(Half Time: 1-0)
Reading Scorers: Cureton (42 mins)
Bristol Rovers Scorers: -
Date: 20 January 2001
Attendance: 11,767

Reading: Whitehead, Gray, Viveash, Hunter, Newman, Parkinson, Caskey (Jones), Murty, Cureton (Butler), Rougier (Igoe), McIntyre. Subs not used: Howie, Hodges.

Bristol Rovers: Culkin, Foster, Bignot, Thomson, Wilson, Meaker (Cameron), Bryant (Plummer), Mauge, Astafjevs, Evans (Richards), Ellington. Subs not used: Clarke, Jones.

Bookings: Cureton, McIntyre, Newman.
Referee: G Poll (Tring)

Reading's recent league form - just one win from the previous six league games - meant today was all about getting the points to keep in touch at the top of the table. Thankfully, at full time, that was exactly what Reading had done - won the full three points with a single goal victory over Bristol Rovers. The game was almost entirely forgettable with little to keep the nearly 12,000 fans warm on a freezing day, but it's the win that counts. The game started brightly enough but faded away quite quickly into a scrappy game that reflected badly on both sides, who seemed content to play out a midfield battle with little passing and plenty of hoofing on display. The one man who probably enjoyed this game the most was former Bristol Rovers striker Jamie Cureton. Cureton had far from his best game ever but showed the kind of qualities that win games, after scoring the winner just before half time.

In a game with very few shots on target it was seemed inevitable that it might be won by a single goal from leading scorer Jamie Cureton. Ex-Reading player Michael Meaker got a pretty bad reception from the Reading fans, but Cureton's reception was worse as he was booed with every touch by the Rovers fans in the South Stand. Thankfully Cureton seemed to love it and was determined to make them dislike him even more. Meaker on the other hand didn't have a good game - after starting well and looking a bit dangerous down the right wing he soon looked more like the player we'd released with chants of "useless" from the East Stand.

With the game drifting towards a 0-0 scoreline at half time Phil Parkinson kicked off the move that would win the game for the Royals. Parkinson went storming down the middle of the park to create a move from nothing, after steaming into the middle of the Rovers half, past a couple of players, he played the ball to his left finding Tony Rougier legging it down the left wing. Parkinson and Cureton waited in the middle while Rougier cut inside to cross. Parkinson did a good drop of drawing a man or two and the ball found Cureton unmarked on the right side of the box. Cureton took his time to control it before firing it past the keeper into the left side of the net. A nice goal when it looked like we'd be lucky to get one at all and 1-0 to the Royals. To celebrate Cureton went over and stood in front of the Bristol Rovers fans for what seemed like ages - definately long enough to pick up a yellow card from the referee and stir up some feelings within the travelling fans.

After Rougier had set up Cureton, the favour was repaid a few moments later as Reading threatened to increase their lead. Cureton played the ball from the centre to Rougier on the left who took it wide - a bit too wide. Rougier eventually shot from a tight angle but the keeper managed to get back to make a save with his legs. Apart from those rare goalmouth moments it was a dull first half, and comparing the height and length of Hunter and Newman's hoofs from defence was one of the biggest sources of entertainment.

It seemed likely that the second half would improve with Bristol Rovers needing to get a goal. The signs were there during the first five minutes of the half with a bit of end to end football. However, again the game seemed to fade away despite Rovers looking a bit more likely. The away side failed to put Reading under any real pressure and Reading were happy to boot the ball all over the place to play out time. Reading have a habit of throwing away 1-0 victories against sides that come at us with time running out, but that never happened today with both sides seemingly more interested to back inside out of the cold.

Rovers managed a couple of shots just wide and Whitehead needed to make a save from a decent long range effort from a substitute. Down the other end a long cross could have set up Cureton but the keeper claimed it well, but there was little to get excited about. Bristol's passing seemed marginally better than ours but overall there seemed to be never more than a couple of passes stringed together before a poor pass lost possession and led to let another pointless hoof up pitch. Had we not have been a goal up there would have been a lot of frustrated Reading fans.

Towards the end of the game Caskey and Cureton were replaced by Jones and Butler. Jones entered the pitch to a chorus of boos from his own fans - some people not wanting to see Caskey leave the pitch, but mostly a complete lack of support for Keith Jones. Jones has been dropped after a run of poor performances - but how is he ever going to improve with this kind of attitude? Anyway, no point moaning - the Royals are back to winning ways which can only be a good thing...

Following report by Neil Cole:

Three valuable points against Bristol Rovers made this very poor performance easier to take, as a Jamie Cureton goal against his former club provided the only highlight of the afternoon. On a freezing cold day, there was very little to keep the fans entertained, but the win was an important one and preserved our place in the top six for the time being.

The freezing conditions meant only a handful of games were played in Division Two, but the undersoil heating at the Madejski did its job and the pitch looked in surprisingly good condition. As expected, Pardew picked the same team that had earned a draw at Stoke the previous week. That meant Martin Butler had to once again spend the majority of the game on the bench, as Cureton and Rougier continued together up front.

