(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: Harper (60 mins), Butler (80 mins)
Rotherham Scorers: -
Date: 3 March 2001
Attendance: 13,103

Reading: Whitehead, Robinson, Hunter, Whitbread, Murty, Parkinson, Caskey, Harper, Cureton, Butler, McIntyre (Rougier). Subs not used: Hodges, Gurney, Howie, Mackie.

Rotherham: Pettinger, Artell, Scott, Branston, Garner (Bryan), Talbot (sent off, 35 mins), Watson, Hurst, Warne, Robins (Barker), Lee (sent off, 90 mins). Subs not used: Connor, Sedgwick, Wilsterman.

Bookings: Lee, Scott, Talbot, Warne (Rotherham)
Referee: F G Stretton (Nottingham)

Reading took another great leap towards automatic promotion this afternoon with a vital victory over second placed Rotherham United at the Madejski Stadium. It was a game the Royals had to win to close in on second place - and it was achieved by another decent team effort. A decent crowd of 13,103 saw the Royals move up to third place in the table - just two points away from automatic promotion with a game in hand. The win means Reading are undefeated in eight league games - the Royals have gone from outsiders to favourites to grab second place in a matter of weeks with an amazing six wins from seven league games - taking 19 points from a possible 21.

At the end of the ninety minutes it was a comfortable victory against a Rotherham side that failed to live up to their potential as one of the Division's form sides. There's no doubt that the deserved sending off of Talbot on 35 minutes gave the Royals an advantage, but Reading put in a good second half, despite the odd scare, to take the full three points. When Rotherham's second player was sent off right at the end of the game, Reading had already won the full three points. Rotherham should look back and regret their negative tactics that may well have cost them the game.

With Keith Jones ruled out of the game suffering from flu, new signing from Arsenal, James Harper, stepped straight into the starting eleven. With Viveash out suspended Barry Hunter made a return to the centre of defence. The first of these players, Harper, was to put in an impressive performance with contributions that helped win the game - including his first ever competitive goal. Meanwhile Barry Hunter made enough mistakes that could have seen Rotherham get back into the game when the Royals moved a goal ahead. Rotherham got off to a decent start in a fairly even first half. Despite never really troubling Whitehead they won a series of free kicks right on the edge of the Reading box. If Rotherham had had Darren Caskey in their side they might well have taken the lead midway through the first half from a free kick just outside the Reading area. As it was Whitehead was able to claim the ball well.

The first real chance of the game fell to Martin Butler after Caskey crossed the ball from the left inside the opening ten minutes. Butler collected the ball well just inside the box on the right - but his shot was weak and saved with ease by the Rotherham goalkeeper. Moments later their goalkeeper started showing all kinds of nerves. McIntyre did well down the left to send over a great cross finding Caskey well inside the box on the right. Caskey's header lacked any real power, but the keeper made a real meal of it as it headed for the bottom corner of the net. Reading should have taken the lead a bit later when Martin Butler send an easy shot way into orbit when he really should have got in on target. Down the other end Rotherham were restricted to a few corners which they seemed to do nothing with and then were forced to make an early substitution as Garner went for a shot and was blocked, resulting in him falling to the ground in obvious severe pain. He was quickly taken off the pitch on the stupid golf buggy thing - and left the ground at half time in an ambulance with a suspected broken leg.

That was bad luck for the visiting team - however the incident just after the half hour that saw Talbot sent off certainly wasn't bad luck, and Rotherham only had themselves to blame for being reduced to ten men. Parkinson was fouled just outside the Reading area, but Talbot continued playing to slide through Matt Robinson off the pitch. With Robinson down he then seemed to give him a bit of a kicking and the odd punch for good measure. It was as clear a red card as you'll ever see and the referee was waving his red card in the air while Talbot continued to administor a bit of a beating on Robinson. Eventually Talbot was restrained by his own team as he threatened to attack anyone that got in his way.

As the second half got underway there was only one team in it as Reading went on the hunt for the early second half goal. It took Rotherham a good five minutes to get the ball out of their half - and when they did it was soon returned as Whitehead pumped it up pitch. Rotherham seemed to be after a draw at this point - switching to a 5-3-1 formation with plenty of men back as Reading pushed forwards. Reading had changed tactics as well with plenty of play coming out of midfield and down the wings looking to get the ball into the middle. After a first half that could have swung either way until the sending off, Reading were starting to look good for the win as it seemed only a matter of time before we'd score. Caskey and Haper were looking a great combination in midfield - with Harper delivering some great long balls to players feet - the kind of passes you'd expect Caskey to deliver. Down the wings both Murty and Robinson were looking pacey and willing to take players on.

