News and Views
More Play-Off Disappointment As Huddersfield Go Up
29 May 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?
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.
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