MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

Reading: Cureton (13 minutes, penalty)
Davenport (74 minutes), Bothroyd (81 minutes).
Half Time: 1-0
Attendance: 14,712

DIVISION ONE   17 Aug 02
Pos Team P Pts GD
14 Ipswich 1 3 +2
15 READING 3 3 -3
16 Preston 3 2 -1
Reading: Whitehead, Murty, Williams, Mackie, Shorey, Igoe, Hughes, Watson (Parkinson 79), Salako (Rougier 76), Cureton (Forster 70), Butler. Subs not used: Henderson, Hahnemann.
Hyldgaard, Shaw, Davenport, Konjic, Gordon, Safri, Thompson, McAllister (Chippo 54), Eustace, Joachim (Bothroyd 56), Hughes. Subs not used Montgomery, McSheffrey, Quinn.
Reading: Butler, Shorey. Coventry: Bothroyd , Davenport , Shaw.
Referee:K Hill (Royston)

Considering Reading's difficult start to the season it must be a good sign that we're so disappointed to have only the three points so far. Before the season kicked off we might not have seen it as a too bad return after games with Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City. Two of those sides are likely to be making a return to the Premiership come the end of the season and we've more than competed in all these fixtures. The table above shows Reading in fifteenth place - a reasonably healthy start to the season. It remains disappointing however, because we could have won today's game and were definately good for a draw. This was a good performance from the Royals today and would have been a certain win last season against a team of less quality - but were were punished for being able to extend the lead after going ahead so early on.

Reading approached the game in entirely the right manner from the start and it was difficult to suggest improvements for the line-up with Igoe and Salako playing wide and Hughes and Watson in the middle. The central midfielders were to have an excellent game, particually in the first half, as Reading played some excellent football. We looked like a Division One side today and it was pleasing to see - despite the manner of the defeat. Hughes looked as determined as ever and went on some great charging runs through the middle of the pitch and at other times just did the job of keeping possession. Watson's passes around the park are sometimes unbelievable - he's a player for this Division who can create chances from nothing with one great ball. He nearly succeeded in that today with a long ball in front of Murty who nearly managed to get on the score sheet himself.

Up front Jamie Cureton remains the man and had another active game today. Cureton gave Reading the lead after just thirteen minutes. His third goal of the season, in just three games, came from the penalty spot. It was a strange penalty for the visitors to conceed. The ball came across the edge of the area and under little Reading pressure at all one of the three central defenders near the ball put their arm on it. A stupid penalty to give away and the kind of gift Cureton doesn't turn down. The penalty was confidently dispatched into the right side of the net. 1-0 to Reading. Either side of the goal Cureton could have been on the score sheet. Just before he sent a great header on target that required a save and just after he connected with a cross from the right and sent a difficult shot that was dipping in until the keeper made the stop. Cureton would have scored again given the chances but it was a first half of few clear chances with the majority of play in midfield as both sides showed some good passing football.

Down the other end Reading's defence looked solid as Coventry were restricted to a couple of long range efforts. However, they could have pulled level after breaking into the area on the right and firing a powerful shot across Whitehead. It looked to be going wide but hit the far post and went away to safety. Another rare opportunity saw the ball floated into the Reading area and needed Whitehead to tip it over for the corner at the last minute - a good save.

The second half continued much the same, but the game turned towards the second half of the half after a series of substitutions. Reading's substitutions failed to help our chances. On the other hand, Coventry's changes earlier in the half seemed to have the desired effort and earnt them two goals to turn the scoreline around. Reading had successfully restricted Coventry to long range efforts in the first half but our defence struggled in the second with a fast City attack. Shorey looked exposed a couple of times and it needed the ability of Mackie to keep Reading ahead. Mackie made a couple of superb goal saving tackles as the visitors so nearly broke through. However, they did break through with sixteen minutes left to play when the ball was crossed from the right with Shorey beaten. The cross was met with a good header in the middle, giving Whitehead no chance and making it 1-1. Coventry's second came with Reading still disagreeing with a foul given in the Coventry half. Parkinson was penalised for cleanly winning the ball and within moment it was worked straight up the other end and crossed from the left and stuck home. 1-2.

