(Half Time: 2-0)
Reading Scorers: -
Stoke City Scorers: Gudjonsson (25 mins), Cooke (30 mins).
Date: 15 September 2001
Attendance: 11,752

Reading: Whitehead, Murty, Williams, Whitbread, Robinson, Harper, Parkinson, A Smith (Jones 46), Igoe (Forster 69), Butler, Cureton (Henderson 46). Subs not used: Ashdown, Viveash.

Stoke City: Ward, Thomas, Handyside, Shtaniuk, Clarke, Gudjonsson, O'Connor, Gunnarsson, Vandeurzen, Cooke (Thordarson 75), Hoekstra. Subs not used: Cutler, Henry, Iwelumo, Neal.
Jones, Parkinson.
E K Wolstenholme (Blackburn)

This defeat - Reading's second from two league games effectively means Reading's superb start to the season now means nothing. It wasn't even the result that cast doubt over Reading's ability to win the Division this season - but the way in which we were beaten. Stoke City were massively superior to Reading today, and thoroughly deserved their victory over the Royals. We were just lucky that they didn't take all their chances to make it a truly massive defeat. Following on from the home defeat against Cardiff City you'd have to conclude that both Stoke and Cardiff should finish above us this season. Third place just won't be good enough after our previous play-off disasters. Still, the season is still very young and there's plenty of time to make up for a couple of poor results. It doesn't change the fact that we were just a bit crap today.

Following Tuesday night's superb victory over West Ham at the Madejski Stadium we had every reason to expect a similar performance from the same starting line up. Stoke City, having sold their best striker recently to Cardiff City were perhaps not expecting such an easy victory over Reading, the team still favourites to win the league. Reading got off to the best start, and for the first ten minutes we had no reason not to expect another away league victory.

Reading went straight on the attack, playing away from a decent away following, and Martin Butler without a goal all season so nearly got his first couple. Following on from Tuesday night a couple of fast attacking moves twice set up Butler. We're yet to see the Cureton and Butler partnership really shine this season but the two players combined well to allow Butler to run on goal. The Stoke goalkeeper came out well to block the shot. Moments later Cureton again supplied Butler. This time the keeper made a great save from Butler's shot that looked to be heading into the roof of the net. Reading had got off to a blistering start. But then that was it. The Reading fans could have gone home right then and they really wouldn't have missed much.

The wind was blowing around the Britannia Stadium like crazy, and that combined with the rain that followed, probably didn't help Reading too much. But that's really no excuse at all for the amazingly poor passing that followed for the next eighty minutes of the game. Too many balls were just hoofed forward and seemed to run far too long. When we did play an intelligent ball it seemed to be too intelligent with the intended recipient not having an idea that the ball was intended for them. Players didn't run through onto balls, and when they did they simply couldn't keep up with a ball that was rushing out of play at such a great speed. And the rest of the time it was hard to tell what we were trying to do when the ball was whacked forward into the middle of nowhere with only Stoke defenders likely to clear up the ball or let it go for a goal kick. We were shit. It's hard to pick out any individual when not a single player was playing a successful ball but Smith and Murty were guilty of some terrible balls.

Stoke on the other hand had no difficulty with the conditions and started to make it clear there was only going to be one outcome. With the constant gifts from Reading they were able to keep possession without really trying. When they did come forward we seemed reluctant to put a tackle in. Robinson, Whitbread, and Williams were all guilty of hanging back far too much and allowing Stoke to work their way into dangerous attacking positions. Stoke could have taken the lead before they did when they were gifted a corner and the ball wasn't cleared in the middle. Williams was on the line to block the shot. But we didn't hold out for long, Murty was beaten with ease on the left and the ball was played from the Stoke left towards the far post where their short fat number seven was on hand to drive the ball right into the back of the net from about six yards out.