Jamie Cureton was set up by Martin Butler not long into the second half after a cross from the right. Cureton looked like he'd stick it away with a close range shot - but the ball was saved by the keeper's legs. Moments after that Jamie Cureton came charging through the middle and had Butler to his right with acres of space - it looked like he might return the favour by setting up a chance for Butler. If Cureton had knocked the ball to his right Butler might well have stuck it home. Instead Cureton's long range shot was well wide. Reading's continual pressure paid off on the hour though with a series of corners on the right. The first corner didn't find its way very deep into the box and was scrambled out for a second corner. The second corner was fired in - and again wasn't properly cleared as it bounced out to Harper on the right corner of the Rotherham area. Harper smashed the ball goalwards, and it went flying into the left corner of the net through a crowd of players. 1-0 to the Royals, a vital goal and Harper's first ever competitive goal. It must have been quite a feeling for the player.

Reading then went on the hunt for a second - and we almost had a repeat of the first goal after winning a couple more corners on the right. The second corner came to Harper in the same position - but this time he was closed down too quickly by the Rotherham defence. However, with Reading a goal up the game certainly wasn't safe. Some crazy defending by the Royals could have let Rotherham draw level. Parky, who otherwise had a great game, tapped the ball back too short, and then failed to hold his player back despite trying, leaving Rotherham a clear run on goal. Luckily the shot was rather crap - and Whitehead didn't even have to make a save. Not long after that Barry Hunter was having a go - failing to put in any kind of challenge when he should have done and leaving the whole goal to shoot at. Thankfully Rotherham clearly haven't been practising shooting skills in training and the ball was sent into orbit into the 700 or so travelling fans who were starting to really not enjoy their day out. Not wanting to be left out Whitehead was guilty of a couple of poor clearances that led to a few more Rotherham attacks.

With Reading just a goal up and still over ten minutes to play it was nervous moments for the home fans who were in good voice, urging the Royals to score the second and put the result beyond doubt. Anthony Rougier, who had come on for Jimmy McIntyre, almost did exactly that after jinxing past two or three players on the left wing and cutting dangerously inside the box. It looked like he might go all the way but was charged down when he went to shoot. Not long after that, with ten minutes left, Reading won a free kick on the right edge of the box. Caskey lobbed on over to the far post which failed to find a player - however it was ordered to be taken again. On the second attempt Caskey successfully found Martin Butler at the far post - who connected a treat to send the ball into the back on the net. 2-0 to Reading, and plenty of singing "we are going up!".

With time running out Rotherham made it worse for themselves when a second player was shown a red card for a second booking. The linesman saw Lee elbow Whitbread in the head - so it's hard to argue with the decision. However, Rotherham didn't see it that way, as the player took an age to leave the pitch and then at the end of the game a full scale fight almost broke out. The Reading players were trying to applaud the East Stand for some superb support - but the away side seemed more keen on starting something, until they eventually went over to applaud their travelling fans who had made the long journey expecting something a bit more special from their team.

Following report by Neil Cole:

Another fantastic set of results today, as Reading's win over Rotherham closes the gap on the second automatic promotion spot to just two points. With our promotion rivals all in such poor form, Reading have timed this spell of victories to perfection, and are looking increasingly capable of maybe even winning the championship. It wasn't long ago that a play-off spot seemed the best we could have hoped for, after a spell of games in which we won only two out of seven matches. Yet the players have responded brilliantly, and if this form can be continued we could be champions come May.

This match was billed as the biggest of the season so far, as second placed Rotherham visited the Madejski Stadium on the back on five consecutive wins. However, it soon became apparent that Rotherham's lofty position is a poor reflection on the quality of Division Two, as the Millers were one of the dirtiest and least skilful teams the Royals have faced this season. Rotherham finished the game with just nine men, as their negative and physical approach to this game only resulted in a series of cards. Two were sent off for violent conduct, and another two were booked for shocking challenges.

It's hard to tell how much of a difference the two red cards made to the game. The second dismissal was right at the end of the match, but that was after Talbot had been dismissed after just half an hour for an attack on Royals left-back Matt Robinson. Bizarrely, Reading had been the better team before the first red card, while Rotherham had their best spell in the second half when they were down to ten men.

