(Half Time: 1-1)
Reading Scorers: Garden (og, 25 mins), Cureton (90 mins).
Notts County Scorers: Liburd (19 mins)
Date: 9 February 2002
Attendance: 13,564

Reading: Roberts, Murty, Mackie, Williams, Shorey, Igoe, Gamble (Cureton 72), Hughes (N Smtih 80), Salako, Rougier (Henderson 68), Forster. Subs not used: Ashdown, Robinson.

Notts County: Garden, Fenton (Owers 72),Warren, Ireland, Baraclough, Cas, Leam Richardson, Liburd, Caskey, Allsopp, Stallard (Hackworth 81). Subs not used Mildenhall, Nicholson, Brough.

Bookings: Rougier, Murty (Reading); Caskey, Warren (Notts County).
Referee: M J Jones (Chester)

I must admit I'd given this one up long before the final whistle. This was the poorest performance I've seen from the Royals since the December. County could easily have been two up at half time. Reading looked ragged and vulnerable. As the game moved into stoppage time, in my mind, I was just beginning to dissect the performance, to work out why a team near the bottom could have given us such a tough game. Then right on cue, the ball bounced agonisingly off the upright across the County goalmouth into the path of Jamie Cureton who joyfully smashed it into the net! Nothing obliterates cold analysis more than a last gasp winner! Minutes later - further elation as news filtered through of defeats for Brighton and Bristol City - and to top it all - Bobby Zamora had been sent off. Now what was that about a poor performance?

It was certainly a strange game today. County can count themselves very unlucky to get nothing out of this game. They created some good scoring opportunities with the aid of some poor defending, and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Adie Williams brought down Allsopp as he was setting himself to shoot. Today the Royals did not work as unit defensively and were not quite as quick to close down as they have been in recent games. The slick passing came in short bursts and the ball was given away cheaply too often.

Reading clearly missed the stability and experience of either Parkinson or Jones in the centre of midfield. Gamble played well and replacing him didn't do much to improve things. The balance was not right in midfield today and I should be very surprised to see that combination again. County, as many sides do at the Madejski, packed five into midfield, and as a result were able to take the game to Reading at times. In the end it was Reading's self belief and determination to stay at the top that won the points.

County took the lead on 17 minutes when Liburd followed up after Roberts had saved from Allsopp. Minutes later Cas missed a good chance to make it 2 - 0 but he dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area. Nicky Forster's 25th minute powerful looping header against the bar was rebounding to safety when it stuck the back of the airbourne Garden and popped back into the net. It was a very lucky goal and came at a very good time - before anxiety had time to set in!

Roberts is definitely up to the job until Whitehead returns but in keeping with the rest of the team he had a jittery performance today. There are some things to talk about there before Monday's game when the defence will come under pressure. A big issue is when to come for the ball. However he was well behind every shot fired at him and arguably made a good save from a point blank header in the 75th minute when it really did matter. (I'm not sure he could have got out of the way even if he had wanted too.)

I was delighted that it was Cureton that hit the winner following his absurd article in the local press this week where he announced that Rougier should be dropped to accommodate him. Not team-building stuff exactly! Pardew showing great management skill again, dug him out of that hole with his post match comments today. "...He's a team player and he was disappointed with an interview he did in the local paper this week that didn't come out the way he wanted,..." Perhaps now he will feel part of the promotion push and realise that he does have a crucial role to play even if he does not make the starting eleven. He will never be able to do the job that Rougier is doing at the moment because he simply does not have the physical prowess. Surely he must see in the current set up, he's competing with Forster for his place and again Reading are much less of an attacking force without his pace. I can see Cureton playing a crucial role between now and the end of the season but I don't see him starting many games.

