(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: Cureton (52 mins).
Stoke City Scorers: -
Date: 23 February 2002
Attendance: 21,032

Reading: Whitehead, Murty, Mackie, Viveash, Shorey, Igoe, Parkinson, Hughes, Salako, Cureton (Henderson 87), Forster (N Smith 89). Subs not used: Ashdown, Gamble, Roget.

Stoke City: Cutler, Handyside, Shtaniuk (sent off 62), Flynn (Hoekstra 57), Clarke, Thomas, Henry, O'Connor, Gudjonsson, Burton (Cooke 83), Gunnlaugsson (Iwelumo 76). Subs not used: Vandeurzen, Viander.

Bookings: Flynn, Shtaniuk (Stoke).
Referee: S W Dunn (Bristol)

This was a performance of team destined for promotion. Reading announced their intention from the kick-off when Nicky Forster nipped in to win possession before Stoke could even play the ball into the Reading half. Reading took control early in the first half and continued to dominate the game throughout. Stoke were lucky not to have been beaten by several goals by a Royals side once again forced to make changes in crucial positions due to injury and suspension. There is a confidence and determination about the side which makes them very hard to beat these days. The points were secured by a typical Cureton finish. Cutler was unable to hold a Forster shot and Cureton pounced to knock in the loose ball. Reading had to survive a few scares, but even before Stoke were reduced to ten men by the sending off of Shtaniuk for a second bookable offence, the Royals always looked the side most likely to score.

The defence looked as solid as ever today but I felt the game was won in midfield with Parky, Hughes and Igoe working very hard to close players down and eager to push forward to support the attack. Hughes work rate was phenomenal and if his passing and touch been better he might have created or scored a couple of goals. I lost count of the chances Forster created for himself with his pace but ultimately wasted. If only he could have kept his head when he found himself clear in front of goal Reading would be won by three or four goals. His best effort came after 24 minutes when he spotted the 'keeper off his line and from some distance fired in a shot which landed on the bar. Shortly before that, a sweeping move enabled Murty to whip in a low cross which Cureton struck well only to see it bounce off Cutler's legs and go for a corner. The first half was mainly one way traffic apart from one good effort form Burton after 35 minutes which produced a great save from Whitehead.

The game opened up in the second half after Cureton had deservedly put the Royals ahead. Stoke, spurred into action by the goal, briefly looked dangerous. Whitehead had to stretch to tip over a looping header from Henry, and Gudjonsson clipped the bar with an effort from just outside the area. Reading lost their composure for a while and passes went astray and the marking was a bit loose, but they were still looking dangerous every time they attacked. In the end one goal was enough but it should have been a much more comfortable victory. The sending off merely made the job easier.

This was a very important game to win and we won it convincingly. The passing and movement was good and it is very reassuring having Whitehead back. I was disappointed with Stoke. I thought they would provide a sterner test but they were clumsy at the back and lacking in ambition going forward. If we can maintain this form over the next few games the emphasis will shift from winning promotion to winning the title. Who would have thought that back in December?
John Wells

Following report from Rory O'Sullivan
This was a fantastic win accompanied by a hugely convincing performance from the Royals. Beating fellow promotion hopefuls Stoke City made that upward curve towards division one more concrete.

The future of the division 2 title was very much at stake today, a Reading loss meaning that more ground will have been gained on the league leaders, yet a win would have set the Royals to run away with an automatic promotion spot. So to say this match was simply 'crucial' would have been the understatement of the year (in the eyes of both Reading and Stoke fans).

Both sets of fans will rightfully be able to say that their respective teams got off to impressive starts. The Potters imposed a significant amount of pressure on the Reading goal in the opening 10 minutes to keep the likes of the out-of-practice Adie Viveash occupied, whereas the Royals also got straight down to business right from the outset.

The interesting thing with a game such as this (where two top teams in the league are battling it out with so much riding on the outcome) is that the team who manages to keep control of the game and dictate the pace of the football after the initial opening is the one that ends up winning. This was very much the case today as Reading marched on to cast the Potters aside and show who deserves to be top of the league.