Reading made two enforced changes to the side that had beaten Swansea at the Vetch a week earlier. Adi Viveash began his two-game suspension, allowing another return to the side for Barry Hunter. While Hunter has been much criticised this season, we have now kept clean sheets in the last five games he has started, which is a good reflection on the way he and the defence as a whole have improved recently. The other change came in midfield, where new signing James Harper made his debut in place of the flu-ridden Keith Jones.

At just 20, Harper looks a great prospect for the future and another quality signing by Alan Pardew. It was hard to believe this was just his fourth professional appearance, as he produced a mature and influential performance in the middle for the Royals. If we are to lose Caskey at the end of the season, Harper seems a perfect successor to lead the team in the middle, and he produced the kind of performance that Caskey would have been proud of today.

For all Reading's early pressure, the game remained goal-less as a number of chances were missed. The Royals finishing was poor, as Butler and Caskey were both responsible for weak efforts after finding good positions. Rotherham struggled to get into the game, and their cause wasn't helped by a serious looking injury to Darren Garner and then the dismissal of Talbot. It was still 0-0 at half-time, but Reading could have been justified in feeling very confident coming out for the second period.

It was clear that Rotherham intended to go on the defensive second half in the hope of holding out for a point. However, the Royals broke the deadlock on 60 minutes after a series of corners. A McIntyre cross found its way to Harper on the edge on the area, who fired a low shot into the corner of the net. Harper had marked his man-of-the-match performance with his first senior goal, and judging by today it could be the first of many.

The goal marked a change in the game though, as Rotherham abandoned their defensive policy and Reading started to panic. It was all Rotherham for the next twenty minutes, as the Millers sought an equaliser. Reading somehow held out, and eventually killed the game off with ten minutes to go. A twice-taken Caskey free-kick picked out Martin Butler in the box, and he looped his header over the Rotherham keeper and into the net. The relief around the ground was immense, as Butler's goal ensured the Royals move up to third in the league.

The frustration began to show in the Rotherham players, as they realised defeat was now inevitable. The second red card just before the end of the game was the final straw for the Rotherham players, who seemed to lose the plot after the referee had blown for full-time. Instead of retreating to the dressing room, they stayed on the pitch seemingly intent on starting trouble with the Reading team and the match officials.

The Royals didn't let it bother them, as they could begin celebrating a sixth win in seven games. Elsewhere, Millwall failed to beat nine-men Peterborough at home, and Walsall lost again. Reading's current form, combined with the apparent weakness of our rivals, has restored our championship ambitions. With two games in five days coming up, things could be even better this time next week.

Post Match Opinions

Oh my lord! If this is anything to go by for the rest of the season, we'll all end up nervous wrecks. Although comfortable in the end, for a twenty minute period after the first goal, I thought here we go again. There looked like only one team scoring - Rotherham as the nerves in the crowd, which was palpable, seem to spread to the pitch and the players. Why did we sit back so much, Whitehead seemed to almost crap himself with his kicks, though it was so funny when he nearly decapitated the Rotherham forward. The relief when Buts goal went in for the second was enormous. There were spells when we played some great football, all be it against ten men after their psycho got sent off. He'd have whacked the ref if his players had not stopped him. Rotherham clearly came for a draw with the intention of kicking us off the pitch. Well they left with, very sadly a broken leg and two key players suspended for vital games. With a bit of luck the whole squad and their wanker of a manager Ronnie Moore will have caught the flu as well. His go at Whitbread after the game was a disgrace and he started the near riot. He should be reported to the FA. What a signing Harper looks like being, bloody brilliant I thought and clear man of the match. The rest of the lads done well, with yet again Twizzle Hunter doing well supported admirably by Murty who surely must go down with the flu if not injured soon. This will be "make or break" March. To be in the position we find ourselves is almost unbelievable, and this is where our big squad will prove priceless . Roll on Wycombe and lets make as much noise as possible. You bloody beautiful RRRZZS!
-- Nick Newbury

What a cracking game! Good crowd, Harper scores and more importantly 3 points. Harper oozes class. Another good buy. When we went 1 up... started to have kittens every time Rotherham went forward. Luckily they didn't put it away. Couldn't see what the first sending off was for but credit to Rotherham as they seemed a decent side. Royals supporters can pat themselves on the back for getting behind the team creating a fantastic atmosphere. More of the same for our last remaining home games. We are nearly there.
-- Justin

