Bluffer's guide to the play-offs: Reading
It looked set in stone for so long – and then Brian McDermott’s Reading made a late bid for promotion glory. The Royals fell short of the automatic place they briefly threatened, but they did make the top six. Reading fan Russell Hammant gives the lowdown on the high-flying Berkshire boys.
Feeling confident? How’s your form?
Form hasn’t been great recently but equally not disastrous, the last 5 games have been a bit hit and miss. After a 3-1 win at the Mad Stad against Leicester the team then travelled to Leeds and managed to escape with a 0-0 in a game that saw Leeds have the better chances. Back at home the Royals looked to confirm their place in play offs against Sheffield United, going 2-0 up before the team seemed to switch off which led to the Blades coming back and winning 3-2.
We then went away to Coventry and were held to a 0-0 which earned us the point we needed to guarentee a place in the play offs, although the performance wasn’t great. Finally we hosted Derby (Robbie Savage’s last ever game) and took a comfortable 2-1 win with Ian Harte scoring a penalty then missing one, meaning our last 5 games were WDLDW – not awful form but not great either.
Up to now, would you judge your season so far as a success or did you have an eye on the automatic spots?
After losing to Scunthorpe at home on the opening day of the season I would have been pleased to finish in the playoffs as the usual suspect spots in the team were still there and I could see us finishing mid-table. But, after selling Gylfi Sigurà°sson just before the transfer window closed, I am delighted to be in the playoffs. The team has certainly over achieved so far this season and when Gylfi was sold mid-table mediocrity was expected, so to have a chance of going up is a fantastic season.
Did you have the upper hand over your semi-final opponents in the games you’ve played against them already this season?
Yes, in both games this season Cardiff have been lucky to come away with a point against us. At home I felt we had the better of the game and it was only a controversial ‘did it cross the line didn’t it’ goal from Jay Bothroyd (who spent most of the game falling to the floor) that saw Cardiff leave with a point.
Away in Cardiff, Reading fans again felt the three points should have been ours after an 89th minute strike by Manset until Cardiff were saved by a late free kick (that some felt shouldn’t have been given) from Craig Bellamy. So, although the score lines show that both sides are clearly well-matched, I think it’s fair to say Reading have had the upper hand in both games this season.
Do you think your players have a big-game mentality? Will they step up?
After a fantastic FA Cup run for a second season, the players should certainly be used to the big games now. For players like Jimmy Kebe and Shane Long, the chance of returning to the Premiership, where they played with Reading not so long ago, should also add some extra incentive.
With Ian Harte in the defence, there is a player who has played in more than his fair shame of ‘big games’ and Andy Griffin also has plenty of Premiership experience that should help motivate some of the players.
The question isn’t over the mentality as much as how much the players have left in the tank – some of them looked shattered against Sheffield United and Coventry and hopefully the rest a few of the players got against Derby will help.
Who will be your key man?
Shane Long without a doubt. He was voted Reading’s player of the season after bagging 21 goals in the league this season and he will be vital in the final third of the pitch, especially as there are doubts over Jimmy Kebe’s fitness. Long’s ability to hold up the ball as well as score key goals is vital and he will be the player that needs to score the goals to get us up.
Who is the semi-final opposition’s dangerman?
A choice of Jay Bothroyd or Craig Bellamy. I’d probably go for the latter as he has more talent and also works a lot harder. Bellamy can do a huge amount – press opposition defences, work the channels and take chances. He is a player who will have to be very closely watched. As many have learned before us, he can be a game changer and tends to step up in these big occasions.
If you get through, who would you prefer in the final?
Probably Nottingham Forest. We’ve struggled agianst Swansea this season, losing both games 1-0 and being outplayed for large parts of the game. While we drew at home with Forest, we certainly outplayed them in that game. Had it not been for our goalkeeper Adam Federici kicking the ball into the back of a team-mate, then Reading would have claimed the win that they deserved in that game.
At the City Ground, the game ended 4-3 to Reading in an end-to-end thriller which was decided by a last minute Forest own goal, although it was probably a fair result as we did well at a ground that is usually a fortress. Also, Swansea have the added spice of being managed by ex-Royal Brendan Rodgers which, whilst it would be nice to go up against him after the brush with relegation we had under his managment, it would be a bitter blow to lose out in the final to his team.
Who’s going to score your winning goal in the final…?
Hopefully Shane Long. After getting some stick at the start of the season (I put my hands up and say I was in that crowd), he has really become a vital cog for Reading this season, scoring key goals and winning vital penalties. He certainly deserves it to cap off a wonderful season, although to be honest I wouldn’t care who scores if we go up!