(Half Time: 2-1)
Reading Scorers: Cureton (15 mins), Cureton (27 mins).
Walsall Scorers: Leitao (28 mins), Barras (53 mins)
Date: 21 April 2001
Attendance: 16,710

Reading: Whitehead, Murty, Viveash, Whitbread, Newman (Gurney), Parkinson, Jones (Harper), Igoe, Cureton, Butler, Rougier (Forster). Subs not used: Howie, McIntyre.

Walsall: Walker, Aranalde, Tillson (Hall), Roper, Brightwell ,Barras, Simpson, Bennett (Keates), Matias, Goodman, Leitao (Angell). Subs not used: Emberson, Gadsby.

Bookings: Igoe (Reading); Barras, Bennett, Leitao (Walsall).
Referee: J P Robinson (Hull)

Reading remain one of the most in form sides in the Division - this latest result makes it just one result in the last twenty league games. But sadly that just might not be enough if we're to beat Rotherham in the race for automatic promotion. We knew before kick off that three straight wins would guarantee promotion to the First Division - a draw wouldn't be enough if Rotherham were to win at Wigan. And Rotherham did win at Wigan - meaning Rotherham must now slip up to let us retain second place. It was nervous enough today, but at Colchester and then at home against Bournemouth we're bound to be in for a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

It all looked great for Reading. Another big home crowd - close to 17,000 - and Reading all set for another home victory. Reading were forced to make the one change - the capable Murty coming in for the suspended Robinson. The solid central defensive partnership of Viveash and Whitbread to keep it tight at the back and Butler and Cureton up front supported by Rougier and Igoe. It seemed it couldn't go wrong. And for the first 27 minutes it looked there could be only one outcome - a comprehensive victory for the Royals. At that point with Reading already two goals up it was surely just a question of whether Cureton get his hat-trick, rather than would be go on to win. Walsall ruined the party - first by pulling a goal back and then pulling level after half time. Walsall defended well, even created a few more chances of themselves, and made Reading look far from being an automatic promotion capable side.

Reading were definately first out of the blocks and could have taken the lead early on after an Igoe cross from the right found Butler in the middle of the box. Butler shot low to the keeper's right - but the shot lacked power and was held by the keeper. It didn't take long though for the first goal to arrive. Jones, who had made a bright start in midfield for the Royals, took the ball forward to the edge of the Walsall area. He then prodded the ball right to Igoe just inside the box. Igoe saw Cureton in the middle and duely delivered for Cureton to score his seventh goal in eight games. The home ends celebrated - the slice of away fans remained quiet.

For a period after the first goal we looked pure quality. Gone were the hoofs in the air and instead we were playing it around the ground nicely - but always working forward looking for another. We didn't have to wait long for a second as Reading continued on the attack, and in the 27th minute a fast ball forward found Butler just left of centre. Butler threaded it through to Cureton who was storming down the middle and into the area to connect and send it into the back of the net. 2-0 to the Royals, and we are going up!

Cureton strode over to the East Stand to perform his usual goal celebration while being mobbed by the rest of the team. We'd hardly sat down though and the ball was in the net at the other end of the pitch. 2-1. A quick move down the left with Reading half asleep was worked into the box from the left and stuck past Whitehead who was probably as shocked as the rest of the team. Despite playing some great football, looking the better side, and still actually being ahead, Reading's collective head seemed to drop a bit and the pattern of our game changed. Viveash made a couple of disasterous backpasses that landed Whitehead into a few problems, and then the whole side reverted to hoofs up the pitch rather than the attractive passing football that was actually breaking Walsall down.

Cureton had a chance to complete his hat-trick before half time after a long ball found him with just the keeper to beat. Perhaps Cureton could have rounded him - but the shot wasn't a bad idea either. The keeper made the save but it was up for debate if it was inside or outside the area when he handled it. At 2-1, after the break, things briefly looked up for Reading - and the majority of us would have thought we'd still go on to win. Cureton had another good chance to get his third from just a few yards out after a Parky flick on from the right corner of the box. Cureton connected, but the ball span out way over the crossbar when it might have been easier to stick it in. Following that there was a goal mouth scramble when Reading did everything but score, and their keeper pulled off an excellent close range save.

After that Walsall went and equalised. A free kick on the right, which might not have even been a free kick, was knocked over to the far post leaving a couple of players with far too much space. Whitehead saved the initial shot, but the rebound came straight back out and was stuck home by Barass. 2-2, and the same already started to tail off as Walsall found it far too easy to deal with a limited Reading attack. More bad news for Reading was the injury to Ricky Newman - who went down in a lot of pain and needed to be stretchered off to be replaced by Andy Gurney. It's not clear how bad the injury was, but he's definately out for the rest of the season.

