(Half Time: 0-0)
Reading Scorers: Butler (55 mins), Cureton (74 mins)
Notts County Scorers: Owers (81 mins)
Date: 31 March 2001
Attendance: 11,624

Reading: Whitehead, Robinson, Viveash (Hunter), Whitbread, Murty, Parkinson, Caskey, Harper, Cureton (Forster), Butler, McIntyre (Rougier). Subs not used: Howie, Newman.

Notts County: Ward, Jorgensen, Calderwood, Ireland, Pearce (Farrell), Owers, Hamilton (Moreau), Thomas, Hughes (Nicholson), Allsopp, Stallard. Subs: Gibson, McDermott.

Bookings: Viveash, Whitbread.
Referee: Trevor Parkes (Birmingham)

Reading kept the automatic promotion dream well and truly alive this afternoon with a vital home victory over Notts County in front of a decent crowd at the Madejski Stadium. The attendance of 11,624 was made up of nearly all home support but the travelling fans in the South Stand will have left knowing that this defeat effectively ends their hopes of the play-offs this season. The home fans on the other hand had reason to celebrate with Millwall dropping a couple of points by only drawing today. Reading's victory means we are now just one point off the automatic promotion places - and with a game in hand.

Reading's victory was another deserved victory - but it was hardly an amazing game. The first half was one of the worst seen at the Madejski Stadium this season - it was so bad that a large number of home fans booed their side off the pitch at half time. Thankfully the second half was a completely different story as Reading stepped up a gear looking for the win. Reading looked dangerous right from the start of the second half and after going two up it looked like it was going to be a question of how many we'd win by. Notts County scored completely against the run of play with ten minutes remaining - and it was more than enough to set up a nervous finish as Reading clung onto their lead with County in the hunt for a share of the points.

Reading's starting line-up saw Cureton played from the start again up front with Butler. Caskey was also given a start with Murty pushed back into a full back position and Ricky Newman left out on the bench. Another notable inclusion on the bench was Nicky Forster returning from a long term injury that's kept him out all season long. Forster appeared late in the second half to replace Cureton, and it was clear he's lost none of his speed during his long lay-off. With Forster back and Adie Williams also on the verge of re-appearing in the first team line-up there'll be some hot competition for places as Reading chase promotion. Once again today it was Cureton and Butler that grabbed the goals - and Rougier that made a big difference after appearing at half time. It's going to be hard to find a place for Forster in the starting eleven - but either way we're going to be left with the strongest subs bench in the division.

After last weeks disappointment against Bristol City, the Royals were due another home win. With Swindon beaten in midweek Reading were firm favourites for victory. However everyone was expecting a much better game that we were presented with during the first half. Reading enjoyed most of the possession thanks to Phil Parkinson who was once again determined to win every single ball he got near. But we were then wasting our possession and were all too willing just to pump it forward. With County content to defend and clear the ball whenever they won it back, the first half was nothing other than a big hoofing session with the ball bouncing all over the place in the air. Caskey played a couple of really nice balls forward to players feet - but then let himself down with a couple more balls that failed to find their targets. But he definately wasn't the only one - with the whole side content to just whack it forwards rather than play it on the ground.

The best chances of the first half came from Graeme Murty - getting forward well down the right wing. He put in a couple of nice crosses that created some half decent chances to score. Perhaps the best of the half came midway through when Murty found Jimmy McIntyre at the far post. McIntyre's low shot was wide of the target though and their keeper didn't need to make the save. The half time whistle probably couldn't have come soon enough with County continuing to defend and Reading failing to find any route through.

Tony Rougier came on at half time and Reading seemed to look instantly more dangerous. After only one corner during the first half Reading won three corners in a row just after the break - and looked dangerous from each of them. Murty got a shot in that was deflected wide and we had two chances to stick it in at the near post after County failed to clear. Reading's pressure on the County goal paid off ten minutes into the half when Caskey picked up the ball in the middle of the County half. Caskey knocked it down the right wing finding Jamie Cureton running onto it. Cureton played in a low cross towards the centre of the edge of the six yard box - and there was Martin Butler to connect and sent the ball into the roof of the net. 1-0 to Reading - just the breakthrough we needed.

