Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - Championship
HUDDERSFIELD 0 READING 0
After Extra Time: 0-0
Huddersfield Town win 4-3 on penalties
Losing a Championship Play-off Final is always a painful experience, but the nature of this, the latest of a series of defeats at this stage, was to say the least was excruciating for Royals fans. Those old enough to have experienced the devastation of the 1995 final will be familiar with the feeling of teetering on the brink of glory and success only to have it snatched away. When Liam Kelly tucked away Reading's third penalty following Al Habsi's save to give them a two goal advantage in the penalty shoot-out Royals fans expectations reached their peak, and Town fans must have feared the worst. Mooy restored their hope bringing the deficit back to one, leaving Moore the task of setting piling on the pressure by restoring the two goal lead. Sadly nerves got the better of him and he lashed the ball over the bar.
Opponents feed off the doubt and fear that follows a miss at that stage and Huddersfield took full advantage of their unexpected reprieve. Mooy levelled the score for Town. The pressure mounted on Obita to an intolerable level and many Reading fans anticipated the worst. Obita deserves praise for having the courage to step up to take the responsibility for the last kick, but he really was not the man for the job. The inevitability of the under hit spot kick and save unleashed the frustration and grief that had been welling up inside the minds of Reading's fans, and as always in those situations, the disappointment was compounded by the joy of the opposing fans. The momentum was now with Huddersfield and Schindler won the game with a well-placed penalty.
With so much at stake it was hardly surprising that it was not the best game of football seen at Wembley this season, but it was game which had both sets of fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Reading looked most vulnerable in the opening exchanges, keeping to the style of play which had taken them to third place in the table but without the assurance seen in recent games. Huddersfield look sharper going forward and missed two good chances. Hefele headed wide from close range following a free kick conceded by Gunter and then Brown, unmarked at the far post, prodded wide with the goal at his mercy. Grabban found space for a long range effort which flew wide, but it was Town that looked likely to open the scoring.
Van den Berg's weaknesses had been cruelly exposed in the opening minutes and received an early yellow card to add to the pressure. Referee Swarbrick seemed intent on making a point, booking Kermorgant minutes later. Reading seemed to be coming off worst in the fifty – fifty refereeing decisions and consistency was a bit of an issue. Gradually Reading eased their way in the game and Huddersfield also struggled to create openings in a half which failed to produce a shot on target. Town allowed Van den Berg time and space to carry the ball forward but he was unable to find the passes required to open up their defence. Swift had a disappointing half which meant the Town defence were never really tested.
Reading registered the first meaningful shot on target early in the second half when Evans slipped a well-timed pass to Swift who burst through and struck a powerful shot that required a good save from Ward to beat away. With Van den Berg wisely subsituted by Jaap Stam, Obita came on and fired in a couple of dangerous crosses which Town defended well. In a half of missed chances and neither ‘keeper was really troubled and although the game came to the boil it was clear extra-time was on the cards. In stoppage time Gunter headed over and Wells had a shot saved but the ninety minutes ended goalless.
As fatigue and caution took its toll the game slowed and became even more tense as both sides became increasingly fearful of errors. The referee's assistant raised the collective blood pressure of the Reading fans by missing two blatant offside decisions in quick succession to allow Town to create a good chance for Wells which fortunately he failed to take. McCleary came closest for Reading in extra time making room for a shot on the edge of the box but pulled it wide with his weaker foot. So began the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
I would have preferred to see Kermorgant take the last spot kick rather that the first, but it proved to be the correct decision as referee inexplicably delayed proceedings for at least a minute mount the pressure on him as he waited to take his kick. He held his nerve and took perfect penalty. Williams capped the game's outstanding individual performance with the coolest penalty of the game rolling past Ward with ease. Kelly's spot kick also deserves a mention proving the old adage that if you're are good enough you are old enough. From that point it all went horribly wrong for the Royals sending their fans home as their team sprawled devastated on the turf. They should feel disappointment but no shame in their defeat.
It took some typically sane and balanced post-match comments from Jaap Stam to put it all into perspective. His team had stood up to the pressure well, came close to winning, even though nerves got the better of a couple of them at the crucial moment, and they will have another go next season. His leadership as well as his coaching have been key factors is taking this team so far this season. If that didn't put it all in perspective the thoughts behind the minutes silence before the game really should.
Reading suffered more Wembley pain as Huddersfield Town made the leap into the Premier League, defeating the Royals on penalties. After 46 league games, 2 play-off semi-final legs, and 120 more minutes at Wembley, promotion to the Premier League was decided by five penalty kicks each. Huddersfield managed to score four of theirs, while the Royals were on track after scoring the first three only to see Liam Moore's penalty blasted over the crossbar and Jordan Obita's weak effort saved to send Huddersfield up.
