2 BRADFORD CITY 2
After extra time, Aggregate score: 3-3
Bradford go through on away goals
|Attendance: 6,842 (approx. 150 away)|
|Scorers: Scott, Hunter||Date: 22 September 1999|
Howie, Gray, Bernal, Casper, Hunter, Gurney, Smith (Hodges), Grant (Crawford),
Caskey, Scott, Forster (Williams).
|Audio: Nope / Not yet||Match Hero: All of them. Heros.|
Firstly lets forget the result. A draw is a complete insult to the way we played tonight. And lets not give a shit about the away goals rule that put Reading out of the cup. The important thing about tonight was that the Madejski Stadium was alive and well being entertained by completely pulsating, exciting, premiership quality football - being played by the home side. Lets say it right away - Bradford may have been a bit shite tonight and their 150 or so travelling fans might have a few complaints there - but Reading completely played them off the park and they were lucky to go home without being completely stuffed. I guess I shouldn't get carried away on the basis of one game - but we were so good tonight I might just have to.
The best performance by Reading that the Madejski Stadium has ever seen? Probably. Without wishing to dance on Tommy's managerial grave, his departure has changed everything about Reading Football Club in a very big way. If we play like this against teams like Oldham we'll stuff them out of sight and attendances will soar. Right now it seems the corner has been turned and the only way is up. Pardew could not be more pleased. The only way this could have been better would have been with victory and without the mistake that cost us extra time. If we put out another performance like this on Saturday the job will be Pardews. And rightly so.
It was another disappointingly low crowd at the Madejski tonight, but it didn't stop it being the best atmosphere for quite some while. The reason was the pure excitement being conjured up by Reading on the pitch. If you didn't turn up tonight you should probably shoot yourself. No torture yourself first and then choose a slow painful death. The lads deserved a capacity crowd to see this one. Reading were excellent. I can't believe I'm typing that in a Reading match report.
After Saturday's slight improvement we multiplied the effect by a million tonight. The only changes in the starting line-up were the inclusion of Keith Scott in place of Jim McIntyre up front, and Barry Hunter in place of Linvoy Primus at the back. Both players played a major part.
Bradford City got away with the better start looking like they'd come to win the tie. Right from the off they came charging at us knocking it around and pushing forward trying to look like the team two divisions higher. They would perhaps have succeeded but our defence was more than up to the job. Previously we'd been leaking goals like anything, but following on from Saturday's clean sheet we seemed as tight as anything. Everytime Bradford moved the ball around we had a man right there, right away, either forcing City away from the Reading goal, or putting in a challenge to halt the attack and win possession. We were bright and alert, with men in the right places at the right time - and not afraid to put in the tackle. Bradford were playing a bit like Burns' Reading - plenty of possession but not managing to break down the defence.
After a good five minutes of solid City possession it was Reading who managed to get the first shot in. Forster pulled a cross back into the centre of the box, Smith missed it, and Casper's shot sailed way over the bar. Immediately it showed that it was Reading playing the direct football searching for goals and not the opposition. That's another something I'd never have said in almost all of last season's match reports.
After about eight minutes the six and a half thousand home fans were treated to something any Wycombe fan would describe as pure fantasy - paranormal or something. Before I explain can I say that Keith Scott was an absolute bargain if we did pay the rumoured 250,000 quid for him. Thanks. The ball was played wide down the left leaving Keith Scott, just inside the City half, just behind the City full-back in the chase. Scott was off, charging towards the ball and keeping steady to nudge ahead of his man. Moments later Scott gets the first touch down the left wing. It's not the best of first touches as he taps the ball back inwards, and it looks like he's going to lose out. But no. He's level and muscles past the marker who falls flat out as Scott passes him. But there's another defender in the box, just outside the six yard box. But f*ck me, next thing I know he's only gone and bloody cut inside him. The keeper is coming back and Scott's foot is pulled back ready. He unleashes that foot and the ball is curved as sweetly and as precisely as possible to the keeper's left curving inside the far post and into the back of the bulging net. YES! A bloody amazing goal from Scotty and the Royals are 1-0 up. Pure determination from Keith.
Surely it can't get any better than this. It can. Reading do exactly the opposite to sitting on their lead and start really putting the game to Bradford. Bradford were as shocked as anything. Reading were like a different side - making full use of the wings and playing the ball forward at every opportunity. Every player was looking for space and every player was hungry to set something up or bang one in themselves. Things we've been missing. Caskey's distribution from the middle of the park was back at it's brilliant best. Gurney and Gray were legging it down the wings to receive long balls from Caskey, and using every single inch of the pitch to keep the ball in play move further down and whip in a cross. Stuart Gray almost made it 2-0 when he raced into the left side of the box and hit a shot that took a slight deflection. The keeper made a point blank save as it stormed goal-bound.
Andy Gurney was at it too - a player with a new lease of life under Pardew. He could have put Reading further ahead after firing a powerful shot low from the edge of the box that needed a save. Forster was both setting people up and having a couple of goes himself. A shot from just inside roughly central needed a good save to keep it out. Bradford got stronger towards the end of the first half, but only after the Royals had laid seige to the Bradford City goal. The scoreboard told the story of the half - 7 shots to Reading, just the one to City.
