A warm hearty Tilehurst End welcome to our newest writer Chris Hartley who shares his thoughts on the play-off final 6 weeks on.
It has been two long months since Phil Dowd blew the final whistle on another Reading Defeat in a Playoff final, the clubs third and in my opinion it was this defeat of all the defeats in Playoff Finals that wrangles most with me.
Myself and my fellow Reading fans went into the game with hope as 10 days earlier the team had just beaten Cardiff 3-nil in the semi final and came into the game on the back of a run of just one defeat in 16 games, we were the team in form going into the final against Swansea. However, this all counted for nothing, as Swansea sprinted in a three-nil lead and three soft goals to boot, stunning myself and the rest of my fellow Reading Fans into silence, all the hope before the game had been extinguished. All Reading fans were just left hoping against hope that a fight back could happen and when a Noel Hunt Header found the back of the net, hope albeit faint was restored, Matt Mills quickly added a second and If it had not been Ashley Williams studs deflecting Jem Karacan’s goal bound effort on to the post and Noel Hunts follow-up had not been blocked by Alan Tate then maybe the story would have been different. But Truth remains that Reading Football club are still a Championship side which is perhaps where they should be.
This game has echoes the defeat in 1995, for the spectacular way that Reading went down, in both games they conceded four goals and for the fact that the chairman was looking to break up the squad in order to balance the books of the club. In 1995 the club cashed in on Shaka Hislop, Ady Williams, Scott Taylor, Michael Gilkes, Simon Osborn, Leaving the club to fight on two more seasons in the first division before being relegated in 24th and last place in 1998. I am sure that this time the structure of the club is a lot more stable but with the likes of Matt Mills and Zurab Khizanishvili already leaving the club and Shane Long/Jimmy Kebe expected to follow then it is difficult to see us challenging at the same level next season. I have accepted that this squad of palyers maybe broken up but unlike the defeat in 1995 we have a youth team that is producing players that are capable of playing at this level, just look at the likes of Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce, Alex McCarthy and Hal Robson Kanu to name a few, coming through and competing for a regular first team place, so at least we have hope for the future.
Looking back at 1995, and the aftermath of the defeat to Bolton, that perhaps that squad of players had gone as far as they could. some of the players were getting on, the likes of Mick Gooding, Jimmy Quinn, Darius Wdowczyk, Keith McPherson. It could also be argued that Shaka Hislop was the only saleable asset the club had, Plus questions of the clubs financial structure and Elm Parks ability to host premier league football at the time were questions that were not able to be answered at that point. However, it seemed the club and madjeski learned as three years after, a stadium with the capacity to host top-level football was built, plans for the academy were laid down of which benefits are now starting to show, also I feel that the club as a better sense of what it is now, as it seems to me that club wants to develop talented young players into saleable assets, which something I am fine with as it means that money won't be spent on big name players looking for wages the club can not afford.
Defeats in Play off finals are really had to take as there is so much more at stake; Promotion to a higher league means a boost in Revenues for the club for the following season and more exposure in the national press, all this riding on just one match. The argument for the playoffs is that it keeps the season alive for teams in the mid table that keeps the games meaningful toward the end of the season, while I cannot dispute this fact, I also have to ask you how many of the teams that go up via the playoffs survive the following season, I think you can count on one hand the amount of teams that stay in the premiership that won the play offs the previous season. Plus unlike just missing out on automatic promotion, losing a playoff final takes longer to get over because so much effort has gone in to once chance gain promotion. Maybe that is the reason why this defeat still wrangles with me so much more because all that was snatched away in one and not seeing this particular side play together again.