(Half Time: 1-1)
Reading Scorers: Caskey (pen, 28 mins), Cureton (68), Rougier (78, 87)
Oxford United Scorers: Lilley (40), Viveash (OG, 69), Richardson (73)
Date: 28 October 2000
Attendance: 16,022

Reading: Whitehead, Gurney (Rougier, 74), Viveash, Mackie, Newman, Caskey, Jones (Igoe, 60), Parkinson, Cureton (McIntyre, 85), Butler, Hodges.
Subs not used: Howie, Murty.

Oxford United: Knight, Robertson (Folland, 84), Jarman, Richardson, Murphy, Anthrobus, Lilley, Weatherstone, Fear, McGowan, Linighan.
Subs not used: Glass, Omoyimni, Beauchamp, Whitehead.

Bookings: Mackie (Reading); Anthrobus, Fear, McGowan, Richardson (Oxford).

In the end this victory was far better than the four or five goal stuffing we thought we'd win by. On paper it looked like we'd walk this one. Reading, the league's highest scorers and second in the table before kick-off, against Oxford United, bottom of the league with seven straight away defeats. Instead, Reading far from cruised to victory and it took a goal in the last three minutes to give the full three points to Reading after Oxford had been 2-3 up. The visitors made it as hard as they could for Reading, and the late victory in torrential rain made it one of the most entertaining games seen at the Madejski Stadium all season long. To go from a goal behind with less than fifteen minutes of play remaining to a goal ahead by the final whistle was entertainment of the highest class which means Reading's highest attendance of the season so far, 16,022, could well be back for the next installment of Reading's promotion push.

This wasn't the classest performance from Reading at all - although there were plenty of nice touches on display. But it was a full on fight for victory against an Oxford side desperate for some points themselves. Last season we might have given up at 2-3 down in the closing stages, but today we never gave up. Oxford will be gutted, but Reading deserved their victory even if it did take a superstar performance from substitute and probable man-of-the-match Tony Rougier to claim the full three points.

Pardew stuck to the defence that did so well against Bury on Tuesday night - with Mackie appearing in place of the injured Adrian Williams. Up front McIntyre was left on the bench to leave the deadly duo of Butler and Cureton to take on the Oxford defence. Reading looked the best side right from the off. In the opening five minutes we could have taken the lead after a lovely ball was threaded along the ground to Butler. Butler's first shot was blocked and the second was fired against the base of the right post. Moments after that Cureton could have given us the lead after a ball was hooked over the defence into the left side of the box. Cureton met it, but his volley was well over the Oxford United crossbar. With Reading pushing for the early lead playing some nice attacking football it took the linesman's flag to calm it all down a bit - several times we appeared to break the offside trap only for the linesman to flag. One time Butler continued and drove it into the back of the net - but it wasn't going to count.

Oxford took a long time to get into the game after soaking up a bit of early pressure, and when they did get forward the best they could do was a long range shot easily saved by Whitehead in the Reading goal. With just less than half an hour gone, Reading broke into the box again with Caskey moving across the inside of the box from the right. As Caskey prodded the ball on out came a defender's leg and down went Caskey inside the box. A mistake from the defender and a clear penalty with Caskey going down nicely in front of the referee. Up Caskey stepped and drove it into the back of the net. 1-0 to the Royals and we hoped the start of lots more goals.

With Reading looking on top it took a major cock-up from Whitehead to gift Oxford the equaliser. Under a bit of pressure Newman back headed for Whitehead. The header wasn't the best and looked like it might go for a corner, Whitehead wasn't going to have any of that though and dashed over to stop the ball - however just as he arrived he slipped a bit and was left with his body off the pitch and a single hand on top of the ball. He'd successfully kept it in play and saved the corner - but the nearest man was Oxford's Lilley who tapped it out of Whitehead's hand and slotted it into the back of the net. 1-1 at half time.

After half time Reading looked the better side again but Oxford were on the hunt for a point keeping their defence tight. Cureton had a good chance well saved by the keeper from the right hand side. After a couple of corners as Reading put on the pressure Caskey crossed from the right to Butler in the middle. Butler's header was saved but only came out to Cureton who stuck it in to put the Royals ahead. 2-1. The mass celebrations across the ground hardly had started to die down when Oxford were level. The ball was played in low from the right right from the line. Viveash flew in but could only succeed it sticking it through Whitehead's legs and into the net for an own goal. 2-2. Right away the disappointment was clear with the scores level again and Oxford went on the hunt for another goal. Just a few minutes later and Oxford won a corner on the left which was played into the box for a simple header at the near post. 2-3. Oxford ahead.