Days like this are to be savoured. Another abysmal set of results for the promotion rivals, a new signing who impresses from the start, a physically strong side against us who get caught out and a result that sets us up for a great season finish. Its six years since I enjoyed a season so much. Great to hear Rotherham moaning about the sendings off, good refereeing from my point of the East Stand. If you try physical stuff you deserve to be found out so don't moan about the match being spoilt. Only a couple of Death Wish moments from the defence who shut down Rotherham most of the time. And with Harper in the middle it looks like pace is at last being found. How we missed a couple of chances I do not know, but if you start to create a lot then you miss some. Wycombe on Tuesday - I can't wait. And who amongst us will dare to watch Wigan on Sky! Be there and enjoy.
-- Bucks Royal

Living away from Reading has meant that the last time I saw them at home was Millwall...a major disappointment to say the least. The results around that time were iffy, and to be fair play-off looked dodgy let alone automatic promotion...however, a really solid run and some real focus has seen us move closer (with games in hand) to 2nd spot and straight up! Today's performance in my opinion has reinforced that belief, although early set piece activity from Rotherham, and a couple of free kicks conceded around the box made for a nervy start. The first sending off was justified and summed up Rotherhams physical and pretty negative approach overall. Funny, that a work colleague from up North and a Rotherham fan sent a note through basically saying that a draw would be a sound result for them. Anyway great result for Reading, good debut for Harper, and I thought Martin Butler's goal was just reward for his work rate and contribution through-out the game. Big week ahead but confidence has got to be high!.
-- Nigel. (Royals fan Chippenham)

You could write a book about this game, but I just want to say a few words about what happened right at the end. I don't want to harp on too much about the second sending off. I had quite a good view from the West Stand, and it certainly looked as if Whitbread had every reason to go down like a sack of potatoes. The linesman was perfectly sighted and, although we might not always respect the officials' decisions, we have to abide by them. But what really got me was how the Rotherham forward concerned, and (more importantly) their manager, weren't prepared to do so. In my opinion it was absolutely disgusting the way in which, the moment the final whistle went, he charged to the other side of the field to "do" Whitbread. All managers take liberties with how far they're allowed to stray from the dugout, but this was taking the piss. There was enough ill-feeling between the players already by this point, without a highly-charged situation needing input from a moron like him who should be setting a good example. Thankfully Mad Dog was alive to what was going on and went straight over to defuse the situation. Weíre often quite a placid lot in the West Stand but we were furious about all of this; goodness knows how those in the East or South Stands might have reacted to this manís outrageous behaviour. Fans have cleaned up their act recently and so should clubís management and coaching staff. As far as Iím concerned the only reason this idiot should be allowed back to Reading is to face charges of inciting public disorder, which I can only hope the Stadium Management or the Thames Valley Police see fit to bring against him.
-- Kris, Muswell Hill, London

FIRST HALF: BORING! One of their players stretchered away with a broken leg.....I hate it when that happens...and I also hate those who scream abuse when that happens...the guy is in a serious amount of pain! Then one of their players clobbered Matt Robinson and earned himself a straight red for his troubles......he was very unhappily removed from the pitch by his team mates screaming at the fans and players alike! Rotherham down to 10 men and the second half begins. Few chances here and there and rotherham were never going to lay down and die! Instead they thought they'd try and make us do just this by clattering all of our players! Corner in from Caskey fumbled around until Harper takes a swing......into the bottom left hand corner.....THE MAD STAD GOES ABSOLUTELY BARMY! And Brad goes even more barmy cos he had a quid on Harper to score first @ 14/1.....£15 in store for me as well. Butler scored the second but for the life of me I can't remember how....too much adrenalin I suppose....That sealed it 10 mins from time....then in the final minute they lost another player.....can't remember why! But it landed up in a big scuffle at the final whistle....I'm never gonna be a journalist at reading....but do I care? NO! Third in the table with second looking a distinct possibility and the possibility of the title in sight as Millwall seem to have hit a low patch as well....does life get any better? We'll see on tuesday! G'ARN URZ....God my throat reeeally hurts!
-- Brad

