MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

Reading: Little (2 mins), Hughes (22 mins).
Grimsby Town:
Keane (90 mins).
Half Time: 2-0
Attendance: 20,273

DIVISION ONE  26 Apr 2003
Pos Team P Pts GD
3 Sheff Utd 44 77 +19
4 READING 44 76 +13
5 Wolves 45 75 +37
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Williams (Newman 8), Brown, Shorey, Salako, Little (Cureton 69), Harper, Hughes, Chadwick, Forster (Henderson 46). Subs not used: Ashdown, Sidwell.
Grimsby Town:
Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Young (Chettle 63), Gallimore, Campbell, Bolder, Cooke, Keane, Hockless (Thompson 56), Sagere (Mansaram 56). Subs not used: Allaway, Parker.
Reading: -
Grimsby Town:
Campbell , Keane
Referee: G Hegley (Bishop's Stortford)

What a long way Reading FC have come this season! This victory secured Reading's place in the First Division play-offs, with two games of the league season still remaining. The two fixtures of the season remaining - visits to Watford and Stoke City - will determine our form as we enter the play-offs and will decide who we will face in the semi-final but nothing can get in the way of Reading having a go at promotion to the Premiership. We're in the play-offs and that's a massive achievement that seemed entirely unthinkable at the start of this season. There's a lot to be done still if we are to go up for the second consecutive season - but we've already done a massive part of the job by securing a top six finish.

This was a strange game though - the club billed it as a massive play-off party - but it seemed more like a training game with Reading seemingly certain to pick up the three points right from kick-off. It wasn't the greatest spectacle with the pace never really getting going, but it was a good demonstration that Reading are a class above a side like Grimsby that are on their way down to Division Two. The visitors were already relegated before the game and chose to rest a couple of players and bring in a couple of youngsters. In contrast Reading brought back John Salako into the side in place of Ricky Newman and it was immediately clear Grimsby weren't going to get in the way of a Reading victory. The experience of Salako overshadowed Grimsby after just a couple of minutes when he got down the left and broke through the defence to put over a low cross to Glen Little on the right. Little drove the ball across the goal and into the back of the net to put Reading 1-0 up, and you could sense that the game had already been decided that early on.

Glen Little's goal must have been a massive relief for him after a series of disappointing games after arriving on loan from Burnley. He's struggled to show his best form at Reading and probably had his worst game yet on Monday when Reading struggled so badly at Portsmouth. However, after hitting the Royals into an early lead, Little had an excellent game in the Reading midfield working hard and creating some good chances by keeping hold of the ball and laying off some nice passes. The entire Reading side looked a whole lot more tidy than it did on Monday - gone were the dodgy passes and continual loss of possession. Instead we looked comfortable throughout the game and throughout the side as we strolled to victory. Reading followed up the first goal with the first corner of the game and then an Andy Hughes effort that was just over the Grimsby crossbar. Adrian Williams was replaced within the opening ten minutes due to injury - hopefully this was just a precaution to keep him available for the crunch play-off games. Williams took his place on the bench and didn't look obviously injured as Newman took his place in the centre of defence.

The lead was doubled on twenty-two minutes when a decent passing move saw Chadwick work in from the right and cross to Hughes in the centre of the area. Hughes hit it low into the bottom left of the net and Reading were 2-0 up, with no way back for Grimsby. Reading dominated the rest of the half with Murty and Forster both forcing saves out of the Grimsby goalkeeper. Down the other end Marcus was having a very quiet game as the visitors failed to get in a single shot on target during the opening half. With such an early lead it would have been nice to have added another one or two but Grimsby did an excellent job of packing their defence and concentrating on keeping Reading out.

The Royals seemed to ease off in the second half with the game already won and any tension absent with Reading's place in the play-offs already booked. The huge crowd of over 20,000 were happy to sit back and contemplate the forthcoming play-offs and the team were content to take things carefully and not do anything stupid that could pick up a booking or an injury (excluding Jamie Cureton's exchanges with a Grimsby player at the final whistle, which seemed out of keeping compared to the rest of the game). Henderson had a disappointing game after being given a full half to do something after replacing Forster at half-time. He worked hard and managed to get himself into a couple of open shooting posibilities - but he really should have tucked a couple away and instead just poked a few tame efforts at the goalkeeper. Forster remains our most dangerous weapon up front with Cureton looking blunter than he has historically.

