When it comes to the crunch - Reading's record in do or die games....

Richard Heathcote

So Saturday's game with Burnley sees Reading needing a win to secure a play-off place. While a draw or even a defeat might be good enough, only three points will make certain of the top six, so how have Reading done when the pressure has really been on the line?

I debated throwing in play-off ties here but ultimately we've covered the play-off history of the club before, plus I'm not tempting fate at this stage!

Instead I've decided to simply look at occasions when Reading had something meaningful to compete for on the last day of the league season. By meaningful I mean matters of promotion, relegation and in one instance European qualification, dating back to our Division 2 title win in 1994.

2001/02 (Third Tier) - v Brenford (A) Win or Draw required for automatic promotion.

The Scenario

Alan Pardew's Reading had led Division Two for most of the season only to see a run of eight draws in nine games hand the title to Mark McGhee's Brighton. Worse still, Steve Coppell's Brentford had closed the gap to a single point, setting up a crunch game between the two sides at Griffin Park. Reading knew they would be promoted with a win or a draw, while only all three points would see Brentford make the top two.

What happened?

In a cagey game Reading fell behind to a goal early in the second half through Martin Rowlands, leaving them just 39 minutes to score a goal to avoid the play-offs.

With Reading pouring forward, Pardew threw on Jamie Cureton and just 13 minutes from time the former Bristol Rovers man popped up to score a goal that will live long in the memory of the couple of thousand Reading fans in the ground and the 5,000 or so watching via big screen back at the Madejski Stadium. The game ended 1-1 and Reading were duly promoted as runners-up, while Brentford would miss out in the play-offs.

Result

Success

**********

2003/04 (Second Tier) - v Watford (A) Win needed, plus results elsewhere for play-offs.

The Scenario

Alan Pardew's departure to West Ham had derailed a season that had shown significant early promise. Kevin Dillon and then Steve Coppell attempted to steady the ship but a run of just four wins in 14 games during the middle of the season had severely dented any promotion hopes.

However a late rally that included earning 7 points from 9 took them into a game at Watford knowing that they could still earn a play-off spot if they won and a fair few other results went their way.

What Happened?

Reading couldn't break down a stubborn Watford team who despite being eight places behind the Royals, managed to pick up a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from an 18-year-old Ashley Young.

Ultimately the result was made redundant by scorelines elsewhere but Reading still failed to do their part and missed out.

Result

Failed

**********

2004/05 (Second Tier) - v Wigan (A) Must better West Ham's result for play-offs.

The Scenario

Reading travelled up the JJB Stadium knowing that they had to better West Ham's result against Ipswich at Upton Park to secure a play-off place, a task made that much harder knowing Wigan themselves needed to match Ipswich's result  to seal automatic promotion.

What Happened?

A Jason Roberts inspired Wigan romped to a 3-1 win, while West Ham got past Ipswich to compound Reading's misery. Steve Coppell's side rarely looked in the game and it was only a late consolation goal from Steve Sidwell that made the scoreline respectable.

In the long-term, Coppell would say that watching Wigan celebrate that afternoon helped inspire the team, with the majority of the players that day playing key roles as Reading stormed to the title the following season.

Result

Failed

**********

2006/07 (Top Tier) - v Blackburn (A) Better Bolton's result to qualify for UEFA Cup

The Scenario

Reading's first season in the Premier League was like a dream as Steve Coppell's side cruised to safety and by the end of the campaign were in with a shot at the UEFA Cup (as much as Coppell protested his side didn't want it!).  A shock home defeat to already relegated Watford had dented our European hopes but we travelled to Ewood Park knowing that bettering Bolton's result would see us qualify for Europe for the first time.

What Happened?

Reading fell behind three times but on each occasion fought back to draw level, with goals from Seol Ki-Hyeon, Kevin Doyle and Brynar Gunnarsson taking it to 3-3 with 13 minutes to go. On inflatables day, the travelling masses thought they'd got the winner they so badly needed when Ivar Ingimarsson headed home, but sadly it was ruled out for a push.

Bolton's draw with Villa meant that Reading missed out by just a solitary point and we haven't been anywhere near Europe since.

Result

Failed


**********

2007/08 (Top Tier) - v Derby (A) Better Birmingham & Fulham's results to stay up

The Scenario

Reading's second season in the Premier League proved far harder than the first as the Royals slumped into relegation trouble in the closing weeks of the campaign. In the end their destiny was out of their own hands and they travelled to Derby knowing that they had to win and hope results for Fulham and Birmingham went their way.

What Happened?

For once, Reading actually held up their end of the equation, taking all three points in some style with a 4-0 win at Pride Park, with James Harper, Dave Kitson, Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita all getting on the score sheet. Sadly Danny Murphy's goal against a Portsmouth side with one eye on the FA Cup final (and one eye on the fact they'd be in League Two within five years...) would earn Fulham a 1-0 win and ensure they'd stay in the league at our expense.

Result: Success but ultimate failure.

**********

2008/09 (Second Tier) - v Birmingham (H) Win v Birmingham and Sheff Utd to drop points for automatic promotion.

The Scenario

Much like in 2002, Reading had thrown away a promising position in the closing weeks of the season, as they couldn't seem to buy a win at home. However, two late season away wins at Derby and Norwich plus helpful results elsewhere conspired to produce a scenario that would see Reading finish second if they beat Birmingham at home and saw Sheffield United drop points at a Neil Warnock led Crystal Palace.

What Happened?

Alex McLeish's Birmingham took the lead thanks to a Marcus Hahnemann gaffe and were 2-0 up thanks to Kevin Phillips on the hour mark. While Marek Matejovsky cut the gap, Birmingham held on to spark a promotion party in the away end at the Madejski. Sheffield United couldn't beat Palace, meaning a win would have seen Coppell's side promoted but ultimately they fell into the play-offs where they'd lose 3-0 on aggregate to Burnley.

Result

Failed

**********

Overall

it's sad to say but looking back on those six occasions, Reading have only got the business done twice with one result ultimately meaning nothing and the other only a draw. In fairness wins at Wigan and Watford would still have counted for little but the failure to beat Blackburn and Birmingham proved costly.

While the above may paint a gloomy picture, Reading have got a history of winning crunch games in the final days of a campaign. The West Ham and Southampton away games in 2012 spring to mind for a start and a lot of those players are still involved with the club heading into Saturday's decider.

Ultimately the failure of a Reading side 10 years ago to get the job done won't factor into the players' mindset but it might well cause a few nerves in the stadium.....

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