That quality link-up play in midfield (where we tremendously display intelligent passing, superb off the ball moves and frightening distribution of the ball) seemed to have left us in the last 3 games - it was certainly absent at Swindon.

But today was a different story. With over a week to prepare for the game, our boys had Stoke chasing thin air as we knocked the ball around professionally, calmly and coolly. As a result, the visiting back line were under constant threat. Fantastic football down the wings - with Graeme Murty giving Sammy Igoe good support on the right and similar intelligent linking between Nicky Shorey and John Salako on the left - did in fact carve out some beautiful chances.

The first one of note fell to Shorey. On 14 minutes, Igoe whipped in a corner from the right which was cleared away with no fuss. The left back was lurking on the edge of the area, and when the ball fell to him, he took his time before hooking a gorgeous left footed effort on the half-volley which itched the left hand post. Another massive chance fell to us just moments later. Igoe was again the provider as he made a steaming run down the right after receiving the ball from Murty. Cureton squirmed free of his marker in the area, and when Igoe's low ball into the box came in, a goal seemed a certainty as all that was needed was a low hard shot past the 'keeper. It was the Stoke fans who ended up standing in applause, as Cureton's effort was well blocked by 'keeper Cutler on the line.

Even though they hadn't scored, Reading's confidence grew and grew. We were well and truly on top of the game once another two notable chances fell to Nicky Forster and John Salako: Around the half hour mark, Forster found himself with a clear on goal 40 yards out - but, against all expectations and with the ball bouncing nicely in front of him, he unleashed a majestic lob which seemed destined to loop over the 'keeper but agonisingly bounced off the top of the crossbar. More misfortune ensued, and this time Salako was on the receiving end. He steadily brought the ball into the box on the left and then rifled a right footed shot which appeared as if it would fly into the top corner of the net - but cruel as it may be, it skimmed the top of the bar.

Reading went into the dressing room on a high, but work was still needed to be done as the decisive breakthrough had not been found. Also, the interval gave the Potters a chance to regroup and talk about new ways as to keep out the onrushing Reading.

As the Royals so richly deserved for all their efforts in the game, a goal finally came just 5 minutes into the second half. The ironic thing about this goal is that there was so much good football on display today and excellent chances being carved out, yet the only goal of the game wasn't anything special by anyone's standards. With pretty much our first attack of the half, Igoe sent the ball low to the near post from a corner. Forster advanced to meet it and clipped a low shot first-time which Cutler managed to parry. But he didn't hold on. Cureton was onto the 'keeper's small fumble in a flash and he showed no hesitation in stabbing the ball home much to the delight of the 18,000 Reading fans in a very cold Madejski Stadium.

So we'd got the breakthrough, the hard part was holding on to the lead. I've heard that the best method of defending is to attack (that doesn't apply to football solely) and we certainly appeared to go along with this theory. The Royals showed not the slightest glimpse of complacency after taking the lead, and immediately after the restart Nicky Forster was racing towards goal but after he reached the area he couldn't quite keep his blazing shot on target.

Reading continued to shred the visitors' cover to pieces. The strike partnership of Cureton and Forster would be best summed up by the word 'threatening'. Forster's pace was formidable this afternoon, and combined with the goal scoring touch of Cureton, the Stoke back line never experienced a dull moment.

I must add that the service to the front two this afternoon was exquisite. If it wasn't for the eagerness (and possible greed) of Forster the scoreline could well have been nearer 3 or 4-0. Our midfield knew exactly what they were doing when it came down to providing the strikers, but as I said had Forster not been so eager (whereby he was caught offside on countless occasions) we might have experienced even more joy.

Our job of holding on to the lead was made a darn sight easier with the dismissal of Belorussian international Shtaniuk. He unleashed a rash and late challenge on Igoe on the corner of the area, and having been already booked in the game, was sent off. From the resulting free kick, on 60 minutes, Cureton bent the ball round the wall perfectly but Cutler as on hand to claw it round the post for a corner.

