MATCH REPORT: 2002/2003 Season

7 December 2002: LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
Reading: -
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 23,462

DIVISION ONE  7 Dec 2002
Before 3pm kick-offs
Pos Team P Pts GD
4 Norwich 21 39 +17
5 READING 21 39 +10
6 Sheff Utd 20 35 +9
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Williams, Upson, Shorey, Harper, Hughes (Cureton 71), Newman (Watson 64), Salako, Forster, Rougier (Butler 79). Subs not used: Ashdown, Tyson.
Hislop, Primus, De Zeeuw, Foxe, Ritchie, Taylor, Robinson, Quashie, Merson, Todorov, Burchill (Harper 45). Subs not used: Kawaguchi, O'Neil, Crowe, Pitt.
Reading: -. Portsmouth: Quashie.
Referee: A R Leake (Darwen)

The winning run may have been ended today by table-toppers Portsmouth, but the unbeatable defensive record continued with Reading's seventh league fixture without conceeding a goal. The run has seen Matthew Upson at the heart of the defence during each of those games - and this was his last game for the Royals today as he completed a superb loan spell before returning to Arsenal. Upson was as solid as ever today, but there were plenty of signs for all to see that we certainly don't rely on him. We'll miss him, but thankfully we'll be hanging on to Hahnemann, Murty, Williams, and Shorey who should continue to make Reading's defence a near unbeatable barrier to other first Division sides. All of these players had excellent games today but were overshadowed by man-of-the-match James Harper who had a stunning game with Watson starting the game from the bench.

The sold out Madejski Stadium should have gone home satisfied with the entertainment despite the lack of goals. It wasn't a boring 0-0 - in fact it was a lively top of the table clash between two sides that were willing to play the game at a fast pace. The attendance of nearly twenty three and a half thousand filled the Madejski Stadium to make it the biggest crowd to see a Reading FC fixture at their new home, and they perhaps should have seen a Reading win as the Royals claimed the majority of the chances and came closest to finding the back of the net. Right from the start we were reminded that Portsmouth are a side at the top of the Division as they made it hard for Reading to run the midfield like they have over other opposition recently. It was instantly a tight encounter with no room to move for both sides as the tackles went flying in and the ball was being played around at quite a pace. Both defences were clearly solid and there were few chances at either end.

James Harper stood out for the Royals with some excellent tackles and some great balls played right across the park that successfully found their target - one of his best ever games in the hooped shirt. The introduction of Ricky Newman in midfield in place of Watson saw Reading look that bit harder and more aggressive as we continued to challenge for every ball and prevent Portsmouth from ever settling down. Reading's continued pressure on the ball saw Portsmouth scramble balls forward and fail to build any real moves together. They won a few free kicks on the edge of the box but wasted them as they were miles away from the target. The only effort requiring a Hahnemann save was a free-kick that only found the target after deflected off the Reading wall.

Reading looked like they'd stamp their superiority on the game as the first half came to an end. Perhaps if we'd had another ten minutes at the end of the first half we would have won this game as we started to look more and more dangerous finding gaps in the away side's defence. Reading had the better chances overall and so nearly took the lead during the last ten minutes of the first half when they controlled the game. James Harper played in an excellent free-kick from the Reading left that was just over the crossbar and Nicky Forster came to life after at last managing to break past the two players that continued to mark him. He had one shot just over when perhaps he should have cut it back for Hughes who would have surely found the back of the net from close range. A Forster cross from the other side confused the defence and Salako's effort was well held by Hislop on the line.

The second half saw fewer chances for either side. There was more of a feeling that the game could still go either way - it was obvious a single goal would win it if it came. Portsmouth continued to mis-hit it up front by threatened to break through on a number of occassions as they looked more dangerous as the second half went on. Once they broke clean through and seemed certain to score but the shot ended up closer to the corner flag than the back of the net much to our relief. Any crosses put in were few and few between and easily claimed by Hahnemann in the Reading goal. To Pardew's massive credit he continued to chase the full three points and we ended up playing 4-4-2 in persuit of the single goal that would win the game. Reading finished with Forster, Cureton and Butler all on the pitch in an attempt to find the winner. But in the end it was a good point for both sides but Reading may consider themselves unlucky not to take the full three points.

