20 March 1999
Reading 2 Wycombe 1
Howie, Gray, Bernal (Sent Off), Casper, Murty, Parkinson, Caskey (Glasgow),
Houghton, Sarr (Barras), McKeever (Brebner), McIntyre.
As Tommy Burns correctly stated after the game - we'd have lost a similar game to this a few months ago. Reading showed true courage after being reduced to ten men within the first half, and in fact, if anything the red card shown to Andy Bernal actually improved Reading's performance. This statement holds nothing against Bernal, who has been superb for the Royals recently, but suggests that determination and passion won this game for Reading. Others will also be quick to point out that Reading are at last running into a bit of luck - if Wycombe had stuck home their penalty to make it 1-1 the game may perhaps have taken on a different complexion. However, once again Reading deserve full credit for their three points that make it four wins from four games and keep the play-offs within sight.
With Primus out injured Casper made a return to Reading's starting line-up in the centre of defence. After the recent success of on loan McKeever, Burns stuck to the use of two out and out wingers up front - but this time bringing in Mass Sarr for his first start for some while. Glasgow was relegated to the bench to join Brebner, also coming back from injury, and Barras, the central defender on loan from York City. With Caskey, Parkie, and Houghton in midfield Reading started with a clear 4-3-3.
The game was slow to get moving with Wycombe having the better of the early exchanges. For the first thirty minutes it seemed we were destined to have yet another of those non-entertaining home performances, Reading's only attempt on goal was a lob into the keepers arms from Jimmy McIntyre. The frustration was just starting to set in before Reading took the lead. After two fantastic away wins the home fans were being "treated" to a performance similar to that provided by the Macclesfield game. The problem being Reading were once again up against a team at the foot of the table playing a different game to Readings. Tommy Burns' style of football works better against the better teams.
Wycombe's physical and less on the floor style served only to prevent Reading playing how they wanted and to force us to adopt a similar style of play. Wycombe were better prepared for a game of this type it seemed. The away side had the better of the chances - a powerful header from a corner flew over the bar and another decent shot from outside the area again flew high over the Reading crossbar. Until, on the half hour, Reading took the lead against the run of play.
McIntyre created the goal all by himself. A long ball over the top bounced and was collected by McIntyre, the loan centre forward. He did extremely well to twist past his defender to leave just the keeper to beat. Which he did with some style from a central point just inside the area. 1-0, and the Reading fans had the first thing to cheer about of the afternoon. From this point on the game just got better.
Ten minutes later Bernal was to get his marching orders and the game was to jump into life. The ball was played in from the left side of the pitch and eventually found itself running right along the goalline needing just a touch to put it into the back of the net. With a Wycombe player far too close to supplying that touch Skippy found himself with no option but to pull the man back to prevent a certain goal. The goal was prevented but Skippy was ordered off and a penalty was awarded. This could have been the turning point of the game in Wycombe's favour. However, shortly afterwards the spot kick was fired high and wide into orbit - and Reading retained their lead. All of a sudden it was was clear it probably was a turning point - but in Reading's favour. Loanee Barras come on to replace the still out of form Sarr and jump into Bernals place in the centre of defence. And Reading stepped up a gear.
After some untidy play in the first half Reading settled down and started playing the ball around nicely on the floor. It looked like it was Wycombe who were a man short as Reading started putting together some decent moves forward. Caskey was at the centre of it all - tirelessly running around trying to make up the extra man for the Royals, and playing some nice little touches. He combined fantastically with Murty at one point with a clever back heel unleasing Murty on a run forward. Murty was nothing short of sensational. He was the complete player. Solid as anything at the back - never letting his man beat him - but also coming forward well and confusing the hell out of anyone in his way. Pacey, exciting, brave, and entirely devoted to winning the game. Approaching Parkinson qualities but with well over 700,000 quids worth of skill. Murty is indeed our saviour. Gray was attempting to do similar things as full back on the other side, and not doing a bad job.
Reading appeared to make the game safe with just 20 minutes left to go - Caskey meeting Gray's spot on cross from the left to head past the Wycombe keeper with ease. 2-0 to the R's and Reading started to cruise.
After two top games away from home McKeever struggled to make an impression against his marker - the Wycombe number 6 who was just far too physical for him. Perhaps McKeever, like Reading, performs better when the game suits him. So on came Brebner to bolster the midfield and help us knock it around even better.
However with ten minutes left Wycombe pulled on back. Their forward split the Reading defence, and fired home a powerful volley from the edge of the box to make it 2-1. And then, once again, it was time for the frantic finish. With Reading a man down everyone looked knackered as anything, and Wycombe pushed forward sensing a late equaliser. First they stuck home an offside goal and won a few corners. Luckily Howie was in form to make some clean catches. However the real moment came when Murty saved a certain goal. The shot came in from the right and was pushed wide by Howie but only into the path of an incoming Wycombe player. But all of a sudden Murty was there to slide in with a perfectly timed and executed tackle to save the full three points. And so Reading survived for the vital victory.
With only the Stoke result really going our way, Reading climb to one place outside the play-offs but six points adrift of Manchester City who visit the Mad House next Saturday for what is going to be the biggest game of the season. Our run has come so late that we have to keep it going. We must beat Luton on Tuesday night to set up a huge play-off battle against City next weekend. By 2:45 on Saturday we could be in a play-off spot.