With 10 minutes to go, I was left astonished at how this game wasn't wrapped up and secure. We had ridiculous amounts of opportunities to extend the lead, but that killer finish just wasn't there. What would have deflated us massively would be if the cruel spell of football were to turn on us. How many times have we seen teams bang on the door of the opposition and not score, yet out of the blue concede at the other end? Luckily this didn't happen today, but it could well have done if Deon Burton showed a bit more composure with some late pressure from the Potters, but Reading saw out a massive, massive victory which was won with some style. It wasn't your everyday, bog-standard 1-0 win, this was - if you like - a 1-0 thrashing.

Post Match Opinions

Some great football by both sides. The best thing about this game was that we showed that we CAN be the best team in the division. Our recent performances against Notts County, Brighton and Swindon have been sub standard, even though we won one, drew one, and lost one.
We still need another 20 points from 11 games to be certain. On today's performance we'll get them. Viveash was superb. He and Mackie were brilliant at the back. Murty had an off day, Cureton and Forster were inspirational - although the cloggers of the division would have crucified them. Parky and Hughes were solid, and Igoe did ok. Sometimes his choice of pass left a bit to be desired.
If we can get 7 from the next 9, we'll do it. Stoke will beat Brighton next Friday, and then we have to beat Zamora and Hove Albion on the 9th of March. Great support today. Number 13 was man of the match despite Viv's comeback. See you all at Wycombe. This time next year it will be at Leicester - hopefully!

-- Kevin, Worthing Royal.

Nick (the peoples choice) Newbury has gone skiing along with his generously proportioned sack (calls himself a fan!). So it has fallen on me to attempt to emulate this Purlizer Prize winning genius (well that's what he tells me). A task which know doubt will be futile in the extreme. So here it goes...
The mighty Royals' drive to division 1 rumbles inexorably on, or so it would seem. A confident looking Royals side made short work of a lethargic looking Stoke, who rarely threatened and whose team sheet read more like an Icelandic whaling station roll call. Our pace ripped huge holes in their excuse for a defence and but for some woeful finishing and a trigger happy linesman, we could and probably should have won at a canter. If only Fossie could finish like Jamie and hold the ball up like Rougier. But then, I suppose he would be worth 15 million! The amount of space and time we had was unbelievable from side supposedly challenging for promotion. Even their fans were strangely subdued as they only once attempted to treat us to that old classic 'Delilah'. Even when they did, it was promptly drowned at by a very vocal east stand. A solid performance all round (finishing excepted), with Viveash making an impressive return after injury and Mackie fast becoming a colossus in defence. However Parky was again my man of the match, with another typical blood and guts display. With players due back from injury anytime now and the strength in depth that will give us, even we cant throw it away this time... Can we?
The championship beckons and I wonder if Watson could be the final piece in the jigsaw to achieve it, with the transfer deadline imminent? I rated him earlier in the season when on loan. He seems to be one of those players who always has time and space to receive the ball. A rare commodity in the modern game. The reported ½ million asking price is of course ridiculous but perhaps an improved offer of say 250K might do the trick. Peanuts if it achieves the desired affect. Cheque book time again John?
The game was reported to be a sell out. But the declared attendance of just over 21,000 was well short of capacity almost entirely due to the huge swathes of seats cordoned off either side of the away fans. There was more defensive depth than a Normandy beach. You don't see it in the Premiership and its denying the club valuable income. Wouldn't it be better to more usefully employ those 'jobs worth' stewards to act as human barriers as witnessed in a recent Premiership game. As their sole purpose in life at the moment seems to piss people off big time, this would seem a much more suitable use for their limited people skills. Rant over.
-- Lobby Thatcham

Well, what can I say. After the tripe at Swindon, a swift move back to proceedings against a classy Stoke side, who will be there or thereabouts come the end of April. Fozzy's half way line shot was a sign of what was to come of this season. Everyone gave there hardest and made us already look a class act capable of beating most sides in Division 1. Everyone gave their guts to the cause, which in the end, will earn us promotion. Surely with this side, we have the best chance of making Division 1. They passed their way around, and were always 5 steps ahead of Stoke, who have been doing so well. Thank god we beat them too... Nick Hancock would of been taking the pee out of us more. Oh... and Curetons goal was not fluke... it was class!
-- Craig, Reading