Reading's fourth play-off final ended in a fourth disappointment but, despite leading in the penalty shoot out, feelings of inevitability were stronger than those of disappointment as thousands of Reading fans trudged out of the stadium in silence. We seem destined to come out second best in every play-off final, but the Royals had themselves to blame after failing to score, or seriously trouble the Huddersfield goalkeeper after 120 goalless minutes. Unlike the excitement of Reading's previous play-off final appearances, this would have been poor for the neutral, in a game that went long periods without much action as the two teams cancelled each other out. Both sides had moments when they threatened, but by the end of extra time there had been nothing between them. Penalty shoot outs are brutal, but it was the only way to separate two sides.
Both Obita and McCleary were missing from the starting eleven, limiting Reading's forward play, but were included on the bench to be called into action later in the game. At the end of extra time it was Reading that had edged both both possession and shots. However those statistics hide the Terriers better start to the game. It took the Royals a long time to settle down, and they weren't helped by some poor decisions as the linesmen missed both an offside and a Huddersfield player walking the ball off the pitch but being allowed to play on. As Reading struggled to keep hold of the ball they resorted to some heavy challenges to hold Huddersfield back, and that resulted in two early yellow cards for van den Berg and Kermorgant. Huddersfield had created a couple of early chances but failed to find the target with either of them, going wide from close range and high from a header.
Reading weathered the storm and then began to settle down and work their way into the game. Defensive nerves calmed and both Moore and Illori grew into their roles to contain a lively Huddersfield. We began to see more of the ball - a lot of that was thanks to Danny Williams, who was everywhere on the pitch to win the ball back and help calm things down for the Royals. We eventually had long range efforts from Swift and van den Berg but it was a quiet half for Ward in the Hudersfield goal.
The second half saw Reading start on top. Huddersfield had sold out their allocation and packed more supporters into Wembley, with some blocks going unsold in the Royals half of the stadium. However, playing towards their own fans in the second half the atmosphere improved as Reading took control of the game. After a lively start to the second half and after our early match panic, we eventually managed to return to Jaap Stam's style of football with the ball being passed around and the possession stats swinging back in Reading's favour. We struggled to create chances through with a few long passes finding their way out of play. Obita was introduced for van den Berg on 64 minutes and McCleary replaced Grabban ten minutes later. They were sensible substitutions with Reading creating little down the wings and van den Berg always a likely candidate for a second yellow card.
The games between the two sides in the regular season had both been close contests decided by a single goal. At any point during this game a single goal would have won it again. It was nearly Reading that game up with the goods when a cross from the left saw Gunter with a great chance to head Reading into the Premier League - however his effort was narrowly over the crossbar. If only that chance had fallen to Kermorgant then we might be heading for the Premier League. However, extra time seemed on the cards a long time before it eventually got underway.
Liam Kelly was a welcome addition from the bench on 100 minutes replacing John Swift but it failed to swing the game. It was Huddersfield that could have won it before penalties as Wells put his effort just wide of the left post as Huddersfield counter attacked. Although we dreaded penalties it was almost a relief when they did eventually arrive.
Penalties got off to a bad start with Huddersfield winning the first toss of the coin, allowing them to take them in front of their own fans. However, it was Reading that went first, with Kermorgant going first. After a very long wait with the ball on the spot, Kermorgant confidently smashed it into the bottom left corner to put Reading ahead. Danny Williams put his straight down the middle, but thankfully the keeper didn't read it. When Ali Al Habsi dived to his right to save Huddersfield's second kick and make it 2-1 to Reading after two kicks each there was jubilation down the Reading end. When Kelly made it 3-1 the noise was deafening and we were all jumping around like lunatics. Now we really were within touching distance of the Premier League. Huddersfield made it 3-2 before Liam Moore sent the ball over the crossbar and all Reading fans back down to Earth in an instant. Joy turned to gloom in a second. 3-3, with one penalty left each. As if on cue, and to no suprise at all, Jordan Obita's penalty lacked power and was easily saved. Reading fans started leaving even before the last penalty was put past Al Habsi to send Huddersfield up. Huddersfield joy. Reading misery.
And so, Huddersfield have the summer to look forward to the glamour and excitement of the Premier League. Meanwhile, Reading will have to prepare for another season in England's second tier, and hopefully a push for automatic promotion. If we can't go up automatically next year then I'll settle for seventh or below. As long as we can avoid a play-off finish - it never ends well.
This Championship game took place 360 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.