When you come out of a game like this with all the points you start to feel that it is going to be your season. Playing well is important, and we certainly have done that since Christmas, but so is being lucky and we seem to be getting our fair share of good fortune at present. We'll need more than luck on Monday, so let's hope the team can serve up another full blooded away performance. I feel confident that they can improve on today's effort, but the stakes are high and the opposition is stronger.
Report by John Wells

Post Match Opinions

This is going to be our season. To take 3 points from a Notts County side who were as hard to beat as anybody we have played all season, proves we are going up. Certainly not our best performance, but the team never stopped plugging away. Pardew made it clear he was going all out for the win, with his attacking substitutions. To be fair, to leave with nothing was probably an unfair result for County. Their plan was working perfectly. They frustrated our forwards all afternoon, not all of it legally (their number 13 got away with murder) But how many goals have we scored in the last third of a game? It seems the second any team lets their guard down, we pounce. As usual it seems all the results went for us. To see Zamora sent off is excellent news. He'll miss 3 games & we'll see what Brighton have to offer without him! We go to Brighton with all the pressure on the home side. They have to attack, and Reading seem to be at their most dangerous when that happens.
Promotion keeps getting closer & closer.

-- Paul, Thatcham Royal

Not the performance I had predicted, County played well above their league position and caught Reading on a day when things did not quite go to plan. Notts County were big and Reading have struggled to impress against big physical teams on occasions already this year, as they did at home to Cardiff earlier in the season. You could not say that County ever controlled the match, but uncomfortably for Reading they prevented us getting to them where it hurts despite our obvious endeavours. Reading were shocked into action after conceding an early goal, for the rest of the first half however County rarely bothered us and Reading looked in command. Igoe, Murty and Mackie possibly made the difference and if his performances are maintained at this level Pardew will have to give Igoe a new contract. The second half for the fans was frustrating and the feeling of gloom was descending until deep into injury time that man Cureton popped up to snatch all three points from a devastated County side who had given their all and some would say deserved a share of the points. It wasn't to be though and as the Royals fans celebrated you could not help feeling sorry for County who had come so near but so far. The disappointment of our performance was soon forgotten especially as the Brighton and Bristol City results went in our favour. Gamble deputised for Parkinson well and although he lacks the presents of Parky, his intelligent running and passing kept Readings football flowing. Disappointingly our attack was below par and Rougie,Forster and Salarko all performed below the high standards set in recent weeks. Certainly Salako who interviewed on Grandstand said that Reading just lacked belief did not produce the number of menacing runs he is capable of, perhaps he has been up too late doing his commentary work for the African nations cup! Sorry to criticise John but you were never quite in the game today. Anyway we have three more valuable points in the bag and I have a feeling that the Royals can raise there game a notch when they take on Brighton on Monday night. Come on lads steel yourselves for this one, you can do it.
-- Paul Finch

Well, took me 4 hours to get to the match today from Staffs, took along a workmate on the advice of the club (just to show the wife I can do DIY on a Saturday!) but anyway he enjoyed the match if I didn't till the end at least. Just felt today the midfield was over run at times although Igoe and Joe did at times create opportunities in attack, we looked light weight when defending from midfield. Our biggest problem today seemed to be who was in the middle to meet the crosses? Trouble was either Forster or Rougier providing neither to receive in the middle, until Jamie did exactly what Tony can't do.... be in the right place right time. But what the hell why should we moan all the rest are losing their bottle sign of a good team winning when playing naff. Just a foot note.. great entertainment from the Beard Lads... overall worth the journey home and missing pop idol!
-- Simon, Tamworth Royal

Lady luck was on our side today.
Sometimes you just have to take wins like today's, and not think too hard about them. Without Parky, or Jonah, who would normally have replaced the suspended skipper, we looked a bit clueless at times. To be fair, Notts County did not look like a side at the foot of the table. They came to win, and could easily have done so. Caskey played very much the same as he used to at Reading. He rolled around for long periods doing nothing, and then cropped up for dead ball situations, nearly turning the game. His swirling free kick, followed by an amazing inswinging corner had all of our hearts in our mouths. Still, three points, Brighton and Bristol City losing, Zamora sent off - its just a shame his ban isn't instant. See you all down my neck of the woods on Monday. Don't hold your breath though. The Withdean is under about three feet of mud at the moment, and it is forecast to rain all day leading up to kick off. Bring some wet weather gear as well. There is no cover!

-- Kevin, Worthing Royal.