Normal service resumed!
I felt incredibly uneasy about this game. The crowd were tense before kick off. Then straight from kick off we went storming at their goal. It was clear we were back to normal. I really thought Stoke would be a greater threat. Their two Premier league loanees didn't look anywhere near as dangerous as Cureton & Forster. I think Stoke lost the ability to threaten as promotion candidates when they sold Kavanagh. Parky & Hughes in midfield were awesome. Stoke simply had no answer to their midfield dominance.
We simply never looked like losing.
Stoke must have wondered how they got away with not being drubbed 6-0 as Nick Hancock predicted. Forster was so unlucky with that fantastic lob that hit the bar. We took them apart at the back. How many chances did we create? I felt at times we made a few mistakes in the box, crossing when we should have shot, shooting when we should have crossed. But who cares. It was a 1-0 thrashing.
Once again we picked up valuable points against a key rival, while Brighton & Bristol can only manage draws. Stoke must feel completely demoralised. We came down together in the same season. Reading have made enormous progress. Stoke don't look like they are going anywhere.
Come on URZ's!

-- Paul, Thatcham Royal

Great game, no doubts about it we are going up. One gripe: will someone tell Nicky Foster he's a greedy bastard, always shooting from tight angles when its better to pass? We would have won 3-0 at least.
-- Gary, Reading.

Just a couple of comments to add to opinions already logged after the match report. We may if we are lucky get up with 20 more points that being 89 but with Bristol City and Brentford capable of getting a max of 95 at the moment 23 or 26 would be a safer bet. However, if Bristol and Brighton continue to drop points in "easy" games like Wrexham at home this weekend then who knows. Also just to agree with the writer about the Stoke fans, they were the quietest away fans I remember hearing (or not hearing) at the Mad stad since we moved in - maybe that's a key to their drop in form of late? Agree also with Gary about Nicky Forster and his lack of passing, BUT you don't get to be the highest scorer in a team if you keep passing so maybe we will just have to put up with his greed?
-- Steve Pardoe - Living near Cambridge (and ticketless for next weekend, looks like I'll have to go in with the U's fans!)

Well, it's official. At least we can't be relegated. That's got to be worth a cold frosty one!
-- AGB, St. Louis MO

A superb team performance. As individuals there was quite a bit lacking, the distribution from the full backs was not of the standard that they have set themselves, Hughes's control and tackling were short of the mark, Solako's reluctance to take on his man and Forster and Cureton's finishing were not what we would ideally like. What we did have was eleven people willing to work for each other. The team had a massive amount of energy and purpose about it. If anyone made a mistake they just got on with it. Nobody hid and we totally outplayed a good Stoke team. Even the ref. had a good game. The atmosphere was good and Stoke came to try and win the match. Their two loan players showed some ability but great credit goes to Mackie and Viveash for controlling them. It seemed like Viveash had not been away!
We always looked likely to trouble them by simply running at them. I though Forster was outstanding in the amount of ground that he covered and Hughes was not far behind him. To me the man of the match was Igoe, he certainly wanted to make up for his Swindon performance! It was ironic that the goal should eventually be worked from a corner. At the start of the match we had three successive corners which were really wasted. The only real disappointment was that we did not win by two or three goals. we certainly deserved to. What that meant was that we were all kept on the edge of our seats wondering if we were going to pay for all those missed chances. This was a championship winning performance, provided we keep it up!