As Reading relaxed Grimsby gave their loyal travelling fans something to cheer about. After some decent football to play the ball out of defence they first hit the crossbar with a powerful effort and then pulled the score back to 2-1 with a well taken goal from the left. Reading may have looked a class above Grimsby today, but the visitors proved that they aren't as bad as their final league position will indicate. Excluding Reading's blistering start the visitors did a good job of containing Reading and showed some off some nice passing football themselves that earnt cheers from the home crowd. At full time the team and manager did a lap of the ground - and nearly everyone stayed to applaud the side. This was a long way from being the game of the season, and again perhaps we didn't take all our chances, but we won yet again to move back up to fourth position in Division One. Its been an amazing season-long performance and the people of Reading are proud of their football club. Premiership here we come?

Following report from John Wells
Reading set the tone for this game from the kick-off by passing the ball around for over minute before their opponents got a touch of the ball. Grimsby then took two touches to put the ball out of play for a Reading throw. Their third touch was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after an unmarked Little had put Reading ahead. It was not going to be a tough passage into the play-offs, and judging from the atmosphere nobody was expecting a hard game anyway.

The second minute strike from Little and Reading's second from Hughes twenty minutes later were evidence that Grimsby were ripe for a thrashing. It didn't happen, but I don't think anyone was too concerned as long as our opportunity to compete in the play-offs was not threatened. Hughes took his goal well. His run into the box was well timed, his first touch was good and his shot was low, hard and accurate. But where was the marking! Both goals were well taken resulting from midfield runs that nobody in the Grimsby side could be bothered to track. I suppose that is how you feel when you're going down. The exception was Keane who was lucky only to be booked once but showed more spirit than the rest of his team put together. As a Reading fan I didn't like what he was doing, but he scored a good goal when it was too late to matter and probably deserved his reward.

Reading were forced to make substitutions due to injury. Forster was subjected to a nasty challenge which forced him to withdraw at half time and left him limping on the lap of honour after the game. How on earth the foul went unnoticed and unpunished when it happened right under the nose of the euphemistically named referee's assistant we'll never know. (Why is it that week after week these men with flags choose to ignore quite serious incidents which happen right in front of then - often on the blind side of the ref?) Williams went off after eight minutes without looking seriously injured. Lets hope they are both fit for the crucial games. Adie's departure gave Newman another chance to show what a versatile player he is. His presence in the play-off squad is very reassuring because he so competitive, especially when the going gets tough as it surely will in the next two weeks. Henderson's second half performance was disappointing after his recent form but I think we will need him too at some stage.

The other change was to keep Cureton involved at a crucial stage of the season. He looked quite sharp, but his desperation to score adversely affected his judgement. He tried to do too much and nearly managed to get himself booked in the final minute. He replaced Little who appears to have finally settled into the side and had a good game.

There was no need for Reading to really turn it on today but there were some bright moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing Shorey turning Grimsby defenders inside out on a couple of occasions and there was superb exchange of passes between Little and Murty to send Forster free down the right wing mid way through the first half.

The players all deserved their applause at the end of the game but I am sure they have an even greater ovation awaiting them at the end of the season whenever that might be. All the other teams in the play-offs have several very experienced players, and some powerful strikers, which seems to make us the underdogs. However the Royals have pace and skill throughout the team, anchored by the experience of Brown and Williams. We have every reason to feel confident. After all, we have won a lot of games this season.