Bloody hell , who needs drugs! What a result and with Brighton and Bristol City losing, Jamie Cureton's late, late goal and far more vitally Roberts point blank wonder save may prove to be a pivotal moment in what's turning out to be a fantastic season. No worries about the performance today that I thought was well below average, it's the three points that count! The way the results went today for us mean anything at Brighton is a bonus, for what it's worth I think we'll win and after the Stoke game our destiny will be decided one way or another. Mention for young Gamble today who I thought done really well and bodes well for the future. Let's though, enjoy the feeling of a ninety second minute winner, just think how our rivals will think when they see in the papers tomorrow the way we sneaked it... bloody marvellous! Scream your hearts out for the boys this week... come on URZ!
-- Nick Newbury

Phew - that was close. I must say I don't think we were as impressive today as recent matches and there's plenty to work on. BUT, as they say, the mark of a great team is when you can come away with 3 points when you play BADLY! I'm starting to believe it's possible!
-- Seb, Crowthorne

Was at the Oldham match yesterday, which wasn't a bad match in difficult windy conditions. curiously Zamora only got on with 30 mins to go, but didn't he make a difference to Brighton, until he got himself sent of for a petulant elbow on Armstrong. Before Zamora entered the fray Brighton looked an ordinary side going forward, they were however very resolute in defence and will take some breaking down on Monday night. Zamora looks a class above this division, he made things happen, his first contribution was to peel away from Oldhams defense to crash a header against the bar. Next was a superb dummy to set up a team mate with a chance on goal. Finally a run at defence which caused panic in Oldham's defence as three players descended on him leaving Zamora to flick on to an unmarked team mate to run clear on goal only for the keeper to make an excellent block. So are Brighton a one man team? Probably not, but Zamora made a big difference. shame his suspension wont start before Monday night. Oldham scored two of the best goals I've seen this season, (apart from Curo's on this same ground) both from set pieces, the first a well worked corner, the second a thumping free kick, to break down Brighton's defence, when the second went in I celebrated as much as the next Oldham supporter, who happened to be the Father-in-law, which he noted! I turned to him and said all I need now is for my Dad to send a text informing me of a late Reading winner. the script was written and the mobile duly vibrated ten minutes later with the Oldham score board indicting time-up! with trembling hands I pressed the appropriate buttons and there it was, 2-1, another jump for joy and I was already composing this draft in my head. One downer I have to by the Pop-in-law the pint I promised him if Oldham turned them over. This is going to hurt, but what the hell I guess he deserves it. Come on URZ
-- Paul, Rochdale Royal.

I don't want this report to appear negative. I am a die hard Royals nut and would support us come what may, however yesterday's performance showed just why this season is far from over. Pardew talked about 36 crosses, how many were we even close to getting on the end of? I can tell you, it wouldn't have been more than 7or 8. Midfield was overrun by a team with no midfield 'names' to speak of other than Caskey who I thought had a very uninfluential game.
There were two things that worried me more than anything else yesterday :
1) Our appetite in my opinion was not as hungry as theirs and this in all honesty should have cost us.
2) With a defence that has only let in two goals in nine games how did their player have a free header from six yards, then after Ben Roberts had made a fantastic save how was he allowed to nearly score again once from the next cross in and then again only a few minutes later!
All these questions need to be answered BEFORE Monday night. Human nature tells you that we will have relaxed a bit after that victory whereas Brighton will be desparate to beat us after their defeat, otherwise it's 10 points behind us.
A draw would be an excellent result at The Withdean and if the pitch is as bad as the last time they played we need to play for a draw and attack on the break.
I was so pleased for Jamie yesterday. The game was 'gagging' for a natural goalscorer. Pards decision to put Jamie on was a good one but on the right wing? seemed a bit mad to me!, however he was in the right place (again!) and did the business.
I have sent a congrats message to the official site for Jamie. He needs to know how we feel about him and how important he is to us this year and hopefully in Division 1. I don't think he could have been in any doubt after his reception yesterday.
My adrenalin is still pumping after yesterdays game and the speed in which I've typed this e mail tells me I'm still a bit hyper!
Always love being a Royal but especially at the moment, Come on boys, let's do Brighton tomorrow and put some distance between us and the rest.
Finally, bring your gran , your grans best friend, her daughter (your mum) and anyone else you can find for the Stoke game for a sell out.
NB - I thought Caskey was a credit yesterday and his interaction with the
East Stand was very amusing.
Good Luck Caskey and Notts Co.

-- Dean, Crowthorne Royal.

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