Cureton was replaced after being taken out with what appeared to an off the ball stamp in the middle of midfield - he seemed determined to have his revenge on Safri and Pardew seemed keen for him to not pick up a card or two! Forster came on and proved himself to be fit and capable of creating chances - but we lost the ability to add the second goal with Cureton missing. Butler continued to work hard to failed to work himself into the right place at the right time.

Salako, after a great first half, seemed off the pace a little when he was replaced by Rougier - but Rougier failed to get involved in the game despite running around like a nutter for his short time on the pitch. However, Reading really lost their shape and the ability to win or draw the game when Watson was removed from the action. Reading's ability to work the ball forward successfully seemed to vanish - and the limited chances were restricted to just the one. Right near the end when Reading were 1-2 down we should have pulled level. Forster did well to work his way down the left and cut into the area - he wasn't greedy and played a nice ball to Butler. Butler should have buried it and earned up a point - but instead sent the ball well over the crossbar.

This performance shows we have the basis of a good Division One side - but perhaps not a great one. It would be unfair to single players out but Butler seems off form. You can rely on Cureton to make the most of his chances, but Butler doesn't carry such a high hit rate. With our current squad we're not going to create chance after chance so it's hard to imagine a high scoring victory on the horizon. In defence the back four will deal with the average teams of the Division but are likely to slip up against some of the better ones. Igoe had an off day and seemed to want to go backwards to keep possesion rather than run forwards to create a chance. After starting the second half a goal up we seemed far too cautious and not keen to take risks by pushing players forward. Perhaps this is where it all fell down - it's just not safe attempting to hang onto single goal leads. Coventry weren't a patch on Derby today but remain one of the better sides this Division will offer - and we so nearly matched them today.

Following report from John Wells:
What a disappointing result this turned out to be although the first half performance from the Royals was very encouraging. Apart from a Coventry hitting the post on a quick counter attack, Reading , playing some quick incisive football, looked far more likely to score. Looking at the fixture list before the season began, I couldn't help feeling there was a possibility of losing our opening four games. However here we are with three points after three games and feeling disappointed because it could easily have been, and probably should have been, six points.

In sweltering heat Reading had losy that look of a side over-awed by playing in a higher division and took the game to their opponents. As early as the second minute Butler had his header headed off the line following a Williams flick from an Igoe corner. Coventry issued a warning by hitting the post a few minutes later but after that were restricted to speculative long-range shots from outside the box. Reading were playing good controlled football. They were holding the ball at the right time and hitting a good range of short and long passes. A perfect of example of this was a long pass driven diagonally out to the right by Watson to Murty who quickly rolled it into the path of Igoe breaching from midfield. Igoe's first touch put him into a scoring position and his fiercely driven shot produced a good save form the City keeper. A bizarre hand ball gave Cureton the chance to put Reading ahead from the spot and he put it away with confidence and style. Reading were deservedly ahead. Cureton almost made it two with a well controlled volley but again the save was superb.

Coventry enjoyed some long spells of possession and were helped by some sloppy Reading passing. City seemed to want to play the ball through the centre of the Reading defence. The Royals midfield and defence were playing well as a tight unit and always looked secure. I was impressed with Salako's defensive contribution. He closed down players quickly and made some good defensive headers.

The start of the second half was equally encouraging with Butler shooting just wide of the far post. Williams ran through the entire City midfield and defence before shooting tamely wide. Shaw was booked for bringing down Salako.

The last fifteen minutes were a nightmare. The decline started when Shorey failed to make a routine tackle wide on the left and then tried to compensate by hauling down Chippo. The free kick was whipped in and powerfully headed home by Davenport who was promptly booked for tossing his shirt into the crowd. Seven minute later it was all over, substitute Bothroyd shrugged off a challenge inside the box and from a tight angle blasted the ball inside the far post. Reading never looked like getting back into it and the substitutions certainly did not help. Rougier and Forster were easily stifled by a strong City back line and Parkinson, who was looking a little slow in Division Two, looked even slower today. Surely Harper is worth a place on the bench at least. He did make some naive challenges on Wednesday but he is a good enough player for this division at least.

