14 November 1998
Reading 0 Stoke City 1
FA Cup 1
Bernal, McPherson, Primus, Casper, Brebner, Crawford(Sarr), Caskey, Brayson(Roach),
Time to concentrate on the league then. Already. It seems a real shame to have to say that when we're not even out of November yet (and no, I'm not going to count the windscreens trophy - which we should go out of in the first round at Bournemouth). An extended cup run could have brightened up the season and given the Madejski Stadium its biggest crowd ever if we'd got Premier opposition. But it was never to be - and even if it is a cliche - we can give the league campaign our full attention.
The line-up was exactly as expected. After picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Wigan on Wednesday, Parkie was forced to sit out the game and Crawford came in a straight forward swap. With Sarr under-performing recently it was no suprise to have him restricted to the bench, with Brayson getting a start along side Williams up front. This in truth was probably make or break time for Brayson - having had more than his fair share of opportunities under Tommy Burns. Unfortunately it ended up as being "break" - after a very unconvincing first half display.
The first half might has well have been the third half from the midweek home bore against Wigan. We carried on in exactly the same tedious non-productive fashion as before. The only notable difference was Caskey had decieded to play even worse. Our whole tactics of the first half centred around the usual passing it along the floor from the back business. Unfortuantely everything broke down as soon as the ball left Caskey's feet in the centre of midfield. Stoke reacted first to every loose ball and were always that one step ahead in intercepting the loose balls played into the middle of nowhere by Caskey. The complete silence across the East Stand was soon replaced by some "fans" in the crowd booing the home side - Caskey suffering the worst abuse.
Stoke took the lead midway through the half - and it was a typically frustrating goal. Stoke broke with a ball to the left hand side. With a fair amount of space the Stoke forward legged it towards the edge of the area. You'd have never expected him to score from there. Reading seemed to have it all covered with the three centre backs back in position. Macca and Primus covered the middle which Casper was closest to the stiker. However Casper, rarely for him, completely failed to deal with the situation. He gave him far too much room, didn't close him down, didn't attempt to make a tackle, and didn't do anything to block the shot on goal - instead just back steping until the ball was driven goal bound. From there you would also have expected the keeper to have it covered. But no. The ball flew low inside the near post to put Stoke a goal up - a goal that was going to be the winner.
Howie seemed to wish to compete with Caskey for twat of the half failing to claim a couple of corners and flapping at a few crosses. Down the other end Brayson totally failed to get anywhere near the ball on any occasion. A lot of running but never getting in any position to take any chances. Having said that this probably wasn't his fault as the supply line never really got that far. Primus, Macca, and Casper were clearing up fine at the back despite the odd problem, but clearances were at best short balls into the centre of midfield that resulted in a loss of possession. This can all be summed up by describing Reading's only two real attempts on goal of the first half - two longs shots. One from Bernal from a central position - a weak long range effort into the keepers arms, and one from Macca slightly further in on the right. Williams was doing his usual running and falling over but never worked his way into a position to score.
Once again though top marks to Mr. Burns for his two substitutions. It was like Tommy had been listening to everything I'd been thinking. Crawford had been entirely ineffective - unlike Parkie he was failing to win anything in the centre of the park. Up front Brayson never looked likely to create anythying or stick anything away. We were also a goal down and need a spot of creativity and a bit of pace. So at half time off went Crawford and Brayson and on came Sarr and Roach. Instead of bulking the midfield both players went wideish up front - and in doing so caused a few scares for the Stoke defence.
The difference was immediately noticable. Yes, this was more like it. Roach had a similar effect to the effect he had on Wednesday night against Wigan. A bit more pace and a bit more excitement from a player legging it down the wing, taking on players, determined to get to the line to stick over a cross. Alright, so a few crosses found the Stoke keepers arms but it was nice to get somewhere. Sarr was much improved from recently - successfully beating a few men and laying off some great balls to create changes. With the home crowd forgetting to get at players and at last get singing to cheer the lads forward even Caskey improved for a brief spell.
During a great 15 minute spell Reading took the game to Stoke really searching for an equaliser. It was really great to see at last. Some fast frantic football in the right direction looking for a goal, and after 5 or 6 decent shots on target, and plenty of action in the Stoke area, we were really unlucky not to get one. Roach was denied at close range from the keeper after skipping past a few players, a Brebner shot from the edge of the area needed a decent save from the keeper. Sarr had a rising shot tipped over the bar, even Glasgow broke through the middle of the Stoke defence - after beating a man or two his low shot from the edge of the area needed a good save to keep it out.
Perhaps the worse piece of luck was when Reading had strong appeals for a penalty turned down. It seemed all too similar to the Bournemouth penalty when Macca was wrongly judged to have brought down the cheating bastard Stein. This looked like more of a penalty but as Brebner ran across the Stoke defender, who clipped his ankles sending Brebner flying in the box, the referee gave Stoke the advantage. Moments later once again the whole East Stand was on it's feet to celebrate what seemed like the equaliser. A cross was played from right to left to Martin Williams, just outside the left edge of the six yard box. He appeared to drive it in the net at the near post - but as I lept from my seat it dawned on everyone it had gone the wrong side of the post. Bugger.
Despite Reading's pressure, with the Stoke keeper having a blinder, as the game drew to a close Stoke could have made it 0-2. Howie pulled off a couple of fantastic saves to redeem himself for a poor first half. It was probably the best half Howie had ever had in a Reading shirt. He got down superbly to save a close range header, tiped another over the bar, and towards the end dived full stretch to his right to push a low drive onto the far post and away.
At the final whistle some people thought we'd been hard done by. Although we did everything but score in the second half we deserved to lose after that hideous first half performance. The first half was some of the worst football ever seen at the Mad House, while the second half, in parts, produced some of the best football. If only we could string together that fast moving forward passing game for period greater than 10 minutes then this season might actually come to something. I'm still a ridiculous optimist - I'm looking forward to going to Northampton next Saturday, as the mighty Royals make it four consecutive away league wins.