-- Ken C

Yesterday cost me the best part of 200 quid as we went in the hospitality box for my Nephews 18th Birthday. It was worth every penny. The hospitality at the Madjeski is excellent. Good food, friendly staff, and we were introduced to Adie Williams, Martin Butler and Jamie Cureton. All three players had a brilliant attitude towards everyone, especially the children, and were genuinely happy to chat to supporters, sign autographs and pose for pictures. It made me proud to be supporting them.
As for what was served up on the pitch, well what can I say. After a recent slight wobble The Royals were back to their best in one of the finest performances I have seen for years. Only a combination of misfortune, good goalkeeping and poor finishing stopped a cricket score, yet there was always that fear that Stoke might equalise to keep us on the edge of our nice padded seats (this was definitely a step up from The Royal Rendevouz). One hilarious moment was my Nephews young friend getting a bit pissed and telling Jamie Cureton " Please don't leave Jamie...dont go.... please........I Love you". It was like watching a desperate husband trying to save his marriage. I dont quite know what Jamie thought of all this attention, but to his credit he smiled through it. Our young friend promptly retired to the lavatory to copiously vomit the night away.
We were all young once.
Keep going Reading you're nearly there.

-- Bob Lethaby

On possession and chances made we thrashed Stoke, they rarely got to grips with the game and really were less of a handful than Notts County were! Perhaps it was nerves that Reading failed to make it 3 or even 4 nil, which would not have been an unfair reflection of our superiorority, or just the fact that Fozzy and Curo were not quite in tune with the goal. Both need finishing practice before Tuesday as Wycombe are likely to show far more spirit and endeavour as they look to revenge the beating they had from us last year. Lets hope Laurie Sanchez side do us a favour, if Blackpool can turn them over then we should take them in our stride, Alan will know though that when it comes to local derbies that the form book can be thrown away as Swindon have proved this year. What was impressive for Reading against Stoke, was our defence, apart from one small slip in the first half, Mackie was again excellent. Vivash also looked solid, although his lack pace, which showed from time to time and we will have to watch that McSporon does not capitalise on this Tuesday night. Murty was outstanding yet again and was impressive coming forward with his link up play with Igoe who also had an excellent game, the carrot must be a contract at the end of the season, keep him hungry Alan if he performs like this. Parkinson in Midfield obviously knows his playing days are numbered and seems to be really making the most of things this season and it was his determined performance which gave us the upper hand as we dominated the middle of the park. Hughes continues to improve and should work on that first touch, he took up some really good positions and was giving us options all the time, however his final ball or control just let him down when he needed to make it tell.
-- Paul Finch

After the poor results at Brighton and Swindon I went into this match with some trepidation but it was one of the best Reading performances I have seen not only this season but for years. My only concern is the ability to finish off well worked moves as we really should have won by four or five goals. After this performance, I believe we'll go up. We have to as I can't even consider another play off final!.
See you all at Wycombe.

-- Richard Rickmansworth, Herts.

Lobby you've obviously been sitting alongside Nick Newbury for far too long!
Great attempt to emulate the Whinging Badger. Spot on with your comments about Forster although I would remind everyone that last seasons Player of the Year Martin Butler is now back in training and not far off a return to action. Add him to the list of Williams Whitbread & Harper and you see just what a great depth of talent we have in all positions. Kevin Watson would be my choice too as the final piece in the jigsaw and as Mr Madje was given 100000 on Saturday we must be able to find another 150000 - 200000. (Sell Matty Robinson that would bring in 50 Quid!).
Special mention for John Mackie who has been superb since coming back into the team and who now appears to be the cornerstone of our defence around whom we can bring in the likes of Viveash (great return Saturday) Williams, Whitbread or a loanee without any disruption to the team. With Shorey and Murty both permanent fixtures as well are defensive frailties of previous seasons now seem very much a thing of the past (consider also how easy it was for loan goalkeepers to fit into the team with a superb defensive unit in front of them). With both Brighton and Bristol City bottling it and Brighton playing Stoke this week things could look even better for us around 5pm next Saturday particularly if we can take all 3 points from Wycombe tomorrow night (DOES ANYONE HAVE A SPARE TICKET I CAN HAVE?) and then follow it up by stuffing Cambridge.
Who knows what the outcome of the Premiership will be (who cares either) but in a few months time we could be planning trips to Everton, Leicester, Derby, Blackburn or even Sunderland. Far better than Bury, Colchester or Swindon!

-- Stewart Thatcham

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