23 March 1999
Luton 1 Reading 1
Howie, Gray, Barras, Casper, Bernal, Parkinson, Caskey, Houghton, Murty (Brebner),
There's no point even trying to use that old cliche "it was a game of two halves" for the game tonight. Besides cliches are shit. It was a game of 80 minutes and then a game of 10 entirely unrelated minutes. Reading were a steaming pile of shit for 80 minutes and then played some of the smoothest sexiest football ever for the last 10 minutes. We should have been six or seven down with ten minutes left. But after that we could have sneaked victory. It's a funny old game.
A normal match report would go through two entirely seperate halves. But this game wasn't like that. Apologies to any bits not completely accurate - my view was shit after turning up late. Didn't need to find a pub as I found someone's kitchen instead of the turnstiles and borrowed a few beers from their fridge before leaving via the back garden into the stand. Or was that the stadium bar?
Reading started the game with one massive change. Murty playing as right winger. We've been waiting for this moment for quite some time. York loanee Barras jumped into the middle of defence, and as a result Andy Bernal moved over to right back to play behind the awesome skill that is bargain signing Graeme Murty. From the off Murty showed a few promising touches of what might have been to come. Brushing past players, showing a bit of pace and willing to run down the wing. As a result he quickly managed to cut in towards the box, where, with the game still young, he was axed down right on the edge of the box. And that was his contribution to the game over. Although he played on for a few minutes it was clear the injury might be serious and off he limped to be replaced by Brebner.
Although things were probably never uphill to go downhill, if you see what I mean, things still managed to go rapidly downhill. With the game less than 10 minutes old Andy Bernal carried on from Saturday with another shocking foul inside the area - once again pulling his man to the ground inside the box to conceede the penalty. On Saturday it saved a certain goal, but this time all he had to do was stay put. He was already the right side of the man and it was no certainty he would have scored. Houghton earned a yellow card for getting a bit argumentative, and up stepped the Luton forward. And once again Howie didn't need to make the save. Howie dived to his left, and the ball flew wide of his right post. YES.
Unfortunately the joy was short lived as Luton, who continued to pose the biggest threat, took the lead five minutes later. The ball was played in from the Luton left. Howie came out to dive at his feet, but failed to hold the ball as he should have done. Instead it seemed to go under his body and across the face of goal. With Howie helpless in slid a player at the far post to push the ball home.
And it didn't get any better. We seemed entirely unable to defend from the Luton left, with Bernal having a nightmare game following giving away the penalty. Although Barras was a shining light in defence, Casper was again not at his best and failing to win high balls. Luton could have made it two shortly afterwards after an almost identical move. As the ball came across the face of goal with Howie again stranded, the player sliding in just narrowly failed to connect - and it went wide.
Down the other end we'd lost everything down the right wing, and down the left McKeever was faced with a massive task of setting up McIntyre. Too often McKeever got caught offside, but having said that he made some great moves through determination in the corner. He actually managed to get across some decent crosses that found McIntyre, but once they had found their target it still didn't help. With just a single man in the box and no-one else coming forward or cutting in from wide positions McIntyre was outnumbered and everytime he headed the ball down inside the box there was no-one there. And so Luton regained possession. We looked as likely to score as McGhee looks likely to get a job.
Brebner was taking ages to warm up and for far too long seemed a bit off the pace of the game. Caskey was playing long balls about the park - but never seemed to be able to find a red shirt. When we did get a bit of possession we simply couldn't string more than three passes together. All of a sudden it seemed all that confidence gained over the last few weeks had gone.
Luton looked far more dangerous coming forward and could have been three or four up by half time. Howie redeemed himself for the goal with a couple of decent clean catches from some of the seventy million corners we conceeded, and just before the break pulled off a great save diving to his left and catching cleanly, after Luton shot from the edge of the box to the right of centre. Bernal failed to redeem himself though, losing out far too often and losing any ability he had at passing the ball. The rest of the team joined in sympathy by booting the ball out of play or to a Luton player at every opportunity.
No change as the second half got underway. Luton again should have made it two with a superb header from a corner from the right. The ball was met perfectly and with some power but went narrowly over the bar. And still Reading showed no signs of getting back into the game. After that another golden chance went narrowly over the bar. A powerful shot just inside the box from the right looked to be heading right into the top corner but somehow found itself smacking against the bar and over for a corner. Presumably Howie in mid-dive tipped the ball over with his outstretched hand. Quite some save. Luton continued to win a whole load more corners. Each one was pumped into the box, but Howie was back on form to claim almost all of them.
Still Reading looked static, confused, almost amateur, but perhaps not resigned to defeat after all.
Parkie suddenly decided to grab hold of the game. He charged down the centre of the park to fire a shot just wide of the Luton keeper's left post. A minutes or two later, after a few crunching tackles to win possession, he did it again after finding loads of space just outside the box. He took a while and got it on target. It lacked any real power, but it was on target - and possibly our first real shot of the game. The keeper may have caught that one with ease but it was the signal to the rest of the team.
As the clock hit 80 minutes everything changed.
We weren't slow anymore. We were bloody fast. We could suddenly pass the ball. Everyone charged around like complete maniacs, running into space, and then being delivered the ball to run on to. We hadn't done a single bit of this for the previous 80 minutes but now it was happening. Luton confused as to why they weren't already six goals to the good, could only sit back and defend and Reading quite simply went mad. Brebner discovered his form, Barras won the ball and delivered. Caskey moved to the right wing to provide some supply and Houghton was playing like a 25 year old but with the skill and experience of all his years.
And the equaliser came. From a corner on the Reading left, Houghton joined the attack down the left side. After taking the ball he knocked it back to McIntyre on the edge of the box and sprinted into the area. The ball was played right in front of him as he continued his charge free of a marker. Houghton sent over a centimetre perfect cross, and in charged Barras from the edge of the box to the edge of the six yard box to head home to the keepers left. A fantastic goal. The away end went completely mad, I did both my knees in after they landed on the seat in front, and Reading went looking for the winner.
Passes were flowing and we were moving so fast the Luton defence must have been dizzy. In almost a repeat Barras got his head on another one but failed to find the net. Brebner found a gap in the defence and fired in a decent shot from outside the box that went wide. Caskey put over a couple of excellent crosses from the right. McIntyre had a shot charged down inside the area. Deep in injury time Luton were reduced to ten men and Reading won a corner on the left. But we couldn't quite find the winner.
We needed to win tonight, but at the final whistle the draw seemed a fantastic result. On another day playing that shockingly bad for eighty minutes of the game would have seen us five or six goals down. But Reading were amazing for the last ten minutes. If we can recreate those last ten minutes for the full ninety against City on Saturday, and then for the rest of the season then the play-off dream is still alive. If we reproduce the first eighty minutes then it's time to look to next season.