After so many high scoring games this season, the last two games have been unusual in that they have both been dominated by the defences. Our back four had another very good game, and a second clean sheet in a row is very encouraging. Barry Hunter had one of his better games, and made a number of key challenges throughout the match. At one point in the second half, a superb sliding block from Hunter denied Bristol Rovers what would have been a certain goal.

Stuart Gray is starting to look worth a run in the first team, and with Robinson out for a while it’s a great chance for Gray. Similarly, Graeme Murty made a shocking third consecutive appearance in the starting eleven, and could be on for a personal record if he stays fit another week or two.

What’s more worrying is that the goals seem to have dried up, as today we never looked like repeating our early season home form by scoring four or five. The problem may lie with the way Pardew is playing Tony Rougier. Rougier has been playing very well since getting back into the team, but it is becoming increasingly obvious he is not a centre forward. When he is playing as part of a front two, we find it difficult to make chances and as a result have scored very few goals.

At least with Cureton back in form we do have a constant goal threat. Today saw his sixth goal in the last seven games, and he wont score a sweeter one this season. Some of the abuse he got from the Bristol Rovers fans was beyond belief, considering the amount of goals he scored for them. It was clear Cureton really wanted to score, and as had happened at the Memorial Ground it seemed like he was trying too hard. He had a couple of shots in the first half which were embarrassingly bad, to the delight of the Rovers fans.

However, a great move involving Rougier and Phil Parkinson set Cureton up the goal he so badly wanted, and I think his reaction as the ball hit the net was justified. Cureton may get in trouble for mocking the Rovers fans after the goal, but after the abuse he had been receiving, who can blame him?

In another desperate attempt to create an atmosphere, the club decided to play a short burst of “Song 2” immediately after the goal. The club obviously thought the music was needed to make up for the very bland new PA man they have employed, and was less likely to cause the sort of trouble that Jonathan Richards’ comments started. With enough complaints though, hopefully they’ll give up on this idea and leave the celebrations down to the fans.

The second half was one of the dullest seen at the Madejski, with neither side threatening to score at all. Ex-Reading winger Michael Meaker looked Rovers’ biggest threat in the first half an hour, but in true Meaker style he soon disappeared and was taken off in the second half.

The Reading defence continued to look strong, but the midfield was struggling so Pardew decided to make some changes. His choices were surprising to say the least though. Caskey was replaced by Keith Jones, who came on to one of the worst receptions seen at the Madejski. The booing was to some extent justified given his awful performances this season, but with twenty minutes left it was perhaps a little harsh on Jones. The other change saw Butler come on for Cureton, and was again a substitution which failed to change anything and was rather pointless. It wasn’t until the 88th minute that Sammy Igoe, one of our biggest attacking threats, was eventually introduced.

The game eventually ended, and Reading had their first league win since before Christmas, much to everyone’s relief. This game was actually less encouraging than the draw at Stoke, and Pardew may have to alter things again when we visit Luton next Saturday. We’re still sixth for now, but we’re going to have to play much better than this if we are to stay there.

Post Match Opinions

Well at least we got the three points! It's very clear the team are desperately clinging on to what confidence they have left. Perhaps if Pardew attacked more from the start of the game, then we would create more chances, score goals and hey presto we're back on song........don't think so somehow. Leaving Butler and Igoe on the bench and replacing Caskey with Jones when 1 -0 up at home says it all for me. For what it's worth I thought the boos were more about Pardew taking Caskey off rather than for Jones coming on. It was a dire performance, but I thought Murty done well as did Parky who comes to the fore when there's a battle to be won. He made not be blessed with silky skills Parky, but you know you're going to get 100% from the man, others players take note! Lets hope this is our dodgy spell and we start where we mean to go on at Luton. If we can't beat second from bottom and start winning away from home we deserve nothing.
-- Nick

The people sitting behind me at today's game, had only been to the Mad House once before this season. That was the Bournemouth game. I don't think that they will be rushing back! The result was everything, the performance nothing. Cureton put away the only real chance of the match, though Rougier might have added through his own piece of skill. For all their possession, and there was far too much of it, Bristol failed to create. Credit must go to the defence for the another clean sheet. Individually everyone was average, collectively we were poor, but we won. The game started with Bristol dominating in terms of possession. They were sharper than us. We struggled to get out of our own half and only looked like troubling them on the break. It was as if we were the away side. Last week, Murty and Grey were able to progress down the flanks, this week they were kept in check. We had no outlet from the back a fact that was made worse by Whitehead's inability to kick. It must be hard for him in some ways. The only target he has is the left side of midfield as if the ball goes anywhere else in the air, it is going to come straight back. Why does he not throw it? Why do the full backs not go wide and look to receive the ball and build from there? Our front men need the ball to feet or down the channels, what they don't need is to be challenging the opposition's centre half in the air. They have enough of that to do with Hunter's subtle distribution! It was hard to pick out individuals. Grey enhanced his reputation again with some good covering work at the back. The centre halves looked solid, Cureton took his chance well following excellent work from Parkie. Individually all had their moments, collectively they did not. We killed the game for most of the second half by playing in the Bristol half of the pitch but never really looked like getting the second that would have meant security. The substitution of Caskey by Jones summed it all up. It was sad to hear Jones booed instead of Casket being applauded! The arrival of Butler increased the work rate of the front men and enabled us to put them under pressure more. It is a hard choice as to who should start and probably the jury is still out. Cureton looks the sharpest finisher currently. Rougier is the most skillful, but Butler is the one with the most complete game. Nice to have the choice! We won three points, that was the most important thing. We have to go on winning three points every game. We have played the top teams away from home. If this is what it takes to get us up then so be it. There will be games where we do get the second and then we can relax. Roll on that game!!
-- Ken