At 1-0 up Reading looked a completely different side from the first half as we looked to extend the lead. Caskey had a couple of free kicks just outside the area - he managed to get both on target but failed to find the net. Their keeper made an excellent save for the second one when it looked to be heading into the top corner. Cureton, Rougier and Butler all had shots on, or close on, target before we eventually made it 2-0 with fifteen minutes to go. Harper played the ball through to the edge of the area, leaving Cureton and the County keeper in a race for the ball. Cureton got there first on the edge of the box to touch it wide to the keeper's left. With the keeper stranded Cureton ran on to collect the ball. For a moment it looked like he'd taken it far too wide out on the right - but then he shot right across goal to bury the ball in the opposite side netting. 2-0, and the win looked to be settled.

In true Reading style we then failed to get the third to seal the win, and instead County scored one against the run of play with ten minutes remaining. County broke down the left, fired in a shot which bounced out in the middle of the area. Owers made no mistake with the rebound to make it 1-2. The last five minutes were always going to be tense - and we had Whitehead to thank after he pulled off a good save to push the ball wide from a shot just inside the area. Whitehead also came well to hold a couple of crosses and prevent any further danger. After a period of injury time that seemed like hours Reading had pulled off another vital victory by a margin of a single goal. It's all about winning at the moment - let's hope we can grind out another at Luton on Tuesday night. It could put us second in the table.

Following report from Neil Cole:
An impressive second half display by Reading gave the Royals another win, as play-off hopefuls Notts County were beaten 2-1. After a very forgettable first half, Reading were at their best in the second period and deserved maximum points against a decent County side. The match had it customary nervous ending, as Reading gifted a goal to their opponents towards the end - but they couldn't find an equaliser and so Reading moved even closer to the second automatic promotion spot.

Reading are currently chasing Millwall for second place, and Mark McGhee's men could only manage a goal-less draw at Walsall. The Lions seems to have lost their scoring touch, and these results mean Reading can now overtake them if they win the game in hand. That seemed unthinkable in January after Millwall had beaten us at the Madejski, but a dramatic turnaround in form means the Royals now look more likely to win automatic promotion.

Alan Pardew decided to change things around, after the defeat against Bristol City and the poor display at Swindon. Graeme Murty returned once more to right-back, and Darren Caskey was back in the team again at right midfield. In defence, Adi Viveash made a welcome return and Hunter was back on the bench. Jamie Cureton kept his place up front after scoring the winner at Swindon, despite the availability of Tony Rougier who was named as a substitute. The changes didn't seem to improve things though, and the first half was a very poor display of football. All of Reading's passes seemed to be going astray, and Butler and Cureton were unable to find a shot on target between them. Caskey tried to dominate things, as all of Reading's moves seemed to go through him on the right. Yet his passing was poor, and he was unable to create the opening Reading so badly needed.

The one bright point of the first half was the performance of James Harper, who once again looked very good. He has the defensive capabilities that our midfield was lacking before his arrival, and together with Parky he managed to stop any threat coming from the County midfield. This meant that despite Reading's poor showing in the first 45 minutes, they didn't look in any danger from their opponents either.

Fortunately things changes in the second half, as Reading went on the attack right from the start. Anthony Rougier came on at half-time for Jim McIntyre, and immediately posed a threat with his pace and trickery down the left. Reading won a series of corners, as the County goal came under sustained pressure. Although nothing came of the set pieces, it wasn't long before the Royals had the lead. Jamie Cureton picked up the ball on the right, and made a great run into the box. After Butler had set him up for the goal at Swindon, Cureton returned the favour with a great cross to his partner who made no mistake. Butler has re-discovered his scoring touch in March, and this was a fitting way for him to end the month.

Away from home, we have seen Reading go on the defensive after taking the lead. There was none of this today though, as Reading produced some of the best attacking football we have seen for a while at the Madejski. It was the sort of performance with which we won games by four or five goals earlier in the season, and it could easily have been the same today. Caskey had a free-kick well saved by the County keeper, before the lead was doubled. A great ball from Harper sent Cureton away, who rounded the keeper before finishing well from a tight angle.