The referee then went on to ruin the rest of the game by stopping play every two seconds for any kind of challenge which resulted in someone falling over. The pace of the game slowed right off and Reading never really got back into the pattern of the first half. Walsall won a free kick way outside the area which was eventually moved right to the edge of the area and a booking earnt for moving before the ball was kicked. Fussy wasn't the word. The second time Whitehead tipped it over the bar, but it was ordered to be taken yet again. It looked like it might be retaken until it had found the net, but Whitehead pulled off another save and Reading remained level. Reading bought on Harper and Forster to try and liven up the attack - but neither player really made a big impression. Like most of the side we found it hard to get much past average today. Jamie Cureton finished an entire match for the first time for ages - but even the full ninety minutes wasn't enough to see him get his third and earn Reading the full three points.

Following report by Neil Cole:
On another day, a draw against one of the league’s better sides may have been a satisfying result. However with the race for second place as close as it is, this was a very disappointing two points dropped by Reading, which could cost us automatic promotion to Division One. The result was made even more disappointing by the manner in which Reading had blown their two goal lead, while at the same time promotion rivals Rotherham were comfortably beating Wigan at the JJB.

Jamie Cureton had given Reading an early two goal advantage, as our leading scorer struck twice in the opening thirty minutes. However, Walsall scored either side of half-time to draw level, and could easily have gone on to win the game. After playing some great football early on, Walsall’s first goal seemed to drain the confidence from the Reading players, and we were second best from then on.

Matt Robinson was suspended for this game, having been sent off at Cambridge two weeks earlier. Fortunately the ban coincided with a return to fitness for Graeme Murty, who came back in at right-back. Ricky Newman switched sides to take over from Robinson at left-back. It was to be a bad afternoon for Newman, who was taken off in the second half with a serious looking leg injury. Newman has had a good first season at Reading, but unfortunately he will now miss the crucial last two games.

Alan Pardew had a surprise in his team line-up, as Tony Rougier began the game despite the manager’s announcement earlier that he would be on international duty with Trinidad. Pardew had managed to get permission for Rougier to stay at Reading an extra day, and hoped his surprise selection would disrupt Walsall’s game plan. However, it soon became apparent that Walsall remembered Rougier all too well from the game at the Bescot in November, as they once again used the tactics of kicking him whenever he got the ball. It certainly worked, as an inconsistent referee gave Rougier no protection, and as a result he disappeared from the game.

Reading began the game with some of their best football of the season, as Cureton and Butler once again looked in the form of their lives. Butler could have scored early on, as he forced a save out of the Walsall keeper from a Sammy Igoe cross. The first goal came on fifteen minutes, and this time it was Cureton who was set up by Igoe. Cureton was, as usual, in the perfect position for the cross from Igoe, and tapped in to give the Royals a valuable lead.

Reading made it 2-0 before Walsall could manage a worthwhile attack on goal, and it was again Cureton who scored after a lovely through ball from Butler. The finish was once again immaculate, and put Cureton clear as the league’s top scorer with an impressive 26 goals in Division Two games this season. It had been a perfect opening to the game from Reading, and another impressive crowd of over 16,000 thought they were in for three points heading Reading’s way.

However, Walsall responded perfectly and scored within a minute of Cureton’s second. A quick break from the left easily outwitted our centre-backs, as Jorge Leitao raced round behind Viveash to fire Walsall back into the game. It was the visitors’ first attack of any real note, perhaps explaining the slow reaction from our back four. It put Walsall right back in the game though, and the goal put an end to the lovely football we had seen from Reading.

Reading only had one other chance in the first half, as Cureton raced on to a long ball from midfield. His shot was palmed away by the keeper, who was suspiciously close to the edge of the area. The ref gave him the benefit of the doubt, but had he been a foot further it would have been a red card and the advantage to Reading.

Walsall were the better side in the second half, as Reading suddenly forgot how to pass the ball. While Cureton could have had a hat-trick in the first half, not a single chance fell his way in the second, despite playing a full 90 minutes for the first time in ages. The equaliser came early in the second period, as ex-Reading player Tony Barras tapped in from close range after a goalmouth scramble. The defence will again be disappointed with the nature of the equaliser, as the ball should have been cleared after the initial free-kick. While the defence has been much-improved of late, we cannot afford to let these sort of errors return to our game this close to the end of the season.

The rest of the game was very poor, compared to what had gone before it. Reading only seemed capable of playing long balls, which were won every time by the Walsall defence. Yet the visitors also struggled to make any real openings, and as a result the game finished as a draw. The second half wasn’t improved by an inconsistent referee, who decided to give free-kicks for absolutely everything, despite having let everything go in the first half. There were substitute appearances for Forster and Harper, but neither succeeded in having any impact on the game.

