowen.
Men Of The Match: Cheltenham!
Reading survived a blinding second half performance from their non-league opposition to scrape through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. In the end Reading were just worthy of the victory - but only just - and Cheltenham can consider themselves very unlucky to not force extra time at least.
Reading fielded the same eleven players that blew the Swindon Scum off the park on Saturday, and for the first twenty minutes or so looked like they might dispose of Cheltenham with equal ease. However Cheltenham were successful in restricting the Royals to long shots and after they settled down almost managed to match the Royals.
For a while the gap of three divisions between the sides seemed obvious. Reading looked calm - knocking the ball around and pumping balls forward and attempting a string of long shots. Cheltenham looked like they might be over-whelmed. The Royals were showing bits and pieces of skill inbetween the hoofs while Cheltenham were content to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. They made a couple of mistakes and failed to break out of their half for long periods.
But in defence they were doing a top job. Lambert and Parkie both tried long shots that sailed over the bar. Then Cheltenham realised perhaps they didn't have so much to fear and there were signs of what was to come. Hammond was forced to make his first save of the match after 25 minutes. A move down the Cheltenham left found their forward in the middle. He hesitated and the shot was saved by Hammond. Moments later they hit the side netting and then that fat old bald bloke up front fired into Hammond from close range after breaking into the box from the right.
Despite all Reading's early control and possession it was almost against the run of play when Reading took the lead. A superb ball found Lambert on the right. Lambert played a low ball into the box. All of a sudden there was Morley moving like errr... shit off a shovel. He broke into the box between two defenders and fired home a low drive from the centre of the area into the left corner of the net. Relief for the home fans. 1-0 to the Royals.
The rest of the first half wasn't too exciting. Cheltenham failed to get much of the play and Reading were truely diabolical in midfield. I didn't realise Hodges was played and Parkie seemed very quiet compared to normal. So it was quite a relief when half time arrived. Reading failing to make their early supperiority count, then grabbing a goal, but overall looking bollocks. Cheltenham, despite a bright patch, looked unlikely to bring the game to life either.
Until the second half that this.
Whatever they had at half time it did the trick. Cheltenham single-handedly (or 22 footedly to be exact) brought the game to live and gave their 2,500 away fans a real treat as they took the game to Reading. All the nervousness that hampered their first half efforts had gone. What they lacked in skill they made up with effort. But Cheltenham also started putting together some decent moves, partly assisted by some dreadful Reading passing "attempts". If Cheltenham had worked out the offside trap they may have grabbed a few more before they got the equaliser. They had the right idea by playing the ball through but every time the flag went up - their story of the first half. However they started to work this one out. Cheltenham's goal came from a move down the left. The excellent cross was headed down to the left of the goal. And there was the aged Walker to drive it into the net. 1-1. The away fans started bouncing even more. And who could blame them. They deserved to bounce.
Then Davies had gone off and Thorp came on. The difference was immediately noticeable. Davies had been a wall in defence - how he cost just 100,000 we'll never know. With the game now tied and our defence looking vulnerable it looked like we had real reason to worry. Cheltenham started playing the ball around in true higher division style. Reading continued to look static and unconcerned.
Just after a Cheltenham shot hit the side netting Reading jumped into life a bit - fueled by the appearance of Houghton replacing Hodges. Houghton calmed it down - got the ball on the ground and his experience turned the game Reading's way. Reading's greater possession earned them quite a few corners. A load of wasted short efforts from the right were followed by a fairly decent one from the left. The corner was headed out - but only to Booty outside the area on the right. Booty hit it first time - his low shot flew through the crowd of players in the area and into the bottom left corner of the net. Reading fans breathed another sigh of relief. 2-1 to the Royals with 20 minutes left. But still the Cheltenham fans continued to bounce in numbers.
You might have thought Reading would make their advantage count and grab a few more to put the game beyond Cheltenham. But no. Swales seemed determined to score but his shots were closer to the corner flag than the target. Cheltenham's defence held up and Town went on the counter attack looking for a late equaliser to take the game to extra time. Again a shot was fired into the side netting, Hammond had to make a safe, and then the moment that Cheltenham fans will remember for ages. A low long range effort hit the inside face of Hammond's left post and back out into play. A few centimetres from pulling the score back level and a lucky escape for the Royals. Then the final whistle. The Cheltenham fans stayed to salute their players - as did a large section of the South Bank who were heared chanting "Cheltenham, Cheltenham..." as the ground emptied.
So Reading go through. It wasn't a good performance from us. At times it was us who looked a conference side. Very disappointing after the show we put on at Swindle on Saturday. Swales and Booty were OK. Bernal was a life saver (a number of times after Davies went off) with some vital tackles. Thorp will be disappointed with his 20 minutes or so on the pitch. Hammond looked nervy and Hodges and Archie looked out of it half the time. Reading now travel to Cardiff City in the Fourth Round this Saturday 24th Jan 1998. Hopefully they wont be as tricky as Cheltenham were.