Crawford replaced the injured Grant just before the interval and then Reading continued from where they'd left off as the second half got underway.
Not wanting to be out-done in terms of entertainment value Bradford thought they'd contribute with an excellent comic showing from their number 24, Grant, and their physio. About 15 minutes into the second half their number 24 collapsed in a pathetic play-acting heap just in front of the East Stand. The game continued until the ball went out of play. Over came the referee to inspect the "wounded" - see's there's not a problem and tells him to get up and play on. By now Bradford's Grant has obviously taken it too far and decides he better stay down to make it realistic. Eventually the ref allows the physio to come on, while Grant continues to roll around a bit grabbing his leg. A few minutes pass. He's still there getting "treatment" a few yards from the touchline. The Bradford City bench obviously haven't got wind of the little play-acting stunt and so on comes the substitute. Grant eventually walks off the pitch and play continues. Now with 11 men on the pitch Grant wants to get back on and starts bouncing around like a spring chicken indicating he's ready and recovered from his "horrific injury". The physio gives the thumbs up sign to the bench, gets all confused and sticks some tape around Grant's socks and prompts for him to go on. The volume behind them of hysteric laughter from the East Stand should have given it away - but obviously didn't. A few minutes later it eventually dawns on them, and all of a sudden his injury returns to allow him to limp off around the pitch. Bloody funny - although you really had to be there for this one.
Anyway, this little incident helped to stir the atmosphere up even more. We're one goal up, 2-1 on aggregate, and Bradford City are making twats out of themselves while we cover ourselves in glory. So it had to go wrong really. And it did with 15 minutes left to play.
The ball was played high and dipped on the edge of the Reading box. Casper was there are set to make the clearance with plenty of time and not under massive pressure, unfortunately he had company, and even more unfortunately Howie came charging off his line. I don't know if Casper heard Howie call for the ball or just thought he had it covered. But despite the ball dropping right on the edge of the area and in front of Saunders for Bradford, Casper suddenly stopped going for the ball and instead of hoofing it clear dropped off to let it go. And there was Saunders in the gap between Casper and Howie to knock the ball home for a real gift of a goal. Yet another serious defensive mistake from the Royals - and Howie and Casper the culprits not for the first time. 1-1, against the run of play and far more than the away side deserved. For a moment it looked like Bradford might grab the winner as they pushed forward - but it was only a short moment.
Forster has completely played his socks off with some superb crossing from the right that had almost set up Scott a couple of times. Eventually he was replaced by Williams, but only after twisting and turning all over the pitch playing some delightful little balls into players paths.
But the moment quickly passed as Reading started looking for the winner inside normal time. I can't remember all the attempts we had - but we had plenty of them. Gurney almost restored the lead with a long range drive and Caskey had a decent effort on target. As we made more and more of the wings Andy Bernal almost scored right near the end of 90 minutes after meeting a cross from Gurney on the right.
As the game entered extra time with the scores completely level I assumed Bradford would be the stronger in extra time. But no. Reading again managed to raise their game cheered on by an ecstatic East Stand. At last Reading got the goal they deserved. We won a free kick on the right. Caskey hoisted it into the middle of the box and there was Barry Hunter to meet it with his head. The ball was in the back of the net and we all went completely mental. 2-1 to the Royals. Unbelievable, pure excitement. And it was no more than we deserved from such pacey determined play - that only ever went forward. Yes, I am talking about the mighty Royals.
Half time in extra time. And Reading 2-1 up and still by far the better side. Real edge of the seat stuff. With 15 minutes to go there was still potential for it to go wrong - which it did with about 12 minutes left to play. The ball was played in from the right and met with a header inside the box that beat Howie. 2-2. But the second away goal meant Bradford would go through.
Yet still Reading attacked. Hodges came on for the knackered Smith. Gray was still tying to get down the wing, he was still finding space and still being delivered some superb balls. Unfortunately he was completely knackered after running his guts out for over 100 minutes. Up front Scott was even more knackered, he looked like he would collapse any minute but still found the strength when it was needed to try and grab that winner we so much deserved. Gurney seemed to replace Forster's play down the right wing, and easily had his best ever game for Reading. He picked up loads of balls from Caskey and Hunter, took them forward and whipped in several near perfect crosses right into the heart of the box. Scott was just a couple of inches away from one at the far post as he dived in - so close, but it wasn't to be.
A reformed Reading. Every player was 100 percent motivated. Each and every one of them wanted the victory and battled as hard as they could for it. Determination and passion are the main things. But it was even better than that. We played like a different side - a side with winning tactics. At the back we closed them down instantly and didn't hardly let them get a sniff of goal. Going forward we were a skillful forward playing direct side, making space and using space with some killer balls across the pitch. With plenty of crosses and Scott in the middle we looked dangerous every time.
There wasn't a single home fan left at the end who wasn't on their feet at the final whistle to applaud the team off the pitch. Reading generated more excitement tonight than they have for years. Please lets play like this on Saturday.