Two goals up and playing well, the game should have been over there and then. However, Reading somehow let their opponents back in the game, as substitute Barry Hunter allowed their forward too much room in the box. His shot was parried by Whitehead, but Owers was on hand to score from the rebound. The away fans finally made some noise, and it could have been worse for us as County immediately had another dangerous attack, but this time the shot his the side netting.

There was some good news for Reading shortly after the County goal, as Nicky Forster made his first appearance of the season after a long injury lay-off. The return of Forster gives us yet more attacking options, and he looked very bright in the ten minutes he was on the pitch. His best asset was always his pace, and Forster immediately showed he had lost none of it as he made a run at the County defence. In truth he should have passed to the unmarked Butler, but instead he went for glory with a shot which sailed over the bar.

Three minutes of very nervous injury time were played, as Reading held out for another win. We now have the chance to get into the top two for the first time in ages, with a trip to Luton on Tuesday. Millwall have a tricky game against Stoke, and the right results could see us in second place, just a point behind leaders Rotherham.

Post Match Opinions

A vital 3 points, despite a tense last five minutes when County pressed hard, and there were a few edgy moments. They played a good solid game themselves, and didn't look to spoil things. First half Reading's passing was dire, even short 10 yard balls going astray, so you couldn't even blame the swirling wind. It called out for Rougier to replace Jimmy Mac in the second half, and sure enough that did the trick. Much more possesion and better use of the ball. Robinson was superb as was Parky on his 500th appearance. Two great goals, particularly a cracking shot from a wide angle from Cureton. But Rotherham keep winning! Three points at Luton is a must. come on U Rrrrrs!
-- Gary

Another vital three points as Millwall slip up yet again and Rovrum scrape home against those Tossers down the M4 after being 3-2 up , hope they go down !!! Yet another crap first half saw the usual moans and groans from the Royals fans, but thankfully Notts County were truly dreadful and couldn't have hit a cows arse with a banjo yet alone score, so no surprises to go in 0-0 at half time.
Thankfully the second half saw a much better performance from the Royals with Tony "lalalala" Rougier coming on and adding a bit of sparkle. With strikers like Cureton and Butler in the side we're always going to score goals and that proved the case with two excellent finishes from our deadly duo. The addition of Twizzle Hunter was sure to provide entertainment and on cue there was poor ol' Barry flapping about to allow County a totally undeserved goal that gave all us fans ten minutes of nail biting and severe bum twitching.
The addition of Nicky Forster was a great boost and the lad really did look sharp . What a bonus as we enter the final stages of the season .This week in my humble opinion will be judgement week ! With three away games on the trot, it will decide out fate. I'd settle for six points, though there's no reason we can't get nine.
Come on you mighty RRRZZZSSSS!!

-- Nick

To use the old cliche it was a game of two halves. Reading were very ineffective in the first half and failed to create and real chances at all. They just seemed to run out of ideas when they got to the County penalty area and ended up passing the ball around until it was eventually passed to a county player. Right from the start of the second half with the overweight Rougier on the team looked much sharper and it was no real surprise when an excellent move started by Rougier ended with Butler scoring. Reading seemed to fade a bit after that but went on to score the second.
However old habits die hard and it would not be the same if we did not let the visitors score to give us all a tense final few minutes. I feel this was rather a fragile win. Whilst Reading were worth three points for their second half performance, if County had attacked more in the first half whilst Reading fiddled about in midfield they might well have gone in to inflict a similar defeat to the one suffered at the hands of Bristol City. Judging by reports this seems to be pattern in recent Reading games. The wins at Wrexham and Swindon were from well taken opportunist goals after very long periods of pressure by the opposition during which they somehow failed to score.
In the second division we can get away with a poor half and still win. Should we get promoted and play against sharper first division teams I think we will concede goals during these long spells of indecision. As a consequence we might struggle to stay up, I hope I am wrong.

