Team: Hammond, Bernal, Swales, Williams, McPherson, Pri-mus, Parkinson, Lambert (Morley), Caskey, Glasgow, Meaker.
Subs Not used: Booty, Wdowczyk.
STAND-IN keeper Nicky Hammond came to Reading's rescue three times on Saturday during a dramatic first-team return. The first occasion was 20 minutes before the game when regular keeper Steve Mautone limped away from the kick-in with a knee cartilage injury and Hammond, 30, had to hastily deputise. The second came after 23 minutes when he sprang across his goal to turn Stewart Talbot's 20-yard shot around the post. And the third was in injury-time when he dived to his right to stop a snap shot from substitute Tony Naylor to make sure Royals earned the point that stretched their unbeaten run to nine games.
It was only Hammond's eighth senior appearance for Reading since he joined the club almost two years ago from Plymouth. For most of last season he was laid low following a career-saving back operation and, this term, he has had to bide his time while Mautone kept him out. That all changed when the Aussie keeper landed awkwardly on his left knee after fielding a catch from Hammond and he retired disconsolately to the changing room. Hammond said: "It was nice to be involved again after a year out, although it was a shame it had to come as a result of Steve breaking down. But I always prepare as if I'm going to play. I was a bit short of match practice, because the Capital League isn't the best of competitions, but the lads helped me get through it. I was pleased I got a clean sheet to keep our run going. Hammond's appearance came at a time when Royals were already reeling from two other pre-match injury blows".
Striker Carl Asaba failed a fitness test on a hamstring strain, then player-coach Ray Houghton pulled out after an Achilles injury failed to respond sufficiently to a cortisone injection. Eighteen-year-old Byron Glasgow replaced Houghton as Reading kept faith with the 4-5-1 system that served them so well against Norwich and Nottingham Forest. Glasgow, who travelled north thinking he would just be helping with the kit, only heard he was playing at 2pm. He told me: "I wasn't even expecting to be on the bench. But when I heard Ray was doubtful, I realised there were no other midfielders in our 16-man squad. However, I was still a bit surprised when I was told. Although I don't like to go on about my performance, I honestly thought I did okay and I enjoyed the match. Perhaps I could have done more going forward, but I was happy with the defensive side of my game. I thought I handled the occasion well".
The only other change was at substitute where last season's leading scorer Trevor Morley was included for the first time in seven months after recovering from a knee operation. He was preferred to Neville Roach. And Morley, 36, got the biggest cheer of the day from Reading's travelling fans when he came on after 74 minutes.He said: "It was good to be back and I nearly celebrated by nicking a goal. Thought we should have had a penalty as I reckon I was caught in the box. But it was not to be. The referee (George Cain) wasn't giving a lot, but I would have given it!" he quipped. Although I only played for a while, every little helps. It was a real confidence boost. When you get to my age you're never sure how your knees will hold up so every day I train and play is a bonus. Reading, who had lost on their last two visits to Burs-lem, began brightly enough on a dank afternoon and a slippery surface. They could have been excused for feeling their way gently into the match, yet looked more confident early on against a side unbeaten at home in their last six games.
Michael Meaker, who struggled to get much change out of Allen Tankard all afternoon, was brought down 25 yards from goal and in a central position after only four minutes.Darren Caskey's curling kick went just over the Vale wall but drifted inches over the bar as Vale keeper Paul Musselwhite back-pedalled. James Lambert, who also had a quiet game, pulled a left-foot drive wide after running at the defence soon afterwards. The impressive Phil Parkinson decided it was his turn to try a long-range effort, but his 20 yarder lacked the power and direction of his screamer against Wolves in the Coca-Cola Cup.
Port Vale struggled to find their rhythm against Read-ing's packed midfield and had to wait until midway through the first half before they had their first shot at goal.But it almost produced th opener when Talbot's well-struck right-foot drive was tipped away by Hammond. Former Oxford striker Martin Foyle was inches away from netting on 38 minutes when his left-foot effort was deflected just past a post. The same player struck a volley narrowly over after Lee Mills had nodded the ball into his path. Vale had the better of the second half as wingers Gareth Ainsworth and Wayne Corden just failed to find the target with good attempts. One of their best chances came on 63 minutes when centre-back Mark Snijders saw his close-range header slide inches wide. Hammond then redeemed himself for missing Matthew Carragher's cross by blocking Corden's follow-up shot.
The introduction of Morley added new life to Reading's play. Martin Williams had a header turned away for a corner.Then shouts for a Royals penalty were rejected when Morley went down as he tried to squeeze between two defenders. The former West Ham striker also had a shot deflected over by Neil Aspin as the clocked ticked down. But Vale finished the stronger as Naylor's low drive was held by Hammond after a surging run by Mills. A point keeps Reading safely above the relegation zone and ensured another clean sheet on their travels - their fifth in a row.
And here's a quick bit from 'The Sporting Life':
Reading boss Terry Bullivant was pleased after his side's 0-0 draw at Port Vale.
He said: "That's nine without defeat and I'm confident we can turn more of our draws into victories when our injury problems clear up.
"It was a blow to lose our goalkeeper Steve Mautone in the pre-match warm-up and it looks as though he will need a cartilage operation. But Nicky Hammond came in to do a good job and has a chance to impress.
"We held Vale at bay well and could have even won it when Trevor Morley had a chance late on."
Port Vale manager John Rudge looked back on the game and admitted: "It was a frustrating and disappointing game."
He added: "Reading played five in midfield to make it difficult for us to break through, but we can't complain. Its a formation we often use away."