13 March 1999
Bournemouth 0 Reading 1
Howie, Gray, Bernal, Primus, Murty, Parkinson, Caskey, Houghton, Glasgow (Sarr),
Fantastic. In just four days Reading have managed to bring their season back to life. Well over a month ago the majority of Reading supporters were writing this season off (myself included) and looking forward to next season. All of a sudden the play-offs are well and truly back in sight - I never thought I'd be thinking it possible again this season. The six points taken from the mid-week 4-0 victory against Stoke and from this 1-0 victory at Dean Court will have shocked all but the most optimistic optimists. After last Saturday's performance it seemed more likely that we'd have picked up nothing from these two games bringing the season to a mid-table end. All of a sudden the hunt for a play-off spot is back on - with the results going our way, and Reading ending Bournemouth's season long home league unbeaten run, the Royals lie just three points out of a play-off position. Assuming we beat bottom of the table Wycombe on Saturday, which we should, the scene couldn't be better set for the visit of Manchester City the following week who currently occupy that magical sixth spot in the table.
Bournemouth, well established in one of those play-off positions, will undoubtably feel very hard done by to have lost this game. Reading certainly deserved something from the game but just how Bournemouth failed to score in the last quater of the game is a complete mystery. It took the skill of Howie, a determined defensive performance, and on more than one ocassion the post and crossbar to deny Bournemouth several seemingly goal bound attempts. However to win in this manner made the game even more special for the visiting fan. There were long stretches of the game that failed to entertain, but after taking the lead, and enduring the most nervous ending imaginable it was party time for the Reading fans who left the ground as if they'd just won a cup final.
Reading started with the same line-up that faced both Macclesfield and Stoke - with the only exception Glasgow winning a starting place on his return from injury. With Casper and Polston still out Bernal and Primus were again given the opportunity to shine together in the centre of a four man defence. On-loan McKeever made his second start for the Royals up front on the left.
Reading fans were down in their numbers to pack out the away end and generate a pretty decent atmosphere before the game got underway. As the teams came out loads of blue and white balloons rose from the away end, with the sun lighting up the ground combined with a couple of decent pints from a local pub it already seemed like it was going to be a good day.
Bournemouth made the better start but quite quickly it was clear the two teams were relatively well matched. Bournemouth enjoyed the greater possession for the first twenty minutes before Reading started to control the midfield. Parkinson and Houghton both picked up yellow cards for fouls. Although the cards were harsh at least it was a sign of some Reading determination. Caskey was also quick to pick up a card for booting the ball away after the whistle had been blown. With the game taking place mostly in midfield there wasn't too much for the keepers to do throughout the first half, although Reading so nearly took the lead before the keeper had made a save, with our best chance of the half. McKeever cut inside the box and let off a fantastic power shot that curled to slam against the bottom of the crossbar with the keeper beaten - as it came down it was hoofed to safety.
Down at the other end Primus and Bernal were doing well coping with almost everything pumped forward by the home side. However, a Primus mistake could have been Bournemouth take the lead. With a man nearby Primus went to hoof the ball clear but kicked the air instead, leaving Bournemouth with a clear run at goal. Luckily he shot early and it was pushed wide of goal to Howie's right. Bournemouth's other best chance saw Howie save well from a close range header.
Although Murty and Glasgow were combining well down the wing, Glasgow was having real trouble with his marker. The number of times he was delivered the ball by Murty but failed to either beat his man or get in a cross was staggering. Not Glasgow's best performance. McKeever meanwhile was enjoying himself more than ever, twisting in and out of the Bournemouth midfield and defence to lay off some decent balls. McKeever followed on quickly from his star performance at Stoke with some great running on the ball. His skill on the ball is really something to see. It would have been foolish to make moves to buy the player after one great game but following this performance as well he should be snapped up quick. He's young and clearly has bags full of potential.
At half time it could easily have gone either way. As the second half got underway quite slowly the most likely result appeared to be a goalless draw, especially with so many Reading passes going nowhere. But as the second half got on the game steadily picked up more and more to lead to a dramatic last 20 minutes.
Another superb shot stopping performance from Howie somehow kept Bournemouth out. The ball was played into the centre of the box where the shot was fired through a crowd of players goal-bound. From my position behind the goal it was impossible to see where it was heading, but as the ball reached it's target there was Howie to save. Although a great save the ball came out to the advancing Bournemouth player who seemed to be presented with a gift of a goal. He calmly stuck his head on it to nod it into the empty net, but thankfully it found the inside of the post instead. With the ball drifting across the goal line and the area filled with players there was Murty to hoof the ball to safety.
However, as if from nothing, and with only 15 minutes of the game remaining Reading took the lead when it looked like they were never likely to do so. Caskey took a quick free kick and McKeever strode into the area to roll the ball past the keeper for his second goal in two games. 1-0 to the Royals, and we couldn't believe it.
Bournemouth were clearly as shocked as the Reading fans who suddenly rediscovered their singing voices to go into full scale party mode. Sarr came on to make a reappearance for the Royals and off went Glasgow who looked so worn out that he might collapse at any moment. With the game into it's last ten minutes it was all Bournemouth as they went full out looking for the equaliser. How long those last ten minutes felt as Reading went full on defensive. Nervous is not not a strong enough word for how every Reading fan behind the goal must have been feeling.
Stein at last repayed the Royals for his cheating penalty dive at Reading in this season's 3-3 draw. Bournemouth fired in a bullet shot from the edge of the box to Howie's right. The ball was clearly heading into the top corner of the net until Stein stuck his head on it to send the ball flying high over the crossbar to safety.
It was impossible to fault Andy Bernal in his central defender role. He was in the right place at the right time all afternoon and as Bournemouth increased the pressure Skippy increased his number of vital tackles. When the defence was beaten Howie was there to keep the ball out. In the last minute of play Howie tipped over from a header well inside the box. As the ball looped just over the crossbar the cheers from the Reading fans were as loud as when we'd scored. And pure relief when the final whistle went. The Bournemouth fans would have left wondering what went wrong, but Reading deserve full marks for their battling performance. For once it was clear that this win really mattered to the players. Perhaps the confidence is at last back - in which case the play offs are not an impossible dream.