Reading are going to find it tough this season and in spite of Pardew stating the defence needs strengthening, I think we are short of a forward capable of holding the ball and winning it convincingly in the air. There are some young players with potential that should develop into good players this season, but we will be scrapping for points after Christmas and might need a bit more strength and experience in all departments.

I can't see us getting any points from the next match so a win against Burnley will be crucial in restoring confidence. It has been a tough start but it great to be playing in Division One at last!

ken c
A great start but a disappointing finish.
Hopefully today we learned a bit more about what it will take to ensure a good season. We started magnificently yet again which was a credit to all concerned and looked dangerous. The first half belonged to the Royals although the goal that we did score was one of the softest penalties you are ever likely to see. Three Coventry players around the ball and one of them decides to use his hands. Cureton put the ball away well. Our weakness was our inability to go on and get the second. Although we looked more likely than Coventry to score, it just did not happen. Cureton was the most likely to hit the back of the net, but it did not happen. Towards the end of the half Coventry began to keep possession better and showed that they were still in the game. Hughes had hit the Reading post though I'm not sure if Whitehead got just the slightest touch on to it. The second half saw Coventry have more possession. They were more economical in what they were doing but you did not feel as if they were going to hurt us. The turning point was a free kick given away by Shorey which was delivered very well into the box presenting Davenport with a clear header that he thumped into the net. That gave Coventry the impetus that they needed and from then they were favorites as they raised their game and we struggled with ours.
The introduction of Bothroyd gave us more problems and another free kick was conceded which was quickly taken and we were behind. We then resorted to the desperate stuff and never really looked like salvaging a point from a game where we could have easily won all three. I thought that both central defenders played well today. Mackie is beginning to look not only effective but classy as well. We even saw Williams go on a mazy dribble into the heart of the Coventry defence. Murty and Shorey struggled in the heat to provide the support down the flanks. Hughes showed some excellent touches, and whilst Watson is not Mcallister, he too, had a good game. Solako and Igoe did not get in as many crosses as they would have liked. Solako did one bit of excellent defending in the second half. Bulter worked his socks off, but does not really look like scoring, Cureton looked like scoring but his play outside the box continues to disappoint! I think that the key today was two things.
Firstly both of their goals came from free kicks. One was needlessly given away, and we did not react quickly enough to the second. You cannot afford to give away two goals at home.
The second point concerns our style of play. When we play well, we move the ball and press the opposition. Today you could not press for 90 minutes because of the heat. We therefore had to tackle. Our midfield are not very good at this. This is not a criticism, it is just a fact. This means that when we have not got the ball we have to work harder than other teams. Coventry kept the ball a bit better than we did and therefore had more energy than we did.
Not a bad start to the campaign though, I think Leicester might be tougher!
nick newbury
Right then! Honeymoon over, this was three points in the bag thrown away all due to pathetic sloppy amateurish defending that wouldn't look out of place in the Reading Sunday league division 6! Up until nearly the 75th minute we looked comfortable and more than good for the three points, though we'd have more than likely settled for one point before the game. Coventry were by far the weakest of the three teams we've play so far. They looked very good on the ball but threatened nothing up front apart from a couple of opportunist shots. The defending from set pieces is a bloody joke.
Mackie is a very good player, but, captain he is not, nor is he a good defender of balls into the box. He's got a lot to learn though I do belive he has the ability to make the top. The first goal was absolutely pathetic, they should all look at the video of the free kick on Monday and hold their heads in shame. As for the Coventry second goal, yet another shambolic piece of defending, an absolute joke. Murty hasn't got over his summer holiday yet, and Williams continues to fart about though he didn't have a bad game today. Only Shorey seems to have raised his game up a level which is required if we are to do well. Up front we threaten but rarely put opposition keepers under pressure.
Sort it out Pardew! No more glib whimsical defending of your players, kick their arses and tell them to get a grip. My fear is, they are simply not good enough, though time will tell. Could anybody please tell me the logic of bringing Parky on with ten to go, we're really going to create more chances with Parky on the pitch. Finally while on the 'ol soapbox, what a pathetic crowd! When we played Peterborough for the last game last season we had over 22,000 to cheer us on into division one. Now we're in division one against a top side on a perfect day we get just under 15,000! What a joke. Nothing against the super fans who were there, but where were all the so called fans? Poor old JM must despair and wonder what he has to do.
Tickets too expensive? [yes! Graham]
So we march on to Leicester, knowing that unless we improve quickly, especially at the back, it's going to be a very long winter. We still need new blood to steady the ship, that's not knee-jerk stuff, just common sense. Name any other type of business where you don't invest for the future? Humble pie on standby, knowing us we'll win at Leicester now!
staines royal
The fact that the vast majority of the Royals fans stayed behind and gave the team a good ovation despite defeat said much about the performance. We were desperately unlucky to lose this game, in which we made a team composed from a good few million quid look fairly ordinary. The first half saw Reading come tearing out of the blocks and we were very good value for our 1-0 lead at half time. For all of McCallister's pointing and directing, his side struggled to attack with any real potency, the Royals however were possibly not rewarded enough for their efforts and should have 2-0 up or more by the break. Then Coventry came right back into it in the second half, with plenty of possession but still seemingly without the cutting edge....until bang, silly goal conceded....and bang another goal out of nothing. Another 'welcome to division one' moment! The defence has got to take the blame which was a shame because they were much improved compared to first two games. I agree with above - we all love Parky but why oh why bring him on when the game is still there to be won and Watson is having a blinder? We would have won this game last year but this is Division One, where we will be punished for mistakes quicker and will also face better standards of finishing.
Overall though, I feel its been a good start to the season. Pardew has moulded a young, fast attacking side that are good to watch and play with spirit. The quality of performance has great potential. With the return of the brilliant Forster to the starting line up asap goals will be easier to come by. The challenge will be keeping them out at the other end! Andy Hughes has possibly been the pick of the players so far, he's just got to make sure (like all the players) he can try and sustain his performace over 90mins.
Just two quick points:
1) Ticket prices are seriously hitting the crowds. A shame because its very entertaining stuff on show, but the 'floating support' is unlikely to pay circa £20 for a div.1 game. It seems a bit pointless having a 24,000 stadium which could be fuller still if people were not being priced out - especially younger fans.
2)This is nothing new, but....Why do a tiny-but-loud minority of 'supporters' keep going nuts because not every pass reaches its target, and because we are not 5-0 up after ten minutes? I mean everybody is entitled to moan at lack of effort or an Adie Williams row Z pass, but this is something else. There are a few people in the East Stand block Y23 and I suspect elsewhere that seem to whinge about absolutely everything. These people get everybody down week in - week out. These people were moaning like crazy on tuesday night when we were one-nil down, and then went very quiet after we turned it around. Are they Swindon in disguise or something because they seem to be in their element when things are not going Reading's way. My question is: Why do these people bother coming if it's such a painful experience for them? If you want flawless football go and watch Arsenal or Man U - you won't be missed!
WAKE UP - we are going to lose quite a few games this year unfortunately and probably find Division One tough but as long as we stay up that's a success of sorts. Rant Over!