What an atmosphere, what a match, and what a result! It's getting better and better. The new boy Harper had a good game. He looked comfortable on the ball, worked hard and scored a good goal. More importantly he looks as if he has the legs to get up with the strikers to give them support. The defence were superb, Murty gets better each game and well done to Hunter who has had a rough time, but displayed a lot of character to put in a good performance. Rotheram were a hard, well organised team who kept going. They were perhaps too hard and two of them just lost it and deservedly got their marching orders. Even when down to ten men though, they still played with two up front for quite a while, till we threatened to over run them. The only gripe about our performance would be the fact that we did not create more from open play, and Whitehead's kicking. He was their most potent weapon. His handling was flawless though! we have now put ourselves in a good position. Other results really went for us yesterday. We need performances like this through till the end of the season. We need to convert more of the chances that we are making. We need to relax more on the ball in the last third. But as long as we keep winning, who cares at the moment?
-- Ken

Lots of plus points - Harper, who looks a class act and tireless running from Murts and Butler. The defence also looked solid for the most part. Good turnout too. But what were we doing after the first goal? We sat back off them, marking far too deep and the defence looked like scared rabbits every time Rotherham came forward in search of an equaliser. It was hard to tell which team had 10 men for 25 minutes or so. Also, too many chances in open play missed by Cureton and Butler. Caskey needs to lay off the pies and he and Robinson's lack of pace were a tad worrying. My first game for a while - they kept losing whenever I went earlier in the season, so I stayed away for the sake of the club! Glad to have broken that curse. I can hold my head up high in work this week, with Bristol City having a run of bad luck and Rovers hovering above the relegation zone. What a shame!
-- Simon, from Bristol

A very good team performance,with plenty of effort,but above all skill. Rotherham were very disappointing, but who cares about that. It was good to see Murty play well in a Reading shirt, it was long overdue.
James Harper is class, a fantastic signing by the club as we needed something extra in the middle of the park,and poor old Parky needed the help. Now cureton and Butler should get some much needed ammunition for them to fire on all cylinders. All we need to sort out now is our corners, terrible!
Well done lads.
Pardew now has a team selection problem, I think Viveash and Newman should play at Wycombe in place of Hunter and Caskey.

-- Terry

Young James Harper looks to be a great signing. Pards said on the Club website that he 'liked his arrogance on the ball'. So did I. Why then did Pards tear a strip off the player on the same website for 'showboating' after his fine performance against Rotherham? He likes 'arrogance' but not 'showboating'. Hmmm, I wonder what the difference is? I can't say I noticed James indulging in this practice, unless Pards is referring to the rather annoying farting about in the far corner that he and Dazza were doing to waste time at the end. I am all for a manager keeping a young player's feet on the ground but I wonder what the lad made of the manager's public rebuke. I (and everybody else it seems) made James Harper the clear man of the match and I sincerely hope that Pards isn't thinking of bringing Jonesy back in his place on Tuesday or Friday. Jones is a useful man to have in the squad but he doesn't have the pace, skill and confidence shown by Harper, who surely must now be first choice. We have been in desparate need of another good attacking midfielder. Hopefully Harper's the man, and hopefully Pardew won't squash his spirit.
-- Mista Kook

I agree with Simon from Bristol who mentioned that Caskey needs to lay off the pies - the guy is completely off the pace of the game half the time. We are still creating more chances than actually scoring which is not entirely a bad thing but not when you are hanging on to a 1-0 lead. Thanks Butler! Harper looks like a really good player and his goal was a brilliant strike. Whitbread had a good second half. Murty also played well but I can't see why he was bought as a fast, attacking winger!? The Wigan game should be quite a game.
-- Nathan

I just hope Pardew gives Harper a decent run in the team especially after his great performance yesterday. Pardew chops and changes too much when he has no reason to, for example I'd liked to have seen Igoe play a few more consecutive games too. Harper seems just the sort of player we need, he held the ball up and passed to feet well (we were becoming a bit of a long ball team, especially when Hunter plays) and was all over the pitch, supporting the front two and what a great goal on his debut.
A really good team effort, Murty played well at last, but there were a few nerves and the old tendency to defend too deep after going ahead led to a few nervous displays mainly from Whitehead, Hunter and even Parkie of all people. I think the squad is looking good now, maybe one more central defender to cover while Adie Williams is out injured, Viveash and Whitbread look good but my only moan is Hunter, his aimless hoofs and punts are doing my neck in.
Mind you, you can't argue with clean sheets It was certainly a good feeling to beat Rotherham, they were dirty and negative and didn't take the defeat well at all...very satisfying. The antics of some of their players were a joke and their Manager was a disgrace at the final whistle, I thought our players handled it all very well and Whitbreads celebrations when he went off must have echoed the feelings of every Royals fan in the ground.

-- Steve W

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