With Reading behind for the first time during the game Reading switched to some even more attacking tactics. On came Tony Rougier in place of full back Gurney and Reading battled to get something out of the game, with Hodges moving back. With Reading flooding forward the ball came out to Hodges just outside the area. Hodges put in a powerful shot that was well saved by the keeper, tipping it over for the corner. Hodges legged it over to pump a corner straight back into the box from the right hand side - and there he found Rougier who stuck it in from close range. 3-3 - and it looked like we'd salvaged a point at least. But there was still a good ten minutes left to get the winner.

We thought we'd got another penalty not long after when Cureton was brought down in the area - but there were no appeals from Reading. WIth five minutes left the rain started to bucket down. With the ball being held up in puddles of water we pumped some balls forward. With three minutes to go Hodges lofted one into the box and found Rougier once again - he made no mistake and slammed it home. 4-3, to the Royals capping one of the most impressive fight backs for years. For a while it looked like the unthinkable might happen - a home defeat against Oxford but the right attitude won us all three points. The right end to a fantastic match.

At the final whistle Rougier ran over to the East Stand, took off his shirt and kissed the club badge, to huge applause. That seems to sum up the attitude that Pardew and Allen have introduced at the club - the determination was clear again today. With this spirit and these players we should finish the season right where we are now - top of the league.

Following report by Neil Cole:
Oxford must be absolutely gutted. By all accounts, this was their best performance of the season, as the league’s bottom club raised their game for the derby match at Madejski Stadium. Yet they went away with nothing, as two late goals from substitute Tony Rougier secured a sixth consecutive home win for Reading, and put the Royals on top of the league for the first time this season.

The match was possibly the most exciting seen at the Madejski, but in truth the quality of football was poor. It was a typical derby match, in that neither side was able to take a grip on the game that would secure the points. The goals were mostly scrappy, and laughable in places, as numerous defensive errors made for another high-scoring affair. Yet Reading were unable to brush aside Oxford as they have done to so many teams at home this season.

Alan Pardew opted for the same team that had beaten Bury the previous Tuesday, except for an enforced change at left-back, as Andy Gurney started in place of Matt Robinson, who had gone off injured early into the game at Gigg Lane.

The first half was surprisingly quiet, as the barrage of goals which was expected by many fans failed to materialise. Reading took the lead on 28 minutes, but the penalty scored by Darren Caskey was the only real goal scoring chance for Reading in the first half. The atrocious conditions probably didn’t help, as Reading couldn’t get their game flowing at all. Oxford looked better than their league position suggests, and their players gave everything to try and get back in the match.

The equaliser came shortly before half-time after a terrible mistake by Reading keeper Phil Whitehead. Mistakes have been few and far between from the ex-Oxford keeper this season, but a huge error of judgement meant the scores were level at half-time. Whitehead rushed away from his goal to try and keep the ball in play after a poorly directed header from a Reading centre-back. He did well to prevent the ball from going out, but failed to keep hold of it and gifted Derek Lilley an open goal.

In terms of performance, the second half followed the pattern set in the first. Neither side looked particularly good, as a frustrated Reading side tried to restore their advantage. The second goal came on 68 minutes, as a shot by Adi Viveash was only parried by the Oxford keeper. Jamie Cureton was on hand to score the rebound and net his 11th of the season.

The relief was evident among the Reading players and the fans, but it didn’t last long. Less than a minute after Cureton’s goal, Adi Viveash knocked a harmless looking Oxford cross into his own net for an embarrassing own goal. Worse was to follow, as just four minutes later Oxford took the lead for the first time. A corner was whipped in, and Oxford skipper Richardson was first to the ball ahead of Adi Viveash to head in United’s third goal. It was an uncharacteristically bad display from Adi Viveash, who until today had probably been Reading’s most reliable player.

The huge crowd of above 16,000 was shocked by the possibility of Reading’s superb home record being tainted by bottom of the league Oxford. Alan Pardew decided to change things, and used all three substitutions in the second half to try and get Reading back into the match. Sammy Igoe was brought on to play down the right, with Caskey moving to the middle and Jim McIntyre on to play on the left. Tony Rougier was the third sub, chosen to play up front with Martin Butler. This proved to be an inspired move by Pardew, as Rougier gave the Oxford defence all sorts of problems. Rougier’s display showed us that he is not only a very useful winger, but a good goal poacher as well.

Reading’s equaliser came from a corner, as the cross somehow evaded the entire Oxford defence, and Rougier was in the right place to knock in a simple goal, his first since signing for the Royals. A draw would still have been a poor result, so Reading pushed forward looking for a winner. It came with just three minutes left, as Rougier started and finished a move to secure another good home win for Reading.