west sussex royal
Was I at a different game to the other commentators who've sent match reports to HNA? We definitely did work hard to contain City but in that heat when you're playing chase ball for so long, you will concede at some stage.
Interrupted camping holiday with wife and 3 kids at Corfe Castle to meet my Cov mate at Reading station. 17 million brownie points lost to the missus. "Was 2-1 a fair result?" says the official site. 'Fraid so. Cov seemed to have at least 75% of possession and although we contained them well, it couldn't last for 90 mins. Lucky to go ahead too after Shaw handled surrounded by his own players!
Plus points: Kevin Watson still looks a real star, spraying balls around a la Hoddle and Beckham. Hughesy, Mackie and Cureton played well too. Bad points: Martin Butler top bloke but sorry no first touch. Isn't it time to blood Henderson? Wouldn't Curo get his touchdowns and his physical presence may upset defences? Also when Fozzie's match fit, put Sir Nicky on the wing and bring Salako on from the bench when required. Rougier? Naaaah. Big Phil in goal. Is he commanding his area? Mr Hannermahhhn is breathing fiercely from bench.
We should be okay if we can beat the lesser lights in the division but traditionally that's who we lose too! Grimsby immediately springs to mind. Agree with Pards that defensively we're short. And who's gonna win ball in midfield now Parky's time is nearly up? We cannot forever try and wait for the opponents to give us the ball in this division.
Thanks for the warm sun and also renewed the Supporters Club membership.
See you soon, oh biscuited friends.

