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Reading FC's Play-Off History: 2008/09

Bucks takes us through the last time Reading bowed out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage.

The backstory

Having fallen agonisingly short of staying in the Promised Land one year after the club's best ever league finish, Reading had looked like strong bets to bounce straight back.

In some ways, this side was Coppell 2.0. Sure, former key players like Dave Kitson, Glen Little, Ibrahima Sonko and Nicky Shorey left before the end of August, but much of the old squad remained. Marcus Hahnemann, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, James Harper and Ivar Ingimarsson were all key parts of the 2008/09 promotion charge.

Reading's success in retaining them, combined with getting the most out of completely new (Chris Armstrong and Noel Hunt) and relatively new players (Liam Rosenior, Jimmy Kebe and Andre Bikey) had them closely following leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers for much of the season. In fact, between match weeks eight and 38, they only dropped below third once.

Kevin Doyle was standard Kevin Doyle, netting 18 times in 41 appearances. Noel Hunt (11), Shane Long (9) and Stephen Hunt (6) also chipped in to leave the Royals with a goal difference of +32, a stat they are yet to improve on to this day.

However, a run of no home league wins after January, combined with only four victories on the road, consigned Reading to the lottery of the Playoffs. There they faced Burnley who, despite a mid-season wobble, had been in the top six for much of the campaign.

Reading dominated the first tie at Turf Moor, with Jay Tabb and Kevin Doyle coming close to opening the scoring.

However, it was the hosts who claimed a 1-0 win on the day after Stephen Thompson was fouled in the area by Andre Bikey; Graham Alexander tucking the penalty away.

Things got even worse for Reading when Bikey was shown a second yellow card and reacted, well, as only Andre Bikey can:

In the reverse game, Reading were undone by two wonder-strikes - one from Martin Paterson and one from Stephen Thompson, failing to score themselves. With Reading's home form that season being so poor, it was perhaps unsurprising that they fell to defeat at the Madejski in the second leg.

So... what went wrong?

Arguably, Reading's shouldn't have put themselves in the position of a play-off campaign in the first place. With their league form so imperious for much of the season, the Royals really should have dragged themselves over the line.

Instead, the Steve Coppell suffered a fatal loss of momentum after January. Although Reading went into the play-offs as one of the best sides in the division, they were a team on the down.

Fan memories

I was still at school back then, and happened to be doing my Duke of Edinburgh bronze award on the weekend of the away leg. With no Twitter, Facebook or similar access to live updates without a computer, I had to rely on a text from my mum at full-time that confirmed the score.

For the reverse fixture, BBC Radio Berkshire had to do. After all, it was a school night and we didn't have Sky. Nonetheless, the pain of the 2-0 defeat came across clearly enough on the airwaves.

2016/17 team versus 2008/09 team

It's tough on Ali Al-Habsi, but in Marcus Hahnemann you have a similarly excellent goalie, who I think has the edge in distribution. Add in his seven seasons of service (to Ali Al-Habsi's two), and he comes out on top.

At left back, Chris Armstrong is one of the best we've had in that position since Nicky Shorey's first spell. The former Sheffield United man was impressive throughout that season both defensively and offensively. On the other hand, Jordan Obita is a decent left back, but simply isn't up to Armstrong's level.

I've gone for madman Bikey to partner the composed Liam Moore in central defence, with both possessing impressive physique and the willingness to throw themselves in front of whatever comes their way.

He's hardly remembered fondly for his time at Reading, but Liam Rosenior was a decent full back in the 2008/09 campaign. Chris Gunter on the other hand? He's been ok, but hasn't put in consistently eye-catching performances for a few seasons now.

In Liam Kelly and Kalifa Cisse, Reading have a great 'little and large' combo to boss the middle of the park. Cisse's strength and physical prowess, combined with Kelly's agility and technical skill, make this a dangerous duo.

For as much as they've blown hot and cold in their respective seasons at Reading, Stephen Hunt and Garath McCleary are on their days very dangerous wingers, both capable of scoring and assisting.

Up top, a combined 36 goals makes Yann Kermorgant and Kevin Doyle an irresistible combination. The Frenchman's strength and hold-up play would go perfectly with the Irishman's movement.