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Reading FC's Play-Off History: 1994/95

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This week we'll be looking back on our previous play-off tilts through the eyes of fans who were there.

They say you never forget your first, that time when your innocence is forever lost and you have to walk away knowing that something about you has changed forever. I'm of course talking about the first time you realise that sometimes football doesn't have a happy ending and for me, that came at Wembley in May 1995.

What Happened?

Under Manager Mark McGhee and still fairly fresh faced Chairman, then plain old John Madejski, Reading had been enjoying their best success in a decade, if not ever. McGhee had compiled a team of young hungry players that had risen through the ranks such as Stuart Lovell, Ady Williams and Scott Taylor and blended them together with willy veterans like Mick Gooding, Michael Gilkes and Jimmy Quinn, with the result being a third tier title win in 1994 that was followed by a rapid assault on the play-off spots in Division One.

While such play-off bids are nothing new to today's fan, consider that going into the 1994/95 season, the previous best finish in the club's history was 13th in the second tier, so you can appreciate how exciting this was for the roughly 6,000-9,000 who packed into Elm Park weekly.

Sadly McGhee ditched us at Christmas for Premiership Leicester, but the duo of Quinn and Gooding steered us into the play-offs. Much like this time around, we'd even finished top of the play-off pile, as a last day win saw us end up second behind Champions Middlesbrough, a spot that wasn't enough for automatic promotion due to the Premier League shrinking from 22 to 20 teams.

A trip to Tranmere awaited us in the semi-finals, where we produced what I still consider one of the finest ever away performances to take a 3-1 lead back to Elm Park. There we drew 0-0 to seal a final appearance with Bolton.

At Wembley, well, it was heartbreak.

12 minutes into the game, we were in dreamland. Lee Nogan and Ady Williams has us 2-0 up and around the half-hour mark the game seemed dead and buried when Reading were awarded a penalty. Sadly, Stuart Lovell missed it, giving Bolton something to rally behind and two goals in the final 15 minutes sent the game to extra time, with Bruce Rioch's side winning 4-3 after extra time.

Remember Fabian de Freitas? If you do, you were probably at Wembley in 1995 because his double from the bench was about his only meaningful contribution in English football.

So Why Did We Fail?

Truthfully Bolton were by far a stronger squad and probably deserved to go up. They'd got to a League Cup Final and pushed Liverpool close at the same venue the month before, their manager was bound for Arsenal and their team sheet had names far more recognisable than ours. Jason McAteer, Alan Thompson, John McGinlay, Alan Stubbs, even Peter Shilton on the bench were far more known than the likes of Bernal, Lovell, McPherson and co.

On the day, Reading just ran out of steam after a blistering opening half hour. McPherson was playing with a broken foot and the whole squad had been busting a gut just to make the top five, unlike Bolton who'd been fairly comfortable all season long. Bolton had that big game experience and crucially had that rallying moment when Keith Branagan saved Archie's penalty. Without that, could Reading have held on? Quite possibly.

Fan Memories

As I said at the top of this piece, you always remember that moment where you realise your football heroes aren't always going to come out the winners. I'd seen defeats before, my very first game saw us exit the FA Cup 3-1 at home to Oldham that January, yet this was the first big game I'd ever seen us blow. I'd taken it for granted that we'd come out on top in the end, we always had done before right?

Wrong. I think I cried the whole trip home as BBC Radio Berkshire tried to console us with 'Always look on the bright side of life' seemingly on repeat.

For a few years after, this felt like we'd blown our lone shot at the big time. The team was quickly stripped of key players and the next few seasons were fairly mediocre battles to avoid the drop, before we finally sunk down to the third tier in 1998. Yet there was a massive sense of pride in that 1995 team, to the point where there was an open top bus parade even though we'd lost.

You can hear plenty of memories from three key members of that side by listening to our interviews with Stuart Lovell, Shaka Hislop and Simon Osborn.

2017 Team v 1995 Team

Al-Habsi v Hislop

I've been a big fan of Ali's performances over 18-months but Shaka is one of the best keepers we've ever had and was just so dominant, even if he maybe didn't have his best game in the final.

Gunter v Bernal

Gunter is a better athlete and just has a bit more quality than 'skippy'.

Moore v McPherson

Again, Macca tried hard and was a decent player but Moore's overall ability wins out over the experience and heart from McPherson.

McShane v A Williams

Before a series of big injuries, Williams was being thought of a possible Premier League player and at just 23-years-old was already Captaining that Reading side. I love McShane but that Ady Williams was a fantastic defender and leader.

Blackett v Wdowczyk

Not even close just ask anyone who watched him how classy Dariusz was with his left-foot. He'd be absolutely perfect in this Jaap Stam side!

Obita v Gilkes

Very tricky one this, both had their moments but I'm just going for Gilkes on account of his extra experience and raw threat his pace brings.

D Williams v Gooding

Eugh, another really close one but on this occasion I'll just about go for Danny as he's got more of a goal threat.

Swift v Osborn

Few players have made such an impression during a one-season stay at the club and Osborn's ability to play a killer ball is something that's still missed to this day. Swift has the potential to be even better but right now I'm taking that Osborn over today's Swifty.

Kelly v Taylor

Taylor was my first ever favourite player, so I'm bias here. Kelly has been very impressive but Scotty had a knack of getting key goals and could put in some fine deliveries as well.

McCleary v Lovell

Harder to compare the two of these as one was a striker and the other's a winger but as much as I love Archie I can't look past a fully fit McCleary.

Kermorgant v Nogan

Big Yann, just has to be big Yann. In saying that, Nogan's goal at Wembley is a shamefully forgotten classic just because of the end result.

Result

READING 2017 5-6 READING 1995