Following report from John Wells:
There is no doubt in my mind now that Reading are serious contenders for a play-off place. Today the strongest team in this division by far came to the Madejski Stadium and were a little lucky to come away with a point. Pompey have players of the highest quality and have scored more goals than any other team in the division but today they were completely stifled by Reading's superb defensive organisation. Steadier finishing would have given the Royals all three points. Everyone will be sorry to see Upson go, and he will clearly be missed, but the rest of the back four has formed a unit which is defensively secure and, through Murty and Shorey in particular, provide an additional threat going forward.

Perhaps the main reason that teams find Reading so hard to break down is the way the whole team competes for the ball. Forster being the fist line of defence when possession is lost. He never allows defenders to settle on the ball and with a five man midfield which is prepared to work hard behind him, the opposition find it hard to build any kind of pressure.

As early as the first minute Forster slid a great ball across the Pompey six yard area but no-one could make contact. Portsmouth played confident and composed football as you would expect and their movement and precise passing looked as if it might trouble Reading. The Royals were certainly not over-awed by their opponents, breaking up attacks and playing their way smoothly out of their own half. On twenty four minutes Forster came close to opening the scoring with a controlled volley which flew narrowly wide with Hislop rooted to the spot. A minute later his pace took him behind the Pompey defence, but with two team mates in great scoring positions he lashed the ball over. Typical Fozzy - brilliant - then infuriatingly careless.

Harper was having a superb game. His range of passing was excellent. His touch, quick movement and strength on the ball meant he was only caught in possession once, and he rarely wasted a ball. His work rate as usual was phenomenal and on thirty four minutes he almost curled in a free kick from an unlikely position wide on the left.

The first half was drifting into a stalemate when the Royals suddenly burst into life and created a string of openings in the closing minutes. Foster once again was causing havoc with his pace and aggression. The best chance fell to Salako who appeared to side-foot tamely from a tight angle and Hislop caught comfortably. It was a chance that needed to be driven not placed. Then Murty was released by a great ball from Williams down the right. One shot was blocked an the move ended with Shorey hitting the post and the referee blowing for off-side. (Not sure why!)

Reading carried on where they left after half time. Pompey had replaced Burchill with Harper presumably to inject a bit of pace into their attack. The visitors looked dangerous on the counter attack but when they did create openings their shooting was feeble. Newman's passing was becoming loose and he was replaced by Watson with just under half an hour to go. Then about ten minutes later Hughes suffered a similar fate. His passing had become an embarrassment. I was pleased to see Cureton on because I felt he was more likely to create something or score than Hughes, and also because it reflected the belief from the manager that we could win the game. Pardew even threw Butler on for good measure but I didn't think that was going to make much difference, but Rougier had worked hard and was looking weary.

In the closing stages Forster was still causing problems and was without doubt the liveliest forward on the pitch. Harper was still hitting great passes and Pompey always looked threatening, but the game looked destined for a draw. Then perhaps the best chance of the game fell to Forster who had been switched to the right wing when Butler came on. Unfortunately when faced with only the 'keeper he lost his head and blazed his shot high and wide. He should have at least hit he target. If only he could keep his head in those positions! But then if he could, he would probably be playing in the Premiership! Reading's parting shot came from Adie Williams who hit a well directed shot from some distance with his left foot which was only just wide of Shaka's right post. Now that would have been the icing on the cake.

