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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Walsall break Reading hearts
Reading 2-3 Walsall (aet)
Walsall staged an amazing comeback in extra-time to steal promotion from Reading at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
The game finished 1-1 in normal time after Don Goodman had cancelled out Jamie Cureton's opener.
Former Walsall player Martin Butler then seemed to have won the match for Reading.
But Darren Byfield broke Royals' hearts with the winner after a bizarre own-goal by Reading substitute Tony Rougier had brought Walsall back into the game.
And Alan Pardew's side must now pick up the pieces after another play-off defeat which sees them stay in Divison Two next season.
Reading got off to an electrifying start, with top scorer Cureton sending a clear warning to the Walsall defence that he intended to continue his excellent form.
The Royals' striker could have given his side a dream start but slipped in the area just as he prepared to have a shot on goal.
Moments later Reading had a penalty appeal waved away after Sammy Igoe appeared to be pulled back by Walsall's Spanish defender Zigor Aranalde.
After soaking up the early pressure, Walsall gradually got themselves back into the game with Jorge Leitao proving a threat to the Reading defence.
A period of scrappy play reflected both teams' edginess as neither made the early breakthrough needed to settle any lingering nerves.
It was fitting therefore that Pardew's team should decide to add a touch of class to proceedings as they so often have during this season.
Cureton produced a stunning finish that owed as much to his Michael Owen-like skill as to Walsall keeper James Walker's calamitous error.
The Saddlers defence failed to deal with a long throw into the area which landed at Cureton's feet.
Jim McIntyre nearly doubled Reading's lead but his header struck the post and Butler failed to direct the rebound goalwards.
Walsall - clearly rattled by the goal - made an immediate attempt to get back into the game.
Aranalde fired a powerful shot fractionally wide of Reading's post, while Adrian Viveash made an excellent block to stop Paul Hall's strike.
Veteran striker Goodman nearly got the equaliser on the stroke of half-time following a frantic penalty box scramble.
Walsall maintained the momentum gathered towards the end of the first half and came out with all guns blazing after the interval.
Whitehead did well to keep out a Dean Keates free-kick but his save proved just the prelude to Walsall's equaliser.
The Reading keeper could do nothing to keep out Goodman's strike on 47 minutes after some good build-up play by Graydon's side.
The former Wolves striker, buoyed by his goal, was at the heart of Walsall's best moves.
A clever ball through to Leitao almost set up his strike partner but the Portuguese striker was adjudged to be offside.
Reading's best chance of the half came courtesy of an Igoe 20-yard strike that went just wide of the Walsall post.
Pardew's side simply failed to stamp any authority on the second half and spent most of it trying to contain the Saddlers.
The Reading boss brought on Nicky Forster and Rougier in an attempt to give his side a greater attacking edge.
But their impact on the game was limited as Walsall went in search of the winner.
Reading fans nervously watched Andy Tilson's well-struck shot go just wide with 10 minutes to go.
Neither team could grab a second, so the Play-Off final went into extra-time.
And it was again Reading who took the lead despite being on the backfoot for most of the second half.
To add to the irony, it was former Walsall player Butler who rose above the defence to head past Walker on 91 minutes.
At the other end Viveash made crucial block to preserve the Royals' lead, while the first half of extra time ended with another frantic scramble in the Reading penalty area.
Events were then turned on their head at the start of the second period.
Reading substitute Rougier put Walsall back on level terms with a bizarre headed own-goal.
And within a minute, the Saddlers took the lead for the first time in the match.
Byfield unleashed a low 20-yard shot which beat Whitehead in the Reading goal.
Walsall were forced to play with 10 men soon after going 3-2 up.
Defender Tony Barras was injured in a collision and was taken off as a precaution.
But Reading could not make their numerical advantage count and lost to a valiant Walsall side.
Reading: Whitehead, Viveash, Williams, Murty, Harper, Robinson, Igoe, Parkinson, Butler, Cureton, McIntyre. Subs: Howie, Hunter, Caskey, Forster, Rougier.
Walsall: Walker, Aranalde, Barras, Tillson, Brightwell, Keates, Bennett, Matias, Goodman, Leitao, Hall. Subs: Emberson, Gadsby, Bukran, Angell, Byfield.
Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn)
More news on this club
More news on this club
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Links to more Eng Div 2 stories are at the foot of the page.
Links to more Eng Div 2 stories
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