STOKE CITY 0 READING 0 (Half Time: 0-0)
Stoke City Scorers: -
|Date: 13 January
Reading: Howie, Gray, Viveash, Hunter, Newman, Parkinson, Caskey, Murty, Cureton (Butler), Rougier (Jones), McIntyre (Hodges). Subs not used: Howie, Igoe.
Stoke City: Kristinsson, Hansson, Dorigo, Mohan (Thordarson), Gunnarsson, Thomas, Kavanagh, O'Connor, Gudjonsson, Thorne (Dadason), Cooke. Subs not used: Clarke, Muggleton, Petty.
Bookings: Kavanagh (Stoke) McIntyre , Viveash (Reading)
A much changed Reading side ground out a goal-less draw at promotion rivals Stoke, to earn a valuable point and restore some confidence among the players and the fans. While a 0-0 is never an ideal result, the clean sheet may be just what our defence needed, after a number of very shaky performances which have seen us leaking far too many goals. It certainly wasnt a boring 0-0, and an attack-minded Reading midfield line-up had the better of the game and could have earned all three points for the Royals.
Alan Pardews starting eleven included a number of surprises, most notably that Martin Butler was dropped for the first time this season. When Butler was left out at Hereford, everyone assumed the 14-goal striker was being rested. However, it appears he is instead paying the price for a number of below-par performances, as today Tony Rougier was started up front with Jamie Cureton. Pardew has clearly shown this season that nobodys place is guaranteed, as Butler joins both Cureton and captain Darren Caskey in being dropped after hitting a poor run of form. Hopefully, Butler will respond as well as the other two have done, and will reward Pardew for his brave management policy.
With left-back Matt Robinson out injured for up to eight weeks, Stuart Gray was given another chance in the back four. Pardew had the choice of Gray, Gurney or Haddow for the role, and his choice was perhaps surprising given the consistent performances put in by Gurney this season. However, Gray showed he deserved his place today, with a good performance within a generally solid back four. For a team that have been letting in so many goals recently, the defence played with a surprising air of confidence and resilience. This was the most encouraging thing about todays game, because if we can get the defence working as well as our lethal attack, we all know Reading are easily capable of getting promoted this season.
The midfield was one of Pardews most attacking selections of the season. Hodges and Smith were both left out, as Graeme Murty and Jim McIntyre were brought in to play on the flanks. Darren Caskey was given a rare chance to start in the middle, alongside the ever reliable Phil Parkinson. This was a clear response to the Millwall shambles, when our defensive midfield had failed to perform and we were easily beaten.
Reading got off to a good start, and had a couple of early corners after a spell of pressure. Rougier looked determined to do well against his former clubs biggest rivals, and had another good game despite the barracking from the Stoke fans. As had happened at Hereford, most of our attacking play came from Murty and McIntyre out wide, with Rougier running all over the place. The Stoke defence was much improved from the shambolic 3-3 draw at Madejski though, and we struggled to create any real openings in the first half. The best chance came from a long range effort from Phil Parkinson, who is starting to get a taste for goal after netting 3 times already this season!
Towards half-time Stoke came into the game more, but their pressure failed to produce a shot on target as Phil Whitehead was never tested in the Reading goal. Murty and McIntyre showed they were willing to help out in defence more than Igoe and Hodges ever do, strengthening their case for regular inclusion in the side.
The second half was much the same story as the first, as possession was very even with neither side making any clear-cut chances. Tony Rougier had one of our better opportunities, but his unchallenged header was too weak and was easily saved by the Stoke keeper. Rougier was our best player throughout the match, and he fully deserved the ovation he got from the Reading fans when Keith Jones replaced him towards the end of the game. Martin Butler was also welcomed on when he came on for Cureton with 20 minutes left.
With the game still at 0-0, both sides looked determined to get the first goal which was likely to be the winner. There was some rare aggression from Darren Caskey, as a foul on the half-way line led to a mini punch-up between the two teams. It was nowhere near Bristol Rovers scale though, and thankfully both sides continued with eleven men. Caskey can consider himself very fortunate not to have even been booked though, as the ref chose not to take any action.
Caskey almost scored with six minutes left, from his usual free-kick move. While the other Reading players pretended to fight over who was taking it (to the amusement of the Stoke fans), Caskey stepped up and curled his shot just the wrong side of the far post. There immediately followed a heart-stopping moment at the other moment, as a scramble in the Reading box led to muted penalty claims from the Stoke players and fans.
The ref again waved play-on though, and he eventually ended the match with the score still goal-less. The Reading team should be very encouraged by this performance, as we kept one of the better Division Two sides very quiet on their own territory. The Stoke fans were silent, and the fact that we didnt hear a single rendition of Delilah shows how Reading were on top for most of the match. We now have a series of matches against lower opposition, and a run of wins is badly needed to keep our promotion hopes alive.
Report by Neil Cole.
Post Match Opinions
Interesting to look round all the fans' faces today. Before the match
started a lot of worried looks, noone really smiling. At half time lots
of anticipation. At end of match slight disappointment but satisfaction
at a solid performance. Truth to tell this is not a match that will linger
in the memory but Stoke had a string of good league results behind them
and noone needs reminding about our bad patch. We did the business without
being spectacular. Parkie seemed to be everywhere. He stood tall in midfield,
almost scored with a cheeky lob from near the halfway line and got himself
into great positions in the Stoke box. Whitehead's kicking was still suspect
and Hunter hoofs as always but both defences smothered attacking play.
Brave decisions made by the manager before the match. To leave Butler
who, in the early part of the season, was undoubtedly Reading's best player
was a brave move. The danger with Cureton and Rougier up front was that
the ball would come back even quicker. Murty was rewarded for his good
performance against Millwall with a start, and Jimmy Mac replaced Hodges.
The other change was Grey in for the injured Robinson.
A new year, new hope, same old bollocks.
I was the guest of a Stoke fan and sat in the main stand (quietly!).
The home fans were pretty miserable and if Stoke play like that they will
drop out of contention- they were awful. Reading looked so much better
at the back compared to the comical defending against Millwall. If only
Parky's effort from 40 yards had dropped in the goal instead of landing
on the roof of the net. Royals had some good chances towards the end and
they were definitely the better team. With Butler and Cureton getting
back in form, Parky in the midfield and our solid defence (?), division
1 here we come. Is it my eyesight or is Caskey putting on the pounds again?
I don't know what game Russ was at, maybe he didn't make it to the
ground and had to listen to Radio Stoke's commentary or if he did make
it then his journey put him in such a bad mood that nothing short of 10-nil
would please him. I didn't think this was a bad performance, not good
just satisfactory. It gave a lot of hope for the future; this line-up
played more as a team than last Saturday's squad. For me the mid-field
-played well, plenty of commitment, even Caskey was tackling back!
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