-- Adam, Crowthorne

I took my 2 yr old boy to his first ever game today. Some of you may have noticed him trundling around near the Hotel on his plastic car! Bless him. We sat right above the away dugout and I noticed that Mad Dog and Pards hardly ever stand together discussing tactics. Pards pops out for the occasional rant, while Allen is right on the edge of the technical area almost all of the time. Either they are on the same wavelength without saying much, or Pards just lets him get on with it. Good result by the way, 2-1! If we do go up, will Murts and Rooster be our regular full-backs next season in Div 1?
For me they look fine coming forward, but defensively a bit suspect at times. I managed to get a photo of my two kids in their Reading shirts with Parky after the game. He is a really nice guy, no airs or graces, and he was happy to oblige. My boy on his first game and Parky's 500th appearance - fantastic!

-- Telford Royal

Hunter is rubbish why is he on the bench.
What about John Makie?
It's good to see Nicky out there! Chris Casper is on his way back so he should take Hunter place.

-- Kev

I travelled down from Nottingham to watch the game today( i am a reading fan) and have to say what a load of crap Notts County were! They were dreadful , they couldn't string 2 passes together let alone get promotion! The first half was terrible , the lads just seemed to run out of ideas as soon as they got to the edge of the box. Luckly the second half was much improved and a deserved win although there was a nail biting finish with County scoring with 10 minutes left. Two great finishes from Butler and Jamie , although Cureaton does absolutely nothing for the whole game he can finish well and at this stage of the season this is what we need. Parky had a brilliant game he really is one of the hardest working footballers that i have ever seen , he just doesn't stop running and anything that came close to him he was in there for it . Reading looked a little suspect at the back and i just get the impression that we need adie williams back even if it is for only one game, his experience and cool head wil surely be of great help if we are to get promotion. Caskey was refered to as ' Fat boy Fat' which was a little harsh , he seems to be the butt of most of the supporters jokes!
-- Peter

Another nerve shredding end to a game....The Royals certainly put us fans through it don't they? It might sound weird given our position and goal scoring record but recently I have very rarely been 'convinced' by a Reading team performance. A lot has been written about our recent tendency for the long ball and yesterday was a prime example, Murty was especially guilty, usually Hunter takes the honours for the aimless hoofs to opposition players. It is this failure to keep hold of the ball and pass it sensibly that is so frustrating and leads to all the nervous nail baiting moments. Worse than that but the all too common deep defending after going a goal up is annoying, there were huge gaps between the midfield and the front two with Harper playing way too far back, I would prefer to see him getting forward a bit more. Butler and Cureton work very hard, especially Butler, I can't really fault them at all, they track back, close down and of course bang the goals in too. I sometimes feel sorry for them as the delivery of free kicks, corners and crosses has been very poor and they are left running themselves into the ground chasing loose balls and punts into the air. Viveash and Whitbread look good at the back and of course Parkinson has been absolutely superb all season, so has Whitehead, who is a bit of an unsung hero. He has been consistent and steady and I don't think he gets enough praise, maybe he just lacks a bit of charisma, I don't know. The main worry is the full back and wing positions, I would prefer to see Robinson playing more as a winger as he is great speeding forward with the ball but since his recent lay off has been getting caught out at the back. Notts County were dire and Reading really should have finished them off, we need to rack up a few more goals as Millwall have such a good goal difference. It will be interesting to see what Pardew does in the Summer, I would like him to keep Butler, Cureton, Rougier, Forster AND MacIntyre but how the hell does he fit them into the squad, any guesses on who will go?
-- Steve W

Three more points, and the dream is still alive. Our style of play however is very reminiscent of Reading pre Mcghee. Why can't the tactitions in the Coaching staff see that on probably the only occasions that we didn't hoof it upfield, we scored. On none of the thirty plus hopeful whacks over the top, did we look remotely like finding the net. I hope that the management are adopting this 'style' in trying to plot our escape from the Div 2 wilderness, and that if we do achieve utopia, they will have a complete re think. Great to see Fozzie back, although I'd forgotten how greedy he was. Martin Butler should have been given the chance to wrap it up at 3-1, and only needed a simple lay off from Nicky to score his second of the match. Let us hope that Fozzie was suffering from over excitement and relief after such a long lay off. I'm sure we'll see him on the scoresheet before the end of the season. Three tough away games coming up. We CAN do it!
-- Kevin, Worthing Royal

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