Not a great advert for the game as they say but importantly we secured 3 points against a fairly impotent Rovers side. At times I was reminded of the bad old days where we would try really hard to make a poor side look OK, but once the goal was scored we didn't look like losing it. Tony Rougier is still a 20 minute player for my money, though undoubtedly skilful and a creator he hasn't proved yet that he can oust someone like Martin Butler from the first team. Jim Mac kept busy and showed some nice touches and Murty came into the game with more effect in the second half. Gurney looks a far better choice for left back than Gray but overall the obvious defensive frailties were never truly tested. It must be said that this is not a platform to build a promotion push, we must improve and with 'lesser' opposition coming up we simply have to do just that. Alan Pardew's tactics continue to baffle at times but I am still optimistic overall.
One last thing, I agree with earlier sentiments, no Reading player deserves to get booed as he comes onto the pitch by his own fans (this is almost a unique trait of Royals 'fans', remember Jimmy Mac?) - I guess it was mainly aimed at the decision to remove Caskey, but Jones is having a bad run of form, it happens - surely getting behind him is much more beneficial to him and the club?

-- Steve M

Can I firstly start with your comment about the booing , this was a gesture to Pardew for playing a negative card. But Jones is not good enough to play for a Sunday League Div 4 side and it's obvious he's not up to this division , I don't understand what he brings to our team as his distribution is awful and his tackling is as strong as Caskey's, How we consolidate a 1-0 with 20 mins to go being the top goalscorers at home in this division baffles me. Rovers looked more likely to score when Caskey went off as all Jones wanted to do was hoof the ball in the corner and let Butler chase the lost cause. I admire Pardew for his astute signings but I sometimes wonder about his tactics. Yes I know people are saying it's the 3 points that count but surely to God a performance counts. I honestly can't think of the last team we dominated against and thoroughly deserved to beat. If this was the last week and we were in the play offs I'd want to play us. Parew has turned the club around and Rome wasn't built in a day and all that but tell me Rougier is an out and out forward, Jones is worthy of a place, Murty isn't more than average and our centre backs are safe as houses as well as being non hoofers. No wonder Caskey is dismayed when the only time he see's the ball is when it flies over his head again and again. Tactical improvement please Alan.
-- Trevor

A tense and cold afternoon at the Mad Stad. Reading looked nervous following the defeat at the hands of Millwall however they remained composed and generally defended well as a unit. The goal was a peach and well needed as it gave us the 3 points. At the moment its about points and keeping promotion hopes alive this afternoon was a success on both fronts. Do we care if we only win one nil as long as we get one more than the opposition its good enough for me. Though the game was dull reading had the lions share of possession and rarely looked like loosing the lead.
-- Mark - London Royal

I made the comment after the Cambridge match that if Reading can't start playing football and maintain possession they would get punished when they met better opposition. That's exactly what happened against Millwall a few weeks ago and whilst the Royals earned a valuable point last week at Stoke and played well by all accounts, I thought that today's performance against bottom of the table Bristol Rovers was poor. Reading are still unconvincing and persist in play the long ball which 90% of the time just results in a pass back to the other side, When are we going to see some passing, movement off the ball and creativity? Reading looked like a side today desperate for points to avoid the drop, not win promotion or get to the play offs. I can't say I find Allen Pardew's brand of football entertaining and unless the form the side showed at the begining of the season returns for a successful home run, I am afraid that Madjeski will regret giving Par and Dog a contract. If I wanted to see the type of football Reading played today I can go to my local park free and not waste 12.00. I am sorry to say that if there is not a significant change in Reading's approach the first division will be another season away because we are surely not ready for it yet. Lets hope this is just a bad spell and the time of year and with the spring confidence will be restored.
-- Paul

Are the supporters the only ones that see that Jones is CRAP that is why he was booed! Also it should have been Murty not Caskey and Rougier for Butler! How many times did Jones touch the ball after he came on. Mr P. if that had been a team near the top we would have been slaughtered and it would have been your tactics! The game was crying out for another striker to come on as soon as we scored and I am sure that with Cureton & Butler on together more goals would have come or are you happy with one goal struggles every week?
-- Pete

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