woodley royal
Considering the heat I think both teams deserve credit for producing such an entertaining game. The wrong result maybe but we can take heart from the performance, I'm sure they'll be games when we''ll play worse than this and win. Hughes and Watson both had excellent games in midfield while Mackie is proving to be a top class defender. Worries? Murty and Shorey must work on there defensive duties while Butler looks out of his depth at this level, but hey! It's only August.

darren hall
Right let's start the Pards bashing....!
Well no need to panic just yet as we have already played 2 of, what I think will be, the top 4 sides when the fat lady sings. I realistically thought 4 points from the 1st week so we are only one behind that and if we finish the season in 15th, or 6 points off the top or even 9 places below Derby then I will be happy ! God I hate this time of the season, you start off with a clear head, optimism and a I am going to let things settle down a bit before I get too involved attitude, but there bang kick off and you are involved, studying the tables, the next set of fixtures and already questioning what is going on. Tables at this time of year have all the reality of a Jeffery Archer police statement, why even print them, Gillingham are TOP of god's sake !! Let's see how things are after the first 10 or 12 matches, but any points in the bag over the first month or two means the less we need to scramble about for 'em the end of April when we all have to go through the pacemaker scenario of last season (in reverse!).
The likes of Derby and Coventry are still 2 leagues above us in many respects and all we need to do is a bit of a Gillingham (ironically), consolidate for a year or two and then make our surge for the top!! Some things are clear though, mistakes will be punished more ruthlessly at this level, the defence needs sorting, well alittle organisation for a start, (I don't expect many 0-0's this season) and we need to hold the ball upfront (and not just by hoofing it up there) as all we do it put ourselves on the back foot straight away as the ball comes immediately pinging back at us. That said we are really in a league within a league, it is not about who beats Derby or Coventry as to who is going to stay up, it is what we do against the likes of Walsall, Grimsby, Rotherham, Bradford, Wimbledon, Stoke, Brighton etc... that decides it and much in the way it almost cost us promotion last season, it will be our HOME form that determines our fate for this season I feel. Still if Leicester adopt the 0-0-10 formation from yesterday then who knows for Saturday, maybe 3 more points nearer the 50 mark! URzzzz!
john fowler
Entertaining game, shame about the result. I thought we played good football and certainly, until the second goal went in, we had some good spells of possession and created some good chances. So what went wrong? to be honest I couldn't tell you as I was in the NE corner and so didn't get a good view of either of Coventrys goals. I also think we lost our shape after the three substitutions, Rogier certainly didn't produce much down the left and that didn't help us getting back into the game.
So what were the good and bad points, well the defense generally looked more composed and more in control in this game, probably as a result of a
better balance in midfield, although there are times when we fail to clear our lines effectively and ended up just putting ourselves back under pressure. Whitehead seemed more confident and dealt with crosses better. The midfield had a good game although Watson has to make sure that he doesn't get caught too far forward, and when he does he seems to be a bit too casual getting back into position preferring to follow the ball around the pitch rather than mark up players. We got very little return from high balls up to the front players, I only recall one time when Butler beat the defense to a high ball pumped up by the defense or midfeld (this was also the case in the Sheff Weds game). I also think Butler is lacking confidence in front of the goal, in both home games he has missed the target from in front of the goal when he should at least be forcing a save off of their keeper.
Still we knew it would be a tough start to the season, at least ofter the Leicester game we have got some of our toughest fixtures out of the way. Roll on Burnley, at least I can gloat to the Burnley supporters at work when we beat them!

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