Reading FC In The Play-Offs - A Look Back - 2008/2009

2008/2009

After a nervy 0-0 draw at the Madejski on Friday we head to Cardiff knowing that a win will send us to Wembley for the first time in 16 years. For Reading, tomorrow will be the first time we've had an away leg second , but perhaps that's what we need to snap out of a winless streak that includes both of our last two play-off matches, against Burnley in 2008/09 when a moment of madness from Andre Bikey helped end one of the most successful periods in the club's history.

Background

After play-off heartache in 2002/03 and Alan Pardew's departure shortly afterwards, new boss Steve Coppell continued to build a young squad, leading them to top 10 finishes in both 2003/04 and 2004/05. Senior players Nicky Forster, Ady Williams, Steve Brown and John Salako had been moved out in favour of Dave Kitson, Kevin Doyle, Ivar Ingimarsson and Bobby Convey as Reading stormed to the Championship title with a record 106 points in the 2005/06 season to ensure that Reading would be playing in the top tier for the first time in their history.

The following season the fairytale continued as the Royals finished 8th in the Premier League, missing out on Europe by a single goal and bringing a second year of Premier League football to the Madejski. Sadly this is where things began to go wrong as Steve Sidwell left the club on a free and the few new signings that arrived failed to fill the gap. In the end a series of dramatic slumps left Reading heading into the final day facing relegation and despite beating Derby 4-0, the club were relegated thanks to Fulham's 1-0 win at Portsmouth.

Despite the disappointment the majority of the fans wanted Coppell to stay for another season, even staging a car park demonstration to keep Coppell at the Madejski for another season. The move helped convince the former England winger to give it one more go and though the club lost Kitson, Shorey and Sonko, Reading used their parachute payments to ensure the majority of the Premier League squad remained intact to make an assault on the Championship once more.

It was a move that looked like it had paid off handsomely through the first half of the season. Kevin Doyle was scoring goals for fun, with Stephen Hunt looking unstoppable down the left. Shorey's replacement at left back Chris Armstrong was quickly becoming a fans favourite and youngsters Jem Karacan and Alex Pearce showed that the future was bright for the club. By the end of January the Royals were second in the league, two points clear of Birmingham and four points adrift of leaders Wolves.

That's when the wheels fell off....

Reading would win just one of the next fourteen games to see them slip well off the pace and seemingly end their automatic promotion hopes. Those were hopes, that after a brief flicker right at the end of the season, were well and truly ended by Birmingham on the final day of the season. In the end the Royals would finish 4th behind Wolves, Birmingham and Sheffield United and would meet Burnley in the play-off semi-finals.

Semi-Finals v Burnley

Burnley had enjoyed a tremendous season under one of Reading's 1995 tormentors, ex Bolton striker Owen Coyle. The Lancashire side had finished fifth despite pre-season predictions of a relegation struggle having also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and the fifth round of the FA Cup. The side didn't have many star names, with a hard working team led by veteran Graham Alexander and spearheaded by Martin Paterson and Robbie Blake.

But it was goalkeeper Brian 'The Beast' Jensen who had done the most damage against the Royals in their two league meetings, playing a blinder in a 1-0 Clarets win at Turf Moor in October, after the Royals had won 3-1 at the Madejski earlier that month.

The first leg at Turf Moor saw the Royals have the better of a nervy first half, looking the team most likely to break the deadlock and take a crucial lead. But Jenson again stood firm, denying Jay Tabb from long range and even when the big keeper was beaten, Kevin Doyle was denied on the line by Paterson.

Just like at Wolves six years previously, Reading saw their key striker forced off with an injury, with Kevin Doyle going off with an achilles problem and being replaced by Dave Kitson.

Then minutes before the end Burnley went ahead when Andre Bikey gave away a penalty, calmly despatched by Alexander, 1-0. The penalty itself was contentious with video evidence suggesting it was outside the area and that fact was clearly still on Bikey's mind when he stamped Blake in injury time, earning himself a red card and prompting one of the most over the top and comical reactions to a dismissal in recent history...

Still at 1-0 the tie was far from over and Reading fans still held hope that the team could win just it's third home game of 2009 to book a trip to Wembley.

With Bikey out suspended and Doyle out injured, Coppell gave starts to Alex Pearce and a debut to young Welsh striker Simon Church, who would help support Shane Long up front.