ken c
We now know that we need fear no team in this division. Portsmouth's record so far this season has been outstanding, but today they came off second best to a Reading team whose only weakness was that they failed to put the ball in the back of the net. It was a tight game between two sides who did not want to loose. Whilst Portsmouth had more control over the football, it was Reading who created the better chances. Hahnemann had only one cross to deal with whilst the Royal's favourite ex-keeper was the busier. The fact that he did not have to pick the ball out of the net was down to us not being clinical enough when we had the chances. In many ways Forster was the main culprit but to criticise him would be churlish as it was he who created most of the opportunities that we had. The back five were magnificent, it was a fitting tribute to Upson that he ended with another clean sheet. Whilst we might miss him, we should not think about it in those terms, but look to build on the situation that he has helped to create. He has been a credit to his profession. I thought that Shorey was outstanding, his composure and skill on the ball have just gone on developing. What he needs to do now is to develop his game and confidence when in the final third. He will then be the complete full back. Murty, too, had an excellent game.
In midfield Hughes had a disappointing game. In farness he was probably due one. Unusually for him he gave the ball away too easily and his performance was in sharp contrast to Harper who was my man of the match. He occasionally takes the naive option, but today he was superb. The combination of Hughes and Harper should make our midfield run smoothly for many years to come. I also thought Solako had a good game. His control of the ball is still better than anyone else in a blue and white shirt, and he probably delivered more passes into the box than anyone else. Forster looked sharp after a quiet opening, and if he didn't get quite so excited when he sees the goal he would be a Premier league player now.
We have some difficult fixtures coming up and we should look at our league position more carefully after the Leicester game. Reality tells us that we will have a slump. We have been lucky with injuries and suspensions so far this season, but given what has happened to Forster and Butler in the past, we deserve it. The truth is that Portsmouth have a big lead, but Leicester could loose players, Norwich have a small squad, and we are as good as anyone else. Come on URZ make our dreams come true!
andy r
Another great performance all round and I think we shaded it in just about every position. The back four were excellent again, James Harper had his best game since he has been here and if Nicky Forster had had a bit of vision and cut the ball back rather than blazing over on two occasions I'm pretty sure we would have won. However no real complaints, another point gained and having played the best team in the league it shows that we nave nothing to fear from anyone. Bring on Sheffield Utd! Final point - Matt Upson, your a real star, hopefully we will see you back at the Mad Stat soon and if its not in a hooped shirt it will be in the Premier League next season.
woodley royal
As 0-0's go this was as good as it gets, but with such a tough December coming up we may regret not taking all 3 points as Pompey were there for the taking today. Despite another solid defensive display the lack of goals is a worry and the loan striker system at home may need to be looked at if we are to continue this rich vein of form. Once again Harper was outstanding and as much as Newman tries I could not understand why Watson was left out today as he makes things tick in midfield. And please no more of those rumble things my head is still aching.
nick newbury
Woke up early, well excited, thinking what a day ahead. Biggest game of the season against Sailor Boys and Newbury gang Christmas piss up do. In the end both lived up to expectations, but to start drinking at 11ish and still be standing nearly twelve hours later is indeed testimony to stamina and staying power the common man, though I'll be the first to admit I couldn't last the distance!
Like all good things the winning run had to come to an end soon and I thought yesterdays result all said and done was a fair result. Both teams seemed happy with the point, with yet again the magnificent Reading defence keeping a clean sheet and snuffing out the highest scorers in the league. Pompey looked dangerous in attack with Merson at the heart of most things, but on reflection it was Reading who had the best chances with Greedy Pig Forster squandering or wasting most of them. Now I'm a big big Forster fan, but jesus, he has to look up and pass sometimes, just like the chance in the last five with Curo begging for a pull back in the six yard box for a simple tap in. Imagine having Christmas dinner with Nicky Forster, he's so greedy I bet he grabs all the brussel sprouts and lets the rest of his family have just one each! You can't score from every angle Nicky but you're still a star mate, just pass a bit more.
Generally we played well, midfield was lacking a bit with Hughesy having his occasion mare but yet again Harper had a stormer and continues to get better every game. Finally the defence, who yet again perform quite simply magnificently. All five of them were fantastic yesterday with Murty having a blinder and man of the match Ade Williams quite awesome. Finally Mathew Upson, nothing to be said really that nobody doesn't know. Bit like saying farewell to a bloke who over the past months has become a really great mate. I felt genuinely choked yesterday as we clapped him off the pitch. Yes, it's going to by nigh impossible to replace him, and who ever does come in for him is on to a hiding to nothing, but gone he has and this great season for the club goes on. Thank you Mathew Upson for helping get the team into the position they are today, you'll be very missed. And this was the drunken discussion later that night in a very dodgy Reading drinking establishment as past great Prospect Park players of the likes of Lobby, Bob the Builder, Big Paddy, Dave Doors and smooth Wes were all slurring to a man as we argued whether Upson had been the best player to wear the famous hoops. Most of us thought not, but all agreed he'd certainly been one of the best. Can't remember much what happened after that! Bring on the plastic Blades! URZ!!
