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Huddersfield Town 0-0 Reading FC - Huddersfield Win 4-3 On Penalties: We're Broken But Proud

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The most unlikely season came to an all too familiar end for Reading fans at Wembley.

Huddersfield Town v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

It hurts. It really, really hurts.

I was quite tempted to go with the same headline as our last Play-Off Final report but I'll save it for another time.

We've been here before but that doesn't make it much easier to swallow. Reading's dreams of Premier League football were dashed at Wembley, as Liam Moore and Jordan Obita failed from the spot, to give Huddersfield Town a first taste of the big time in 40-odd years.

In truth, neither side really proved they were worthy of a place inside the top division. Three shots on target in 120 minutes tells a sad story of how both sides lacked key quality in the final third. That's not to discredit some fine defending from either side, yet this was a game that felt as if both teams were trying to avoid defeat, rather than go all-out to win.

Ultimately someone had to lose the cruel lottery of a penalty shootout and this time it was us. That doesn't mean we can't be damn proud of how we got there in the first place.

First-Half

The bad news started early for Reading, with the fact that Jordan Obita was unable to take his place in the starting lineup, leaving Jaap Stam to name an unchanged lineup from the one who'd edged past Fulham 11 days ago.

Any hopes of a fast start from Reading were soon put to bed as Huddersfield created two glorious chances only for Michael Hefele and Izzy Brown to fail to hit the target. For Reading, it was pot shots at best, with Lewis Grabban's long-range strike the only real notable effort.

Those of you who'd read Will's tactical analysis of Huddersfield would known what we'd be up against and sure enough, the 'gengen' pressing was forcing Reading into far more errors than Stam would have been comfortable with. Today unfortunately highlighted not only how far the team's come but sadly how far it really has to go before it can consider itself a great side alongside the likes of Steve Coppell's 2005-07 men, or even Mark McGhee's splendid team a decade earlier.

Those two squads had a style, played it well and used it to dissect opponents ruthlessly. Stam's side has shown this year that they can play the 'Dutch' way, especially against weaker sides, but have also demonstrated that when the pressure is on, they can sometimes buckle and become passengers, unable to really mount sustained offence. You don't finish third by being a bad team but you do finish with a narrow goal difference if you're not able to dominate sides.

That last point was shown up numerous times by sloppy passes, bad first touches and niggling stupid fouls. Not that referee Mr Swarbrick helped too much in the foul category due to some inconsistent and muddled officiating, yet his performance was well within the realm of what we've come to expect during a Championship game.

Joey van den Berg certainly couldn't blame the referee for his booking, a horrible rash challenge that had the Dutchman on a tightrope and causing plenty of discomfort among the 38,000 Reading fans who looked magnificent in filling around 95% of our half of the stadium.

Second-Half

There were a few bright periods for Reading, especially as Huddersfield began to tire in a muggy, hot, Wembley but again, it was scraps rather than any genuine sustained spell of dominance that had you thinking a goal was just around the corner.

Obita's welcome introduction for van den Berg helped matters, while Garath McCleary wriggled into some bright openings as a replacement for Grabban only to fail to hit the target when given half chances. Reading's midfield worked hard, the defence and full backs worked hard, Yann worked hard yet the problem was the ability to actually produce the quality to really put pressure on the Huddersfield goal and John Swift was the worst culprit for this.

Swift failed to make a key pass, failed to recover a lost ball and delivered some woeful set pieces. He'll be the first to admit he had a poor game but again, it's too simple and unfair to put it on his shoulders alone, not least due to his goals being so vital to start this bandwagon in the first place.

Extra-Time & Penalties

By the time the full-time whistle went, Reading were beginning to assert that bit more control and start to probe deeper up the pitch. As mentioned, that didn't translate to much in front of goal but it at least helped ease the tensions of a stressed out Reading fanbase, except for whoever that Steve chap was, whose heart rate never went above 80 based on the scoreboard.

Liam Kelly buzzed about to try and make something happen when brought on for Swift, yet Huddersfield now seemed content to settle for penalties, something that worked a treat in the end.

Huddersfield won the coin toss to ensure spot kicks were taken in front of their own fans yet it was Reading who first had something to celebrate when Ali Al-Habsi denied Hefele, with Liam Kelly's penalty soon giving Reading a 3-1 lead.

Then, it all just went wrong.

After Nakhi Wells scored his customary effort against us, Liam Moore stepped up, only to see his fiercely hit penalty go narrowly over.

The momentum was back with Huddersfield and after Aaron Mooy capped an impressive performance with a penalty, Jordan Obita had all the pressure back on him. Unlike against the MK Dons in our last notable shoot-out, this time Obita couldn't make himself a hero, nor could Al-Habsi, as Christopher Schindler scored a winning penalty to send the Huddersfield fans wild.

I've seen some supporters taking shots at McCleary and others for sitting behind Moore in the penalty queue but with GMac's self-admitted awful record, it left just George Evans, Chris Gunter, Tiago Ilori and Tyler Blackett as options, so really, I'm not sure what else should have been done.

Oh and needless to say, anyone giving stick to either Moore, or Obita for missing should take a good, hard look at themselves.

Final Thoughts

I'd said a few times in the build up to this one that Reading had no real excuses not to win this game. Fortunately I can find no real reason they lost it either, after all, they really didn't lose the game, they lost a penalty shoot-out. As mentioned, neither side really proved they deserved to win, although David Wagner will be a relieved man after watching his team waste the better chances.

For Reading, the next steps are very much into the unknown. Lewis Grabban's loan spell is done, Danny Williams' contract is up and most importantly of all, Jaap Stam's future remains an open question. The big boys will surely come knocking for the Dutchman and it'll be up to Brian Tevreden and our new Chinese owners to convince him to stick around.

On paper, this is a team that's well placed to get better, especially if financial muscle is added. The loss of £10m worth of parachute payments won't help in this FFP era but there's enough talent there to provide the spine of a team who could challenge the top two going forward.

Our last two Play-Off Final defeats saw automatic promotion follow, here's hoping Jaap can make it a hat-trick next May.

Whatever happens, thank you from all of us here at The Tilehurst End to the players and staff who gave us this unexpected ride. Likewise, thanks to all of you reading this for sharing the journey with us. We'll have plenty more looking back over the season in the days and weeks to come but for now, I hope you're enjoying a nice meal, comforting pint or time with your loved ones.

Above all else, football is about the relationships we make with fellow fans and how it helps bring people together. A penalty shoot-out defeat certainly doesn't change that.