May 30, 2011
So we'll be playing in the Championship next year? Sadly so, a 4-2 defeat to Swansea sees them take the final promotion place, not us.
The Team? Federici, Griffin (Robson-Kanu), Harte, Khizinishvili, Mills, Leigertwood, Karacan, Kebe, McAnuff, Hunt (Church), Long.
MOTM: Jem Karacan, the guy never stopped working and was so very nearly the hero, seeing his goalbound shot deflected onto the post.
Below, I'll be chewing over yesterday's result and looking at what could have been.
It was a day that will live long in my memory, not just for the game but for the entire day, which result aside was actually one of the most enjoyable days I've experienced as a Reading fan.
The sight of so many Reading fans down Wembley way was just stunning, not to mention the atmosphere on the train, at the Green Man pub or in and around the stadium. I'll never forget walking into the Stadium for the first time and just seeing a sea of blue and white. I was at Wembley in 95 and Cardiff six years later, but this was even more impressive.
Still, it's impossible to ignore the result and the implications it will have on the football club going forward. URZZ article yesterday delved into those implications a little and generally summed up how we all were feeling getting home from London yesterday, I encourage everyone to give it a read!
In terms of the match itself, we were all boosted by the news that not only was Jimmy Kebe fit, that he would be starting down the right hand side and that Robson-Kanu was fit enough to also make the bench. That represented the only changes from the side that had demolished Cardiff just under two weeks ago, with the Swans unchanged from the 11 that started their second leg against Forest.
Reading started the brighter, pressing the Welsh side and not allowing them to play their usual possession based game. However, Reading's approach was soon dealt a blow when referee Phil Dowd gave Andy Griffin a booking for a strong early challenge, setting the tone for how he'd referee the game throughout... more on Mr Dowd later. Still Reading looked the better team in the early exchanges, with both our wingers causing problems, albeit unable to deliver an end product.
20 minutes into the game and it all started to go so horribly wrong. First Zurab Khizanishvili was adjudged to have brought down Dyer in the area for a penalty which was well converted by Scott Sinclair. Just minutes later and Ian Harte was left for dead by Dobbie down the Reading left and his low cross was only parried by Federici into the path of Sinclair who found the net, 2-0.... stunned.
In a weird way I felt a sense of relief going 2-0 down, knowing that it wouldn't be a tense and nervy affair, we were either going to have to really go at them, or we'd get slaughtered and hell the last time I'd been at Wembley, the team that led 2-0 had gone onto lose..... Sadly my theory was well and truly blown to bits 5 minutes from the break when Dobbie made it 3-0, suddenly it looked like a repeat of the 2003 final when Wolves had just ripped apart Sheffield United. Half time was a very quiet time up in block 531.
The Reading players came out a good 2-3 minutes before their opposition and looked ready to give it a good go, and give it a go they did. Minutes after the restart Noel Hunt nodded in a Jobi McAnuff corner, 1-3 and hey at least we had a moment to cheer? But things got even better on 57 minutes when Matt Mills too nodded home from a corner, 2-3 and the Reading end went absolutely crazy.
I've celebrated a goal like that on very few occasions, one was Trevor Morley completing his hat-trick against Bolton at Elm Park in 1997 during a 3-2 win that 'avenged' the play-off final, Jamie Cureton's equaliser against Brentford five years later and the goal that put us 2-1 up away at Bolton in our first Premier League season (ok so maybe I've kept a grudge over the Trotters over the years...) But Mills' goal yesterday was perhaps the most excited I've ever been at a live football game. Suddenly the comeback was on and when Jem Karacan hit that shot.......
12cm, thats the width of a goal post... and that's how close we came to drawing it level at 3-3. Sadly the ball didn't beat those 12cm and Hunt's rebound was well blocked by Gary Monk. Ten minutes later and Griffin conceded a needless penalty which again Sinclair scored, 4-2 and that was that.
Credit to the players for the comeback, you could see at the end how they'd given it their all but once again Reading will be wondering what if rather then knowing they were soundly beaten. Federici didn't do a lot wrong though perhaps could have done more with the cross for the second and Mills played well. Sadly the experience of Harte, Griffin and Khizanishvili all counted for nothing as they all made mistakes that played a part in Swansea's goals. Leigertwood was effective though misplaced too many passes, while as mentioned at the top, Karacan was my MOTM. Kebe and McAnuff both caused plenty of problems though were both guilty of failing with their final balls. Long and Hunt both worked very hard but neither was particularly effective.
A quick word on referee Phil Dowd. I'll refer you to exactly what I wrote in the Cardiff match report because once again it applies here.
The other main talking point of the first half was Premier League referee Mark Halsey who’s inconsistency and general whistle happy approach ensured that the game never really got into a rhythm. I’m all for having ‘the best’ referees in the Championship wherever possible, but part of me wonders whether it would be better to have guys who have been referring in this league all year, at least then the players know what they can/can’t get away with.
Once again you had a whistle happy official who was determined to ref the game like a Premier League title decider rather than a Championship game. Yes the rules are the same whatever league you play in but its hard for players to adapt their style when you've been allowed to play a certain way for 46 games that season. I'll make myself clear in saying that I've no real complaint with either penalty, those get given whatever league you're in. Unfortunately his 'non-contact' style of officiating played right into Swansea's hands as they rely on having time to pass the ball around and pick passes. In future the FA should reward the best refs in the Championship, not just send down a man who see's half a dozen football league games a season.
Also credit must be given to Swansea. Brendan Rodgers' team did the key things right, their crosses were effective and their finishing was clinical. I'm not sure quite how they'll get on next season as stronger teams have gone up playing 'good football' and have been slaughtered. A lot will depend on whether Dyer and Sinclair can work their magic against better full backs, certainly they'll be facing quicker full backs than Ian Harte and Andy Griffin. Even so congratulations to the Swansea team and the fans, enjoy your time in the top flight.
Where do we go from here?
It's hard to tell in the immediate aftermath of a play-off final like that. In 1995 the team was broken up and we were relegated within 3 years, while after defeat in 2001 we won promotion automatically the next season. I don't quite see the same as 95 happening again because we're a bigger club then we were 16 years ago. We have the facilities and recent track record to ensure some of our better players stay, while being able to persuade other players that they want to play here. (Maybe we should send some Wembley video's out to some international goalkeepers... might think we play there...) Likewise I don't know if we'll be quite strong enough to dominate the league as we did in the third tier ten years ago.
I'll do a bit of a what happens next article in the next few days, for now it's worth remembering just what a great season we've had. The win at Leicester, our comebacks against Doncaster, Palace and Forest, the demolition of Burnley , the eight game winning run, our FA Cup run to the Quarter-Finals and the play-0ff win at Cardiff. It has been arguably our 3rd most successful season in our entire history and when you bear in mind we lost Gylfi Sigurdsson at the end of the window, you begin to appreciate the job Brian McDermott has done this season. Thanks Brian and thanks to everyone who pulled on a Reading shirt this season, you've done us proud.
We'll have plenty more to come on The Tilehurst End this summer, so please keep checking back here and sending us your tweets, emails and Facebook messages.
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