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Madejski Moments - Reading FC 3-3 AFC Bournemouth

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With Bournemouth recently celebrating a rise to the top, Matt Williams recalls a stunning end of season game against the Cherries from 2001 where lots was at stake.

Darren Caskey scored Reading's second with another trademark free kick
Darren Caskey scored Reading's second with another trademark free kick
Pete Norton/Getty Images

The only football clubs worse than your mutual rivals are the football clubs you consider to be your big rivals who aren't really bothered about you.

It's a state of mind that Reading fans can relate to I suppose. Oxford and Swindon fans probably still quite dislike us but they're far more concerned about each other - especially so in recent years as time continues to pass without us playing a meaningful game against either of them.

And the teams we have grown to truly dislike in recent years - I'm thinking West Ham, Southampton, maybe QPR - all have far more significant and hot-tempered rivalries to worry about. We do, however, feature on the other side of this paradigm in one case too. And that's with another team on the south coast.

What's your view on Bournemouth? Their success this season has built up a bit of bitter jealousy in me for sure - to think less than a decade ago that was us getting all the plaudits for being an attractive, well run club flying high in the Championship - but in truth my only real impression is of a smart, sensible club with mild-mannered fans who deserve a bit of success.

They'd probably hate Reading that more than if it was a paragraph of torrential abuse. Because for some obscure reason, in a Football Fans Census back in 2004, the Cherries fans elected us as their biggest rivals. The club they despise the most. Seriously,

Ok, now that has since changed. When the survey was updated in 2012 Southampton took our ‘honour' (possibly because they'd since started playing each other again), but once again we still appeared high up on Bournemouth fans' list.

I can't say whether the hatred existed before our match against them on the final day of the 2000/2001 season. But even if it did, then this game would have only accentuated it. Certainly, there's been very few occasions where a club's hopes and dreams for a season have been crushed so bluntly.

Now or Never

Let's set the scene. Reading were a team on the rise - an exciting side with a bright young manager and a fearsome strike force in Jamie Cureton and Martin Butler. We'd gone into the game on a bit of a downer, having had any remaining automatic promotion hopes destroyed in the previous match, but 3rd place in Division Two was secured and a play off semi-final awaited.

If Bournemouth were to win at the Madejski, then said semi-final would be against the Cherries themselves. If Reading were to take at least a point, then Bournemouth would narrowly miss out and we'd be facing two games against Wigan Athletic instead.

It made for an odd occasion. Of course Bournemouth had more at stake, but whereas in some cases a game where 3rd place is secured would call for squad rotation and players to be rested, the last thing we wanted to do was give a team momentum and optimism just days before a play off against them.

And so it was that the team that started that day was at full strength. The aforementioned fearsome strike force was supported by a midfield of Phil Parkinson, Keith Jones, James Harper and Sammy Igoe, whilst a strong back four of Graeme Murty, Matthew Robinson, Adrian Viveash and Adrian Whitbread was marshaled by goalkeeper Phil Whitehead.

The Reading fans put on a good show too - turning up in numbers and signalling the first time in the stadium's history that a game was considered a ‘sell out'.

Yet as it was, maybe it would have been better if Reading had fielded a reserve side. At least their defence might not have capitulated as easily in the opening half as the first team did.

At times it was painful to watch. Bournemouth's pace up front (spearheaded by an exciting young prospect called Jermain Defoe) had our centre halves running scared upon every attack. It took them just four minutes to take the lead, and they sent the travelling fans - who had packed the South Stand - delirious twice more in the first half too. The only consolation was a Martin Butler free kick, which he thundered in to the back of the next via the crossbar. Half time, 1-3 and the Bournemouth fans were in great voice.

The second half started much like the first ended. Reading moved the ball around nicely but looked vulnerable every time Bournemouth attacked. As the minutes ticked away the visiting fans grew louder and more optimistic, whilst Reading fans eyed each other nervously - do we really want to play these guys in the play offs? We really could be throwing our whole season away.

But then referee Uriah Rennie (remember him?) blew for a free kick on the edge of the Bournemouth box. 20 yards out, dead central, this was perfect Darren Caskey territory. If only he was on the pitch.

The Comeback

You can guess what's coming next. Almost as soon as this free kick was awarded Caskey was signaled by the bench to come on. With Jones making way, the set piece maestro strolled up to the ball and nonchalantly stroked it into the top corner. 20 minutes left in the game, and 2-3.

Reading pushed and pushed for an equaliser. With Wigan still drawing elsewhere, Bournemouth knew they only needed to hold on to the lead to grab sixth spot. Cross after cross was sent in to the box, but the Cherries held firm. The game was slipping away, even with the Royals having added additional firepower to proceedings with Tony Rougier replacing Parkinson and Nicky Forster on for Igoe.

And when Cureton missed the best opportunity so far with just minutes left on the clock, you really thought that all the attacking intent, all the sell-out crowd optimism and all the pre-game razzmatazz (I neglected to mention earlier that the match ball that day was delivered by helicopter - remember the time when Reading's pre-match entertainment was unique and charming, as opposed to the utterly embarrassing crap that's served up now?) would be left unfulfilled.

But this was the final game of the season. We all know that the drama is never kept simple. There was still time for not just one, but two twists in the tale.

The first twist came as Reading won their umpteenth corner. After plenty of poor deliveries, this time Caskey got it just right, striking the ball as sweetly as he did his free kick 16 minutes earlier. Players threw themselves towards the ball and it was Forster who found himself in the perfect place to squeeze it home at the far post.

The stadium erupted. Bournemouth players and fans hung their heads. How quickly and cruelly a game - and season - can turn.

In fact, football can get even crueller. The second twist was almost as dramatic as the first. Having watched Reading press and press for 20 minutes, it was now Bournemouth's turn to respond. They needed a goal and still had a few minutes of stoppage time to grab it.

Red and black shirts poured forward, and with the Reading defence in panic a shot drifted towards the top corner of Whitehead's net. It was in all the way, and all of our hard work in getting back into the game was about to be undone.

But never discount a side with Graeme Murty in. From absolutely nowhere, our future club captain rose majestically and somehow nodded the ball clear from right on the goal line. How he managed to angle his header over the bar I still have no idea. But 20,000 Reading fans - and a fair few Wigan fans who were listening nervously up at the JJB - were very glad he did.

There would be no more scares. The game was over and both teams came out of it with huge credit. We wouldn't see a game at the Madejski Stadium with as nervy and thrilling a finish as that for...ooh...at least another 10 days, when the aforementioned Wigan came to town for a play off semi-final that went right to the wire. You know the rest.

Reading wouldn't go up that season but it was the start of an upward trajectory that's really only starting to decline now. Bournemouth on the other hand would experience a fair few difficult years before they restarted their ascent, which has culminated this year with a well deserved promotion. I'd like to wish them luck in their fight next season as they face a year of relegation scraps, increased ticket prices and being patronised on Match of the Day. But as an apparent rival, whether they'd appreciate my good wishes or not I don't know.