worthing royal
So its farewell Matthew Upson. I think it is fair to say that he has been the most influential loan signing since Marcus Hahnemann. I wonder if history will repeat itself,and as in the case of Marcus, we will get our man in the end. Somehow, I doubt it this time, although had we signed the USA keeper immediately following his loan spell last season, I doubt we would have stumbled to the runners up spot. We would have won the league with weeks to spare. Anyway, enough of that, and thanks to Matthew for a fantastic run in the team over the last three months.
The Pompey game was a credit to the First Division. I thought both sides were entertaining, and the game could have gone either way. In the end, I felt a bit cheated that we had only achieved one point against the most prolific goal scorers in the division. Defensively, I thought Pompey were suspect, and I wonder whether Linvoy really is Reading til he dies. He certainly looked dodgy on occasions, and for a spell in the first half, he was totally in Fozzy's pocket. My man of the match vote went to James Harper. It is just a shame that his coming of age in the side has corresponded with the demise of Hughesy. Harps has lost his cockyness, and started to play the sort of football we all knew he was capable of. His vision is good, and he is starting to get control of the midfield. Definitely another quality signing to add to the list.
Good to see Pards trying to win it in the end, by bringing on the forwards, although had Adie's injury been worse, and he had had to go off, I wonder what we would have done. No John Mackie, nor Adie Whitbread on the bench, and with the exception of Watson, all subs were attacking options. Still, another clean sheet, and a good all round performance. A run of tough games coming up, but with the current confidence, and real will to get results, I am sure we can maintain our challenge for the play-offs. URZZZ.
chippenham royal
Before this game I thought a draw would be a great result... and so it proved to be... BUT we should've won it. Both Foster and Salako missed decent chances, and certainly at the close Nicky could have finished it off. Having said that, it was a terrific performance by Reading, with a great atmosphere around the ground, and an entertaining game to match. Star man for me was James Harper. He put in an outstanding midfield performance for Royals. The defence was solid again, and we all know what debt we owe Matthew Upson. A big thank you to him, and I hope he is rewarded with a first team place at Arsenal, he really deserves it, and if things dont work out, he's more than welcome back with us! Happy Christmas hob nob... and all Royals fans. We've got some tough games ahead of us into that period... but confidence has got to be high...
Y24 East
Superb all round Royals performance although Hughesy and Newman will no doubt be dissappointed with their individual showings. Back 5 excellent, James Harper pulling the strings in midfield (at last) and upfront Forster was agin frightening the life out of the Pompey defence. First half I felt we really had enough chances to have won the game by half time and the number of times we attacked down our left with Shorey and Salako combining so effectively convinced me that with more of the same we would definetly wrap in up in the 2nd half. However it would appear that Harry Redknapp had sussed this weakness in his own team and the introduction at half time of Harper for Burchill meant that with a more attacking option on the right wing Shorey was unable to get forward in the second half.
And there you have it, 2 good teams who are very well drilled in all aspects of the game effectively cancelled each other out. We must take great comfort from the fact that over the 90 minutes we had more chances to win the game and really should not now fear anyone in this league. It was also pleasing to see that the curse of The Manager of the Month award did not strike. Bring on the Blades Come on URZs
caversham royal
A deserved point from a tight game. And it could have even been 3 but for Forster's red-mist in front of goal. With pull backs to either Hughes in the first or Cureton or Butler in the second half, we could've been celebrating beating the league leaders. Never mind the sprouts, I reckon he'd pinch the whole flippin' turkey given the chance! It was good to see Pardew positive and going for the win by making 3 attacking substitutions in the second half. But I disagree with one of the reports in that I don't think he changed tactics to 4-4-2. Cureton seemed to fill role of Hughes in the space behind Forster (and did it quite well), and later it seemed Butler took on the role lone front man with Forster switching to the right of midfield. This leads me to comment on something I've noticed in the last 2 home games which is the player's growing ability to quickly adjust to different and often unfamiliar roles from game to game, and often within a match. Against Watford, Pardew started with 4-4-2, then switched to 4-5-1, making 2 or 3 substitutions in the process. One or two players moved within the formation; Harper from right to central midfield, Rougier came on to the left, then later switched to playing just behind Butler with Igoe taking to the field. In the Pompey match, Cureton played an unfamiliar role behind Forster, who then switched to the wing when Butler came on. These may not sound like major switches, but I can remember in previous years just asking a Reading player to change their socks could easily have caused the entire shape of the team to crumble. Now it seems we have a squad who are flexible and confident enough to respond to changes in formation, tactics and their own individual roles without the balance of the team being disrupted. This is a credit to both them and the instructions they receive. Pardew's tactics have often been criticised (by me just as much as the next person), but this would seem to be yet another aspect of the side that is growing and maturing. As I've said an awful lot of late, the big test in adapting will come now Upson has gone with the next few games against some tough teams crucial. Bring on Sheffield Utd and Asaba, Tommy Burn's biggest mistake. COME ON......
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