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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Akinbiyi keeps Stoke up
Reading's Steve Sidwell (left) and James O'Connor of Stoke tangle at the Brittania Stadium
Sidwell slides in to challenge O'Connor
Stoke 1-0 Reading

Adi Akinbiyi celebrated his first start for Stoke with the crucial goal to ensure the Potters' First Division survival.

The striker, on loan from Crystal Palace, brilliantly headed home Lewis Neal's centre on 55 minutes to see off a determined Reading challenge.

Stoke started confidently, looking for the early goal that would have settled the nerves at the Brittania Stadium.

Chris Greenacre saw a shot saved by Marcus Hahnemann inside four minutes and Neal should have done better than to shoot straight at the Reading keeper soon after.

But when the early pressure failed to pay off, Stoke's nerves began to jangle.

Reading, already guaranteed of a top-four finish, had not simply turned up to make the numbers up.

The Royals boasted 12 away league wins this season, more than any other side in the division, and they were keen to secure at least a point to secure their best-ever Division One points haul.

7 mins: Neal shoots straight at Hahnemann
55 mins: Akinbiyi makes the breakthrough with clinical header
80 mins: Sidwell shot smashes against crossbar

But they took nearly half-an-hour to force their first chance of any note, Nicky Forster knocking down for Steve Sidwell to blaze a shot over the bar.

Forster, Reading's lone striker, looked eager to impress on his return from injury and was the visitors' chief threat.

And when news filtered through of Brighton's lead at Grimsby, the home fans were twitchy whenever Forster had the ball.

The striker's trickery early in the second half took him through the Stoke defence but Forster saw his shot beaten down by Stoke keeper Mark Crossley.

But Stoke's breathing was a little easier minutes later when Akinbiyi repaid the faith shown in him by his former Gillingham boss Tony Pulis.

The impressive Neal raided down the left wing and, as Graeme Murty hesitated, delivered the perfect centre for Akinbiyi to get ahead of John Mackie and powerfully head home for his 99th career goal.

The goal gave Stoke the cushion they needed but they were never able to relax against a Reading side determined to go into the play-offs in confident mood.

Crossley's fluffed clearance gave Reading substitute Darius Henderson the chance to set Nicky Shorey up for a shot which flashed across the face of goal.

And Sidwell went even closer late on with a dipping volley that beat Crossley but bounced off the top of the crossbar.

But Stoke hung on defiantly to secure a third win in their final four matches and ensure their survival without the need of a favour from Grimsby.

Stoke: Crossley, Thomas, Handyside, Shtaniuk, Laurence Hall, Hoekstra, Gunnarsson, O'Connor, Neal, Akinbiyi, Greenacre.
Subs: Banks, Clarke, Williams, Cooke, Iwelumo.

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Viveash, Mackie, Shorey, Salako, Harper, Sidwell, Chadwick, Forster, Little.
Subs: Cureton, Ashdown, Henderson, Newman, Watson.

Referee: C Webster (Tyne & Wear).

Stoke boss Tony Pulis
"We turned it round and I'm very pleased"

Stoke's goalscorer Ade Akinbiyi
"The whole team are legends"



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