Attendance: 7,453
Scorers: Nicholls, Williams Date: 3 January 2000
Team: Howie, Gurney, Primus, Polston, Hodges (Gray), Smith, Parkinson, Caskey (Forster), Nicholls, Scott (Hunter), Williams.

Audio: Supplied by Classic Gold radio.
0-1: Bugger
1-1: Nicholls from the edge of the box on his debut
1-2: Injury time winner?
2-2: No! Williams makes it 2-2 from the spot!

If there was ever a good sign for Reading FC as they enter the new millennium it was today - luck was on our side at last. After Gillingham enjoyed the better of the game we came back not once, but twice inside the last five minutes, to steal a share of the points away from home. An away point in itself is quite some achievement but to win it so dramatically has got to put us in the right mood for Saturday's crunch relegation game at home against Blackpool. Reading went a goal down in the first half after a bright start but then allowed Gillingham to have most of the second half before scoring in the 87th minute. It looked like Reading's usual last minute bad luck would continue when the home side regained the lead in stoppage time, but then Reading hit back moments later with the last kick of the game as Williams drove a penalty home to make the game end 2-2.

Perhaps the key good point to come from this match was the return of three first team players back from injury and ready for the new year. Hodges made a start down the left in place of Potter who had returned to West Brom after his loan spell at Reading. Gray and Forster were also to come off the bench to make their return later in the match.

Nicholls, Reading's new on-loan signing from Chelsea, came straight into the team up front alongside both Scott and Williams and from the off it looked like Reading had come to take as many points as possible. We started well and could have taken the lead after Scott met a cross. Unfortunately for the Royals the ball found the crossbar and then safety rather than the back of the net. After Reading having the best of the opening twenty minutes Gillingham took it down the other end and stuck it in. The ball was crossed from the left and the shot was deflected past Howie to make it 0-1.

At half time Pardew changed the formation of the side to reduce the attack from three to two and add an extra central defender as Hunter replaced Scott. Gray came on as a straight swap for Hodges. However with Gillingham a goal up and Reading a goal down it was the home side who made the most chances of the second half as Reading failed to produce many goal scoring opportunities. Excluding a string of corners midway through the second half it wasn't until the last five minutes that we looked like grabbing a goal. With the game seemingly slipping away as a 0-1 defeat all of a sudden three goals at the death saw Reading claw something out of the game.

With three minutes of normal play remaining Smith supplied Nicholls on the edge of the Gillingham box in the centre. Nicholls let fly and the ball curved into the net past the keeper for a goal on his debut. 1-1, and it looked like we'd grabbed the point. But as the game entered injury time it looked like the home side had won back all three points. Their central defender went on a bit of a run and twisted past Gray to set it up. 1-2. Bollocks. But it wasn't over as Reading marched the ball back down the other end deep in injury time. The ball was played into the area where Primus had motored forward, Primus flicked it on and found the arm of a Gillingham defender. A clear penalty. With Caskey substituted, up stepped Martin Williams to send the keeper the wrong way and the ball firmly into the corner of the net. 2-2. And there was the final whistle much to the confusision and dismay of the home fans and players.

Gillingham will be gutted having won the game twice only to have it taken away. Reading should make the most of this point and follow it up with a much needed league win. The Royals have now gone ten league games without victory....

Post Match Opinions

I was at the game and it was nothing if not exciting. I was pleased to see Alan Pardew make some timely substitutions at half time with Keith Scott clearly not up to it and Lee Hodges off the pace as you would expect having just come back. His changes gave greater balance to the side. The substitution of Caskey was a surprise but one which worked because it gave a chance for Williams and Forster to feed the centre although it was a feed from Smith which fed Nicholls. The penalty was a blatant handball s how there can be any discussion is beyond me. As for the future, Scott is now off the pace, Smith needs to learn a lot and Gurney was being left all on his own too often with two players to mark. He needed more support from Caskey which he wasn't getting.
-- Steve Halliday in Essex

I thought that Reading deserved a point and that you were a bit harsh on yourselves in your reporting. You're right that we're gutted about losing 2 pts at the death - but losing late leads is a Gillingham speciality (cf Wembley play-off last year!). I was a bit narked about the penalty, not because I'd dispute the handball but the penalty taker stopped during his run-up, as the keeper committed. No complaints - draw was the right result. Good luck for the rest of the season - you looked miles better than Blackpool, Cambridge and Colchester, who are all dreadful and doomed.
-- A Gills fan.

You can't complain about the lack of effort desire or passion.In a windswept match we deserved at least a point.Again signs of gradual improvement all round.Primus excellent again,Polston solid with him at the back.Gray had a good second half,but the real hope for optimism was Nicky Forster back. As soon as he had the ball to feet their defence didn't know what to do.Williams toiled away.It was very heartening to come away from a game having scored to secure a point rather than conceding to lose all three.
-- Russ.

I couldn't be at this game, but it seems like we had a go and rode our luck, winning 5 nil every game and playing like Brazil would be nice, but this is the basement of division two, with tons to do to make us safe and build a platform for next season. The players, for whatever reason are responding to our hopes and aspirations and some of this must be credited to P & G who to be fair have inherited a nightmare scenario. Sure we need to do more, but we are at last doing something collectively! What about PARDEW'S ARMY NEW TEAM SPIRIT, supported by dedicated fans to help lift the gloom and turn our season around with positive optimism!
-- Terry Reynolds

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