worthing royal
Great to get to the Play Offs with two games to spare, but it was a shame that the promised party atmosphere never stood a chance, due to a very lacklustre display by the Royals. Three points, and little to threaten us all afternoon should have given everyone something to really enjoy in a ground with over 20,000 fans in it. Reading did enough, but did not entertain. The second half should have had at least three Reading goals in it, but poor finishing left us with none. I know we had to ensure that we didn't throw it away, but Grimsby were never going to score three! As we have all said many times this season, the club has come a hell of a long way. Massive credit must go to the Chairman, manager, and all the players. It is still fair to say though, that our goal scoring record is pretty awful. Technically we play some nice football. Tactically we often get it right. For the watching public though, nothing compares to the elation that you get when your team scores a goal. Well done to all in reaching the dizzy heights of the Div 1 play offs. If we are to seriously think that we can win them however, I suggest the coaching staff keep the forwards behind after training over the next fortnight, and reminds them how to shoot on target. URZZZ!
ken c
This game was over after twenty minutes by which time Little and Hughes had finished good passing moves. Ideally we would have gone on and scored lots of goals but the desire and the finishing were not quite up to it. Earlier in the season the crowd would have got at the players but not yesterday. The game was a chance to cheer on the team who have done so well this year. In fact not only this year but the past three seasons have brought us the excitements and frustrations that go with watching a good football team. Play-offs, promotion and now the play-offs again. It is a tribute to all within the club but especially to the Chairman and the manager. Sometimes we foget how lucky we have been to have these two. We started the season by being outclassed at Derby and look at the relative positions today. In yesterday's game we were a class above Grimsby who did try and play the ball around but were very poor in the first half. The only negative point from yesterday's game were the knocks picked up by Forster and Williams, surely our two outstanding players of the season. (Harper would get my vote for the most improved!). We would not want to go into the play offs without either of them. And don't those play offs look exciting. You can make a case for any of the teams, but let's concentrate on the nerves jangling at Wolves yet again, the fact that Sheffield United have played so many games this year and of course the inexperience of Forest. That of course leaves us - nothing to lose, out of the Cups early and been there before (don't mention that one too often though!)
thatcham royal
If only there were some way of getting Grimsby a wildcard entry to the play-offs. They were one of the worst sides (excluding the crap that Burns used to field) to play at the Mad Stad. I said before the game an early goal would see them collapse. I don't know if it did as we only saw Reading play for the first minute, before the goal went in. That killed the game off and unfortunately the atmosphere. It was blatantly obvious to everyone that we would win. Grimsby just couldn't offer anything. Lucky really as some relegated sides come out fighting. Just looked at Sheff Weds! In the end we played out the game comfortably and created more chances than you can shake a stick at. Ok we could have scored more, but we didn't need to. The next 2 games we need to keep injury free and prepare for the play-offs. Still can't believe we are there. What an achievement. I don't care who we get. I don't think it matters. They will all want to play us (the weaker team) But we've beaten them all once before, we can do it again. As long as they all write us off, we have a strong chance of going all the way. This team proved this season that they don't choke. The only potential downer is that the Stoke game is HUGE. Brighton will surely beat Grimsby, meaning Stoke have to get something from us. If they don't they will go down. Anyone remember the last time they got relegated (with Man City) Full scale riots ensued. I think I'll be packing my Nike running shoes....
nick newbury
This should not have happened! Talk about arse about face, instead of getting a win that secures another season in division one we stroll to a win that secures us a place in the play offs and we find ourselves on the brink of something quite unbelievable, the promised land that is the Premiership. A truly staggering achievement for all the players and Pardew and his staff. Grimsby were quite awful and having been relegated last week you can understand the way they played but 5-0 at half time would have been fair. As it was, all that mattered was that we won and hopefully Ade Williams and Fossie going off were precautionary after minor knocks. Great crowd but again not much noise, I've always thought the club made a bad move from the start by not making the North Stand the new "south bank" where all the singers, nutters and reprobates can sit together. Most grounds have "an end" where all the noise generates, we don't, nit picking I know but true. Looks like it will be Wolves, a win against Watford or Stoke will ensure we have home advantage for the second leg , though with our home record I'm not sure if that's a good thing , but it would be a massive advantage to be at home for the second leg. Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. These play offs are so different from the previous two heart breakers, in the Bolton nightmare year we finished second in the league and were favourites as we were two years ago in Cardiff against Walsall. This year there is no doubt we are the underdogs, and although the other three clubs in the play offs are arguably "bigger clubs" with bigger support, all bask in the glory of past history and by gone days when many of our fans were not even born. They all crave a return to the big time, but when they were there it was a different world, for Wolves and Sheff Utd it was black and white telly and 5 bob to get in! It may be hard to believe but Reading FC are getting ready for the new world, we are a progressive club on the up and the foundation is being built. We are a couple of seasons ahead of schedule, but we have got there on merit and so deserve our chance. We have young hungry players who are desperate to show what they can do on at the highest level, our rivals have got there with Premiership cast offs reaching the end of their careers. Are we ready for the Premiership, do we have the players, of course the answer is no not yet, but this is an amazing game and anything can happen. Yesterday we were playing a load of useless fishermen while Bolton who mugged us eight years ago were playing Arsenal in a Premiership thriller. That could be Reading FC next season playing the Gooners, just imagine it, oh lordy. We have the infrastructure, the stadium, the fan base, the surrounding big businesses and the chairman, it is possible. Finally, after my comment to the Pompey lot last week that I had more chance of pulling Miss World than they have staying up next season, I'd like to thank the Pompey fan who arranged a date for me at Reading Station last Monday night with Miss World, but sadly she never turned up!!! I was distraught!! Come on URZZZ!!!
joe royal
This was by no means a great football game to watch however it gave the players and staff a chance to take a well deserved lap of honour or 'a chance to say thanks' as Pardew put it (thanks and please buy a season ticket kids). After 20 minutes the game was won and Reading just concentrated on seeing the game out without pushing themselves to much. The relaxed atmosphere gave an invitation to showboat and the Royals more skillful players duly accepted. No more than Nicky Shorey who again showed us his potential with some impressive quick feet. A little more self belief and aggression going forward and he can become a great full back. Even Steve Brown, excellent in recent weeks, uncharacteristacally tried a cheeky nutmeg. This club is moving forward at an astonishing rate. I hope with Pardew at the the helm this momentum doesn't begin to slow too soon. That said I'm entering the play-offs without a great deal of optimism. Maybe thats because I'm a reading fan or that I don't want to be dissapointed. It's probably a dangerous mix of both. Pardew doesn't need me to tell him what a bloody good job he's done this season, so I wont. Well I just did so bollocks to it, PARDEW IS RATHER GOOD. Lets hope we give it a good shot in the play-offs and we can say we tried our best and were not shit. Hope is wonderful. Perhaps I'm too pessimistic but I just can't jump on the 'Reading for Champions League' bandwagon. Its instinctive behaviout to anyone thats seen a Reading team in a play-off final or two. Next week we have the chance to relegate Stoke and if we don't do that then Brighton go down. Then we'll buy Zamora and he can come to the big club he's been craving. I suppose optimism is quite fun after all.
craig beazley
Reading did all they needed to do really against Grimsby, the poorest side to visit the Madejski this season. Reading totally destroyed Grimsby in the first half, and showed there true class. It could have been more than 2-0 at half time, but Danny Coyne (who I rate as one of the better keepers in this division) pulled off some good saves. Second half was less intresting, as Grimsby really had admitted defeat, and really just tried to keep the score down. In the last 10 minutes however, the Mariners had a real go at us, and Terry Cooke's shot that cannoned off the crossbar should have lit the warning lights. Reading seem to have come to the conclusion they had won, and the Mariners fans had something to cheer about at the end of the match. Pardew's side must nopt sit back in the playoffs which we sit in, with three huge sides. Sheffield United is the one to avoid, as I believe they will attempt to get to Cardiff after two very unlucky outings in both the FA Cup and the Worthington Cup. Wolverhampton Wanderers have picked up in form, but could find the playoffs a tricky test. They haven't fared too well against top table oposition this season, and could struggle, even if the results have been in thier favour recently. Nottingham Forest are the one to get. They are a very very good side, but I believe there dip in form going into the playoff's will continue, and they will have to win thier last game of the season to give them the confidence to go into the playoffs as a force. Personally, I believe if the team give 100% each and play to thier limits, we will be a Premiership Side next season, and can beat any of the three sides listed above... but as in the past, we have found out the nerves really do get to you in competitions like this... we really want Nottingham Forest in the semi's. If we grab a draw at the City Ground, we can always beat them at the Madejski... past the Semi's... the Final in Cardiff is just a one off lottery, but surely this time will be third time lucky.
