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Madejski Moments: Reading FC 3-2 West Bromwich Albion

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The Madejski Moments series returns with perhaps the greatest comeback seen by a Reading side in recent years.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Last year The Tilehurst End launched the 'Madejski Moments' series for two main reasons. Firstly, it would be something nice to read in the quieter months, when the players go away on holiday and we're left with little more than dubious transfer rumours to talk about. Secondly, it was felt that, after a difficult season that left some fans disillusioned with the club, it would be nice to have a reminder of notable matches from the Madejski Stadium's past, which proved that either a) things weren't always this bad or b) we've also had to put up with a lot worse.

That, remember, was after a season where we finished seventh. Twelve months and twelve places further down the league later, I think a second Madejski Moments series is needed this summer even more.

To quickly recap the premise - these articles will provide a look at games that have punctuated Reading's time so far at the Madejski Stadium, whether they were obvious at the time (games that clinched promotion or saw us thrash a local rival, maybe) or wouldn't have a clear significance until much later (games that would mark the end of eras for certain players, or introduce a new style of football or team identity).

For now, I think we all need a bit of cheering up, so I'm going to start the series with the former, by picking a game from our not too recent past, that involved some players still in the Reading squad today, and reminds us of a time when the stadium was going crazy for all the right reasons.

A chilly Saturday in January

All that said, the first 81 minutes of Reading v West Brom on a chilly Saturday in January 2013 won't live long in the memory of too many Reading fans. The club went into the game languishing in the relegation zone - a position we'd been for most of the season - and there was little to suggest that this match would result in anything other than another disappointing defeat.

Indeed, the first half was even more frustrating than usual. Reading failed to produce a meaningful shot on goal and West Brom - led by a certain Steve Clarke - looked dangerous every time they went forward.

The focal point of this danger was Romelu Lukaku. A big, strong forward with excellent positioning, he was everything we hoped Pavel Pogrebnyak would be when he signed at the beginning of that season. Lukaku put the Baggies ahead after just 19 minutes and doubled the lead midway through the second half with a marvellous solo effort. He could and probably should have had a more too, hitting the woodwork twice against a paralysed Reading defence. I still maintain his was one of the best individual performances I've ever seen at the Madejski Stadium.

But we can't attribute West Brom's dominance simply to the big Belgian. The Reading side contributed in their own way too, failing to complete even the simplest of passes and too often taking the wrong option - which usually meant lumping the ball up to an isolated Pogrebnyak.

Changes

So what changed? Partly it was the substitutions. Brian McDermott - who would be dismissed soon after, a decision that still causes arguments amongst Reading fans - made an uncharacteristically early change, bringing Garath McCleary on for debutant Daniel Caricco at the start of the second half. Caricco had looked okay when he had some time and space, but struggled to really get into the pace of his first frantic Premier League blood-and-thunder game. McCleary brought a new tempo to proceedings, and once he was joined on the pitch by Adam Le Fondre (reverting Reading to a 4-4-2), we looked like a completely different team.

The other reason for the change is not so easy to explain. It's just one of those beautiful things about football - that a whole match can alter in an instant. That a team so dominant can have their confidence shot to pieces by conceding a simple and sloppy goal.

No matter that you've been head and shoulders above your opponent for 80 minutes. No matter that the goal you conceded came from little more than a hopeful hoof into the box and a scrambled header. No matter that you're still in the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.

It's the same quirk that means a club who's performed atrociously all season can still somehow get to the FA Cup semi-final and more than hold their own against one of the biggest teams in the world. It's the same quirk that can see a team on a bad run with nothing to play for visit a team with everything to play for on the final day of the season and thrash them 3-0. And it's why most of us will still be back for more football next year, even though none of us can actually remember the last time we saw our club score a home goal.

Just a consolation goal?

Okay, so when Jimmy Kebe nodded home against West Brom few of us really mustered the energy to celebrate. We'd been so poor that it couldn't be much more than a consolation goal.

But it signalled West Brom's turn to capitulate. Suddenly Reading sniffed blood, and actually had the coherence and initiative to be able to do something about it.

Having Kebe, McCleary and McAnuff on the pitch all at the same time gave us three options to run at a suddenly scared defence, and with just two minutes remaining it became one mazy run too many for them, with McAuley scything down Kebe in the box. Penalty to the Royals.

As usual in these situations, it seemed to take an eternity to take the spot kick. Players surrounded the referee, West Brom's keeper did his best to unsettle our penalty taker, but when the whistle finally went Le Fondre was the calmest man in the stadium and blasted it home. Incredible - we'd secured an unexpected point!

Or had we? Just two minutes later the Madejski was in raptures again. A long, hopeful punt into the box from Federici was flicked on by Pearce. Pogrebnyak did something he has done frustratingly rarely during his spell at the club and reacted first to the loose ball, and produced a delicate finish over Foster.

It was a crazy finish to a less-than-crazy game. It ensured we were splashed all over the back pages of the Sunday papers, elevated us to first on Match of the Day, and sparked more than a couple of injuries around me as bodies went flying in scenes of joy. The goading West Brom fans were forced to eat their words, there was suddenly a huge sense of optimism around the ground and we all hoped it'd provide a platform to drag ourselves out of danger.

A false dawn

Sadly that never really turned out to be the case. The team was never good enough to stay in the Premier League, and a change of manager just meant we went from scoring loads but conceding more to conceding few but scoring even fewer.

That said, the glimmer of hope did continue to flicker for a few more weeks, with Reading securing the status of comeback kings with an equally bonkers finish against Chelsea, somehow stealing a 2-2 draw despite being 2-0 down at an even later point than we were against the Baggies.

It once again sparked the sort of pandemonium seen so rarely by Reading fans recently. Indeed I can't really think of anything that matched it until McCleary's equaliser at Wembley last month. Oh how we'd love to see such goal celebrations return to the Madejski Stadium again next season. In fact, I suppose even just seeing any sort of goal would be nice...