Rotherham can now stop us going up, if they manage to win their last three games. The first of those is on Tuesday night, when we’re all Luton fans for the night. Anything less than a win for the Millers, and its back in our own hands when we travel to Colchester next week.

Post Match Opinions

Play offs? Have we blown it?
Not too sure, but I am sure about one thing, when we went 2-0 up, it was there, so close, you could almost feel the release of emotion, the expectation and then, what do we do? Like only Reading FC seem capable of, in front of another massive crowd, almost totally screw up. I think the actual huge disappointment after the game wasn't the fact we only drew, it was the fact that Rotherham somehow got a massive result at Wigan and are now back in the driving seat. It is out of our hands and we have to rely on Luton, Brentford or Peterborough doing us a favour, presuming, and what a bloody massive presumption, we win at Colchester and at home to Bournemouth.
There's no point harping on about the result it's history, poor Rickay Newman looks like he may have broke his leg, and being replaced by Zico (my arse) Gurney was not the ideal sub. I thought the normal solid two Ade's at the back looked very sluggish. I know Ade "Colossus" Viveash has had personal problems, but he again looked very subdued today, as did Parky though Keith Jones again performed very well. The old hoofing was much in evidence, buggered if I know why we do it with such good players up front. As for Rougier, is he related to Mass Sarr? He certainly needs a Saturn Five Rocket up his arse! Just not good enough today, fannying around running up his arse and not getting stuck in. So very depressed tonight, may go to church tomorrow for the second time in my life to pray for a miracle at Luton on Tuesday! Surely not now lads, don't let us down, please!

-- Nick Newbury

Being a Devon excile, the opportunity to visit a game is somewhat limited. Taking the opportunity to drive the 370 mile round trip to the Mad House to see the boys play Walsall, was indeed an experience. Great atmosphere but where was Caskey? The only Reading player that has the ability to hold the ball up and pass was missing presumed lost. Our failure against Walsall was to slow things up, once we had the advantage of being two up. Caskey would have done this. Igoe and Jones are very good, but the combination of Caskey and Harper would have won us the match instead of two weeks of reliance on Rotherham dropping points, and us winning at Colchester and at Home to Bournemouth. As a side issue. Whiteheads poor distribution and persistance on standing on his line lost us the game. He might be a hero, but his performance last Saturaday was very poor.
-- David May, Excile in Devon

This was a very disappointing result in view of Rotherham's win at Wigan. It seemed to me that almost every clearance found a Walsall head & every loose ball was usually won by a Walsall player. Walsall are a fair side & a draw, on balance of play, was a fair result. It seems at times Reading want too much time on the ball & when we play a side like Walsall that will harry & hassle us we seem to lose our way. I know Caskey tends to dwell on the ball too long at times but I felt we needed him today but he wasn't even on the bench. What's going on behind the scenes? I was right in line with the penalty area & it did look as if the Walsall keeper handled the ball outside of the area in the first half but we shouldn't need incidents like this, disallowed goals, penalty's not given etc. to win matches. Over the season it evens itself out & I'm sure all teams would tell the same story. The best we can hope for now is that Rotherham fail to win at least one of their remaining three matches.
-- David, Ascot.

Great match, terrific entertainment, but wrong result.
Let there be no doubt about this, this was a game that we should have won. Credit to Walsall, they came back very well, but you have to concentrate even when you are two nil up, especially when you have just scored and all the fans are dreaming of going back to division one. There was enough experience out there not to let Walsall drift through the defence to get their first. From that point onwards they were back in the match and what a good game it was. The fact remains that they should not have been allowed back in. We moved the ball around well, Cureton was sharp, Jones effective and Butler working his socks off. Newman was having a good battle with Goodman and doing reasonably well (let's hope the injury isn't as bad as it looked) but the middle two were not at their best and that gave Walsall hope. We had the chances to secure the game. Cureton might have had his hattrick, good moves from corners, all sorts of positive things. None of them quite as positive as Rotheram's result was for them at Wigan and credit to them for that. It is no longer in our hands. All we can do is hope Rotheram don't win their games. What we must do is win ours. Effort could not be faulted on Saturday. The only doubt was over Rougier, and where was Caskey?

-- Ken C

Has the season gone pear-shaped?
I hope not, but where was Caskey on Saturday (been on a bender the night before?). If anything this was a game that was crying out for a fat midfield general. It's ok having soldiers out there battling for the ball, but we needed someone to take command and start spraying some strategic balls around the park. Has Pardew's tactics gone all wobbly as we near a very tense and nervy end?
All we can do now is rely on Rotherham slipping up?
Come on you Hatters!

-- Andy P, Woodley

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