The short fat number seven nearly made it 0-2 moments later after another good ball which wasn't cut out found him close in. Whitehead, Reading's player of the match, made a close range save and the ball fell to a Stoke player who looked certain to stick it home. Somehow it ended up flying over the crossbar when the home side looked certain to score. However, they did score right after that. Reading went on a rare attack and seemed to run into a solid Stoke midfield. Rather then press on forward we started running backwards with the ball, resulting in Harper setting Stoke up a treat by bringing it back and playing into the path of the Stoke attack. Another gift. The ball was played through, and found the Stoke forward with a one-on-one with Whitehead - and on-side. Whitehead did well to come out and close the angle, but the finish was superb to Whithead's left and low into the bottom corner of the net. 0-2, and with half an hour gone it was already all over.

Ten minutes before the end of the half Stoke almost increased their lead with a powerful strike from the edge of the area that had Whitehead beaten. It looked like it was going over, but seconds later it thumped against the post. A lucky escape for the Royals, and there was more to follow with Stoke narrowly shooting wide after coasting through the Reading defence, and Whitehead making another decent save. Just before the break we had a rare attack that saw a Reading header hit the post. But it was a rare glimer of hope.

With things going so badly Pardew made a double substitution at half time. Smith was replaced with Jones and Henderson came on for Cureton. The substitutions made plenty of sense. Cureton had hardly made an impression and Smith had been quite frankly shit. For a while it looked like the substitutions could turn the game around for Reading. Jones looked a thousand times more effective than Smith in midfield. He tackled hard, looked keen to win the ball back, and then played off some simply passes to retain possession for the Royals. Good stuff. Jones' determination was soon followed by the first yellow card of the game - and that seemed to slow him up a bit unfortunately. Henderson followed on from Tuesday by causing plenty of trouble in the Stoke defence. Henderson won every ball with his head and almost managed to knock down a couple of nice balls to Butler up front. Unfortunately the knock downs didn't quite find a man. So some promising signs from the two subs, but it still all came to nothing, and Reading's slight glimmer of hope was extinguished.

With time running out Stoke knew they had the game won and then just retained possession to play out time to the delight of the home fans. They had a couple more chances to extend their lead but found Whitehead in great form to pull off some great saves. If Whitehead had chosen to have an off day as well they it would have been a much bigger defeat than it was. At the final whistle the Reading fans were already half way out of the ground. The team came over to applaud their fans - but for the first time in a long while there wasn't a Reading fan in sight applauding them in return.

Post Match Opinions

It started well enough. Mad Dog came into the stand and said how fed up all the Stoke players and fans were because they had sold Thorne and asked us to be very noisy from the start. Good we thought, we are going to go for them from the first whistle. That is exactly what we did. Butler had two half chances early on. The first it looked as if he might have been better going round the keeper and the second was an excellent attempt which the keeper saved comfortably. That was it. From then on we looked like a team who had only just met each other. Whilst Murty and Igoe tried to get things moving, without a great deal of success, Robinson and Smith just did not know what day of the week it was. Harper and Parkie were outclassed and Whitbread lacked his recent assurance. Stoke were able to pass the ball around our midfield, through our midfield and over our midfield. The only thing that prevented this being a complete humiliation was Whitehead. He gave an outstanding display. I lost count of the number of times that he saved what looked like certain goals. He was as brilliant as the rest were abysmal. Hoekstra was their outstanding player, but this was a performance to give great concern. What has happened to Matt Robinson. Whilst he did not have an easy outlet and therefore his passing was made to look even worse than usual, his defending seems all over the place. Having said that it was in midfield, again, that we were lacking. Smith did nothing and was rightly taken off at half time. Igoe was not as effective as he has been recently, but he was one of better performers on the day, as was Forster when he came on. The combination of Harper and Parkie just did not work. No complaints about effort from them, but on the day they were not good enough. If you do not control midfield , you do not win football matches unless your strikers get you out of jail. At the moment they are not doing that and so the midfield is exposed and they in turn expose the defence too easily. Brilliant Whitehead, but we need those performances to keep us in a game not to stop a thrashing. A thrashing is what we got at Stoke, but at least the score did not show that. Those of us who were there know just how poor we were.
-- Ken C