Once again the Royals took charge early but again couldn't beat the Beast. Into the second half and you felt surely a goal would come and it did.... but for Burnley. A Martin Paterson wonder strike was followed minutes later by a similar striker by Thompson and the Coppell era was over. The atmosphere for the final 30 minutes resembled one of a wake, a far far cry from the joyous scenes just 3 years before when Coppell and many of the same players were parading the Championship trophy.

What Happened Next?

Burnley made it to Wembley where another wonder strike helped them to a 1-0 win over pre-match favourites Sheffield United. The Clarets would spend just one season in the top flight though, being relegated and failing to win back promotion in their first season back in the Championship.

For Reading it really was the end of an era, with Coppell the first to go, resigning that night. It would also be the last appearance for many of the '106' team, with Marcus Hahnemann, Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson, Greame Murty, Glen Little, Leroy Lita and Stephen Hunt all leaving the club that summer, as would Bikey, ironically to Burnley at the start of the next season.

Brendan Rodgers took over at the Madejski Stadium that summer but would last just six months before being sacked and replaced by our current boss Brian McDermott, with the rest being history....

How Did The Team Compare To This Year’s Crop?

The team that played Burnley wasn't Steve Coppell's first choice side due to injuries but it was the best that was available to him. I'll elect to use the team from that first leg though as it's the only fair way of doing it in my mind!

Hahnemann v Federici

The American was just past his best by this time, having suffered from injuries and being kept out of the side by a younger Federici around the Christmas period. But with the club slumping Coppell restored 'USA' to the starting lineup for the run in, hoping experience would pay off.... it didn't. This is a bit of a wash really as I don't think any keeper has the clear edge, but I'm just about going for Federici.

Rosenior v Griffin

Rosie had arrived at the club with plenty of hype as part of a swap deal for Seol Ki-Hyeon in 2007 but had never really lived up to his early career hype. Liam was a decent enough right back but couldn't deliver when it mattered the most and his generally sloppiness at times means that I'd much rather have Griffin.

Harding v Harte

Dan Harding was on loan from Ipswich and had filled in capably for player of the season Chris Armstrong, who had missed the final few games with injury. The current Southampton defender was solid but didn't offer anywhere near Harte's experience or threat from dead balls, so I'm going for Harte.

Duberry v Mills

Once again I'm going for the 2011 man as our current skipper is a far better option then the ageing Doobs was in 2009. Both men do share a love of the long ball but Mills has more mobility and shows better leadership then the former Chelsea man.

Bikey v Khizanishvili

Oh Andre, you big lovable crazy defender you! Bikey's wild side was only matched by his talent and potential, sadly none of which have ever been truly realised. Both men are ball playing centre halves but I'd rather have Bikey if only for entertainment value.

Kebe v Kebe

Kebe v2009 was still a raw talent, who had just begun to show glimpses of his ability in the wins at Norwich and Derby at the end of the season. He's no match for 2011 Kebe who has shown more consistency and a greater end product.

Tabb v McAnuff

Tabb was playing as a central midfielder that day so it's tough to compare him to our current winger. Still given both men can play wide or in the centre I'd rather have McAnuff.

Gunnarsson v Karacan

Ever reliable, Bryn didn't let us down but he didn't bring as much drive and energy to the team as Karacan does.

Matejovsky v Leigertwood

Marek was one of the most skilful players to ever come to the club but also must rank among the most disappointing, simply because he never fulfilled his potential. One of the best passers we've had, the Czech international drifted out of games far too often and you just cannot go wrong with Leigertwood in your team.

Long v Hunt

Long was on fire at the end of that season, scoring key goals at Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Norwich to give us a chance of automatic promotion come the end of the season. Given his run of form I'd rather have Long 2009 then Hunt v 2011.

Doyle v Long

Doyle wasn't fully fit and had been slumping since the turn of the year. Despite all that, for me you cannot leave out the best striker in the club's history even given Long's tremendous impact this year.

That leaves the score Reading 2009 3 - 8 Reading 2011

But what do you think? Let us know your thoughts and vote in the poll below. Last time out 47% of you thought the 2011 team was superior to the 2003 play-off team, with 33% saying the opposite and 20% of you saying it was too close to call.

[polldaddy poll=5054077]

So that brings to an end our play-off lookback. If you've missed the previous entries you can check out the 1994/95 run here the 2000/01 campaign here or the 2002/03 Division One play-off run here

Please feel free to share your memories across the site or email them to us at TheTilehurstEnd@gmail.com

Here's to hoping tomorrow night helps make our next play-off review a memorable one for the right reasons!

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