They made hard work of it, but Reading’s win was of great importance, moving us to the top of the league following Walsall’s defeat at Brentford. We now start next week’s clash at Walsall a point ahead of them, in a match that promises to be one of the games of the season.

Post Match Opinions

Don't even try to analyse this match, it was entertainment, pure and simple. Thanks to the lads for never letting the heads drop, thanks to Oxford and their fans who defied their record and made this a game which will be remembered for a long time, thanks to Rougier, who although not fully fit, defied wind, rain and logic for a magical last 15 minutes. It's hard to remember that on Jan 22, just 10 months ago, we were lying 22nd and playing without spirit or belief. So thanks to Pards, Allen and Madjeski for the best turnround of a Reading team I can remember in over 30 years.
-- Bucks Royal

All credit to the team for never letting their heads drop. We were making just our second visit to the Madjeski from Woking where I now live (formerly a Woodley boy and Elm park regular!) Three of my kids are now avid Royals fans, and my wife came along for a family day out. Not a football fan at all she was rooted to her seat all game trying (unsuccesfully) to keep warm and dry... but when we eventually scored the winner she was up and jumping around with the best of them!
I think we may have converted her!

-- Gary, Woking

Surely the most crucial factor of this enthralling encounter was the spirit. determination and sheer guts shown by the Royals to get the three points in truly atrocious conditions. Oxford came to win and played some nice football which is a credit to them considering their position and the aforementioned weather, but this Reading team now believes with some justification that it has the ability to win games from all kinds of positions - and at 2-3 down in a swirling deluge of biblical proportions the cause looked almost lost. Not a chance, Pard's inspired substitution (making up for last Saturday's discrepency!) of Tony Rougier and a monumental collective team effort meant Oxford hearts were broken and we sit pretty at the top of the league. We have and will play better this season and with Millwall and Wigan still winning we must continue to do so...are you watching Wallsall?!
-- Steve M

Thank god for keyboards, because I am now struggling for voice. What a bazzaar and entertaining game that was. Oxford were without doubt one of the better battling teams to have visited this season and clearly came to spoil the party. With crowds like their away support I have no idea how the players could be failing to respond. But all credit to RFC who never let up and got what they deserved by pitting in and playing hard - showing we can match any team in any type of performance neccessary. SUPERB!!!!
-- Jeff

Whilst it may not have satisfied the purists, it was far and away better than anything I saw last season. Both teams tried to play football in atrocious conditions, and it must say something for how far we've come in 12 months when people like Neil (see report above) can whinge about the ".. quality of football being poor" and "... neither side looking particularly good"!
I wish we'd played that "poorly" for every game last year!
This was a Div 2 derby game, not some fancy Dan premiership land where tackling is forbidden, and players don't fall over for fear of getting their kit dirty! Anyway, off the soapbox.... My boys were mascots for the day, and we brought along 4 friends for their first ever Royals game. Needless to say they're all Royals converts! Which is surely the whole point. Give the crowd entertainment, and they'll more than likely come again. The biggest plus for me out of the game was AP's tactical awareness. All the substitutions made sense and worked a treat. More importantly, he made them when they still had time to have some effect. I've only managed to get to 2 games this season but form what I've seen this is a team going places.

-- Nigel

Top of Division 2 eh?
Takes me back abit to the days when we had a rotund Scottish money grabber as a Manager and we were known as the Manchester United of the lower leagues!! Hard to believe if you sat through the dismal Bullivant years or the equally distressing Tommy Burns era watching a team of headless chickens pass the ball sideways, backwards...any way but forward. I mean can you honestly say you've ever been more depressed than sitting in a half empty stadium being stuffed 0-6 by Bristol Rovers (luckily we now have Jamie Cureton on OUR side). So, something to smile about at last, pride and passion are back with the players not to mention the fact that we can at last see some skill back on the pitch.
We have now got some top class players like Rougier, Cureton, Butler and just think Nicky Forster has to feature somewhere, somehow on his return from injury. Suddenly 'Pants Day' seems a long way away.....in the future anyone looking back on the history of Reading FC will probably see Pants Day as the defining turning point in Reading's upturn. Hard to believe to any newcomers that a season or two ago the team was so utterly dire that they had to be shamed into some sort of action by their own supporters!
As we can now sit back with the comfort of a win you have to allow yourself a wry smile at Phil Whitehead's comedy (almost) own goal of the season....I bet that will show up on 'What happened next' on Question of Sport.

-- Steve W

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