News and Views
Play-Off Final Defeat: Things We Learned
30 May 2017
By Alex Bower
An exceptional season for Reading FC came to a devastating end on Monday afternoon when they lost the 4th play-off final in their history. Neither Reading or Huddersfield could get the ball in the net in normal or extra time, meaning the dreaded penalty shootout was required to separate the two sides. An Ali Al-Habsi save against Michael Hefele was enough for Reading fans to start believing Premier League football awaited them next season. Unfortunately that was not meant to be with defenders Liam Moore and Jordan Obita both failing to convert their spot kicks.
Here are some of the things that came out of the game.
A Season To Remember
After the dramatic and somewhat depressing end to Monday's final, it may be hard to focus on the positives. The Royals finished third in the league. They beat the favourites for promotion over two legs. They lost the play-off final on penalties. It is something that is going to hurt for a little while yet before focus has to turn to going one step better by achieving automatic promotion next season (as has happened before).
Amidst the disappointment, we must remember the achievements of the players this season to get the club in the position they were. No one expected Reading to be anywhere near the top of the table and fans have Jaap Stam and his squad to thank for that. At times it has not been pretty or exciting to watch but a lot of the time it has been effective. This season was only meant to be the start of a learning curve for the Reading squad as they adapted to the Dutch style of football. Ultimately it nearly became so much more.
Jaap Stam must be praised for his tactics against Fulham in the semi-finals, nullifying the dangerous Fulham attack to good effect. Against Huddersfield, however, that was not the case. From the off, Reading were second best. Huddersfield were seeing the majority of the ball and looked threatening while Reading couldn't string two passes together and were far too narrow.
The press that was highly effective against Fulham was also non-existent at Wembley, with goalkeeper Danny Ward and his Huddersfield teammates allowed all the time in the world to play the ball out of defence. It didn't help the Reading cause that there were a couple of individuals in their ranks that were having particularly poor games and Yann Kermorgant struggled to win his aerial battles against a strong and resolute Huddersfield defence. As time went on the game evened out with both sides lacking quality going forwards. The substitutions of Garath McCleary and Liam Kelly helped the Royals somewhat but it was not enough to help them make a breakthrough.
Along with Joey van den Berg, John Swift had a day to forget at Wembley. Unfortunately Swift has been a player I have singled out on several occasions in recent times due to a marked decline in his performances. When it mattered, he still could not conjure up his spectacular form earlier in the season. It is clear that Swift has the ability to be a great player, but has lacked consistency as the season went on. Earlier on in the season he could have taken on defences almost single-handedly. At Wembley he couldn't pass to teammates, got nudged off the ball far too easily and even managed to trip himself up while under no pressure. It has been a time for Swift to forget over the last few months but here's hoping he bounces back from this a stronger player next season.
The atmosphere at Wembley was incredible for the Championship play-off final - at least, on one side of the ground... Anyone who goes to the Madejski Stadium knows that the Reading fans are not the loudest. Anyone who went to the Fulham semi-final knows, however, that they are capable of making a heck of a lot of noise when it counts.
With many Reading fans creeping out the woodwork to bring their numbers at Wembley to 39,000, the place should have been rocking. In reality it was at the Huddersfield end from start to finish. Won a corner? The crowd were up on their feet cheering. Won the ball back? Straight back up again willing their team on. It was not the most exciting game to say the least but the Huddersfield fans cheered the entire time while the Reading fans were comparatively lacking somewhat. They say that players feed off the energy their support gives them. If that is the case, Huddersfield's supporters may have given them the edge.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
It has only been a matter of hours since Reading's defeat, but talk has already turned to transfers. It is well known that Danny Williams is out of contract and is wanting to play in the Premier League. Based on his performance in the final, he deserves it too.
Unfortunately, Reading are currently not in a position to offer that to him and may not be able to justify his high wage bill for another year in the Championship. It is clear from his reaction after the game on Monday that he loves the club almost as much as the club loves him. That, however, may not be enough.
The other transfer story will inevitably be Jaap Stam. Stam nearly worked a miracle in his debut managing season and has clearly started something special at Reading. Anyone who had their doubts at the beginning of the season will now surely be behind the majority in wanting the manager to be at the club next season. There will inevitably be demand for Stam but he has said that he wants to stay at Reading. Only time will tell but with Stam at the helm and the full backing of the new owners, next season could be even better.
Onto The Next One
This result will take a little while to get over, but there are plenty of positives to take into next season. The most important is that Jaap Stam and his team have instilled belief back into the fan base after a troubling few years. While another year in the Championship may not be what many wanted, it could be a blessing in disguise. If the Royals can keep Stam and the rest of the coaching team in tact, bring in a few new faces and hold onto the majority of the squad then you have to think they have a real chance of challenging again next season. Here's hoping a large proportion of those Reading fans in attendance at Wembley on Monday come along for the ride week in week out.
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