5 April 1999
Reading 0 Fulham 1
Howie, Gray, Primus, Casper, Maybury, Parkinson, Caskey, Brebner, McLaren (McKeever),
More disappointment for the Madejski Stadium's second biggest crowd of the season, apart from the four thousand in the away end. Reading matched Fulham in every department, but as soon as the game was underway it was clear it was always going to be a game to be won by a single goal. And it was Fulham that stole the victory with the goal with just over ten minutes to play. Mass Sarr will be feeling the roughest of them all tonight after failing to take a simple chance that would have put Reading a goal up and probably secured all three points for Reading instead. This defeat makes it three consecutive defeats from three against teams above us in the league. Although we've played some half decent football during the three defeats it makes you think that the reason we didn't make the play-offs this season was because we're not quite good enough. City were better, Gillingham were a touch better, and although we may have matched Fulham it was the away side that scored and took all the points. We could have won it, but excluding Sarr's effort, we didn't really look like scoring. There's still work for Tommy Burns to do during the close season. We're getting better overall, and there are promising signs, but we need to improve to be worthy of promotion next year.
Primus passed a fitness test on his knee to take his place in the centre of defence. Brebner also overcame his injury to make a start. With McIntyre out suspended in came Keith Scott to make his first start for the Royals after two goals already since his signing.
The game was a defensive battle from the start. Whenever a ball was played forward there was always double the defenders to take on the forwards. It didn't matter if it was Fulham or Reading going forwards the situation was always the same. It wasn't the most entertaining game ever but the two defensive performances of both sides were superb. Hardly a spectators game, which was a shame considering the huge crowd, but there was some great football on show. Reading's real problem was in the last third of the pitch where we found it impossible to break down the defence. The build up play to this point was decent enough with Maybury and McLaren linking well down the right wing and Gray making some great runs forward down the left. In midfield we were winning our fair share of balls and Parkinson was combining crunching tackles with some decent distribution. With Caskey and Brebner also doing the business. Unfortuantely Sarr was a shade off the pace still and Scott, despite some heroic battling, was marked a bit out of the game when we were trying to get the ball to him. No way through.
Thankfully Fulham were having the same problems. Casper was playing it safer than ever - knocking every ball out of play. Primus meanwhile was winning everything in the air. Meaning everything. Nothing got through. He's had a couple of shakey games recently but today he was back to his wall-like standard. Fulham failed to get down either of the wings and balls played into the middle were picked up everytime. Howie only really had to make one save during the first half - a shot from just outside the area, Howie catching cleanly to his right. Down the other end Reading's efforts were limited to a Sarr effort after a failed back heel that was on target but an easy save, and a shot from Brebner that dropped onto the top of the net. Caskey had an effort or two from way out. But we failed to look dangerous.
0-0 at half time. And the second half continued in much the same way. Fulham shut up at the back looking for the draw, and Reading did the same.
Reading should have taken the lead with about twenty minutes to go. The ball was played through and Sarr ran on to beat the offside trap. With the Fulham defence waiting for the flag, Sarr strode through to take on the keeper with the defender miles behind. Unfortunately he never looked comfortable on the ball. He took it slow and careful, with the defender catching up he took it inside the area to the right and fired a poor shot into the keepers body as the keeper came out and got down. It was the best chance of the game - he really should have scored.
Not long afterwards Fulham grabbed the winner. It was no suprise that it came from a free kick. The free kick allowed Fulham to push a few extra men into the box. The free kick, in line with the edge of the box, near the touch-line on the right was played into the box, flicked on, and put into the net at the far post. 0-1 to Fulham, and already there was no doubt about the result.
So a game with few chances and few real moments of action. Not the most exciting game ever and not too much to really report on. The game never really got started in terms of attacking football. However it shouldn't be forgotten that there was some decent on the floor football out there.
Kevin Keegan didn't stop talking about the poor quality of the pitch in his post-game interview. As he said, there was some good football, but great football requires a flat surface. He was kind enough to put Sarr's miss down to him being "unable to run with the ball" on the Madeski Stadium pitch. What a shame we need the income Richmond generate.