caversham royal
Ok, firstly I'd like to echo all those who've said what a massive achievement getting to the play-offs has been, and great credit must go to Alan Pardew, Kevin Dillon and the squad for everything they've done this season. And I agree that going into the play-off as obvious underdogs does take the pressure of past play-off situations away. But if we're to succeed in the ambition to go up, then there needs to be a serious improvement on the lethargic rubbish I saw yesterday. Much was made on 'good old Berks' of the lack of atmosphere on Sat and the criticism was levelled at the fans as ever. But generating the kind of atmosphere seen most recently at the Forest game is a 2-way thing I reckon. Yes, the fans should get behind the team and this can make a big difference, lifting players spirits, spurring them on, etc, etc, but fans also need to see something to get excited about and make noise about. We got that against Forest with every player doing their utmost in what they knew was a vital game against quality opposition, but what we got Sat was the players looking like they just wanted to stroll through a match against the already relegated Grimsby. I know we got the result we needed, but the manner of the performance especially in the second half was more than a little half-hearted and casual. Even Grimsby started to realise they could actually get something from the game, and a better side could easily have exploited Reading's lethargic approach before Grimsby grabbed their goal. They had their chances before then and many were due to sloppy, casual passing and sloppy defending. I hope this changes in the next two games so we don't go into the play-off in this manner, or we may find ourselves doing so on the back of two defeats which will do little for confidence and morale. The team have proved that they can compete with and beat the other teams in the play-off frame, but we have also seen what said teams can do to us if we're not on top of our game. Come on Reading, don't ease off. Keep the momentum going and enter the play-offs at a run, not a lethargic stroll and we can make it 3rd time lucky. COME ON.....
chippenham royal
I'm not even going to comment on the game other than the fact it seemed more like a training session!- a great turnout, and with something more to play for i'm sure the atmosphere will pick up as well---lets face it after the 2nd minute it was all over. Well done Alan Pardew...your programme notes were spot on...whatever happens, this has been a terrific season for RFC..lets enjoy it, and lets hope we hold onto Pards as well. Much of our success is down to his management. Other clubs have recognised this, and RFC fans should not lose sight of that...
didcot royal
Is anyone else fed up of Radio Berkshire et al. constantly criticising the atmosphere and commitment of Reading Fans? The core base is growing and casual fans will become regulars if the experience is good enough. Core fans are vital to any club but to grow into a big Div 1 or hopefully premiership club, we need the casual fans to become regulars (or better still, season ticket holders). Slating the fans every time the crowd is not a fever pitch is not the right way for local radio, other fans and the local media to encourage this. The buzz at the Forest game was amazing and Preston was great but the atmosphere was bound to quieten as the team had half an hour without a goal against nine men but the radio lads started having a go at the crowd (as they ran out of things to say about the mediocre part of that match). We then promptly scored the 5th and the place went mad again. This was very similar to the Grimsby game which was excellent for 30 minutes and then went down hill until the final whistle. This was not surprising as the team had done the job against a poor Grimsby side (barring Santos and Coyne who looked excellent) and it was hardly a reflection on the crowd if they found it a little hard to cheer at sloppy passing and lack of finishing by both DH and JC. As Caversham Royal says it a two way process between the team and the fans. When this team performs or needs support, the buzz is there (even if it is not produced by 20,000 every time). The radio can be great and is usually supportive but these little comments crop up nearly every time I tune in. Welcome all fans every time they time they can make it, be it once a season or for every game.
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