Thank you Hammers for letting us play, but back to reality. Good start to the season maybe but now its 0 out of 6 points in a week. With two homes games coming up nothing less than 6 points will do if the team and the town is to be convinced that this week rather than the start to the season was the blip. It keeps being said but when we have a central defence that is a little immobile especially on the turn, how can we afford a defender like Robinson who spoils the shape of the team by making the midfield cover for him. So when we face attackers who are quick, as we did at Stoke or awkward as we did against Cardiff then we get get caught flatfooted with no cover in the the wings. A good fullback would not only be in the right position to defend but also be able to sweep across the defence to help out the central defenders. Thankfully, Murty is looking the most improved player of recent times but how can we have kept looking to buy attackers and midfielders over the last few months but never a fullback. Our defence continues to play deeper and deeper and the midfield gap gets bigger, so its no wonder that Parky and the not yet consistent Harper fail to control it. Why not put Whitbread at fullback and Vivash back in the middle. Not perfect but at least we would have three defenders out there. I want to beleive they will make it this year, but even more I wanted a Millwall or Fulham type performance where everyone would be asking who else would be going up. Its still early but John Mad, can we have just a little more money, but dont let Pards buy an attacker.
-- Roger, Wargrave Royal

I did not go to the Britannia Stadium yesterday, but instead listened in anticipation of another good result following Tuesday nights good showing against West Ham. Obviously not being there to see the action, I can't comment on the match other than to say that the season will be long and hard this year and perhaps the high position reached last year should not make us all feel as if we have a right to automatic promotion. (Although I do!) I will say from what I have seen this year, that Reading are lacking an ingredient which is only partially being fulfilled by Murty and Igo at the moment. We seem to be lacking a play maker, someone who controls the pace of the game and links the defence and attack to midfield, at his best Casky did this, only without consistency. The player Reading last had who really made them tick and purr on a regular basis was Mick Gooding and perhaps this is why we are not scoring goals and are defending indifferently. We need a player with his steady influence to impose Reading on our opponents as it was obvious against Cardiff and from the radio it seemed to be the case against Stoke that the game was being dictated to us. In this respect, I would disagree with Pardews comments that our attack has been blunt and it is the inability of the front men to find the net which has led to the poor performances recently.
Before Cardiff I thought we were lucky against Huddersfield and I would put the lack of goals mainly down to lack of service. Pardew and Allen are going to have to improve the delivery and service to the front players, you can't hoof long balls to Cureton, he is too small and from the radio commentary that's what Reading resorted to after the first 25 minutes no wonder they are not scoring!. I feel Harper is a fantastic prospect, but he is not yet mature enough to really stamp his authority on the match, Pardew has not rushed out and spent money over the summer and I have seen very little of Hughes who lets face it was more or less a straight swap for Casky.
Reading need a wise head, a player who will control a match, someone with experience, perhaps a player coming to the end of his premiership days but with a few good years left. Jones is obviously in this mould and possibly what Pardew had in mind when he came to the club, he just does not have the presence or perhaps Reading are playing the wrong system to suit him. I also feel that under Pardew Reading have not looked a real solid unit since Goreman left the coaching staff and had the team shown a little more resolve and resilience last season we would have gone up automatically. When Burns left the club and Pardew took over, the team had its most successful run without some of the excellent signings Pardew has made this past season. Its too early to make any judgement on how this season will pan out, but with some of our best players only having a short time left on their contracts we need to go up to build on the current squad and not loose players like Cureton and Butler. Tactically we need to improve and I will be looking to the coaching staff to deliver as I feel we have the players to do the job. Come on Reading you did it against West Ham, you have got to take the confidence from that performance and impose your game on the second division.

-- Paul Finch

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