They nearly did it again.
After losing their FA Cup Semi Final to Arsenal in heart-breaking circumstances last season, Reading Football Club stood just ninety minutes away from the Home of Football once more last month, as they welcomed Crystal Palace to the Madejski Stadium for a Quarter-Final tie.
However, it was not to be once more, as goals from Yohan Cabaye and Frazier Campbell – the former an extremely debatable penalty – crushed the Royals’ dreams inside the final four minutes.
Dave Harris, a Reading season ticket holder, told me that whilst both defeats were disappointing, the loss to the Gunners was ‘harder to take’.
“[The Arsenal defeat] was gutting – every bit as bad as the defeat to Aston Villa in the Quarter-Final in 2010. Losing at Wembley isn’t nice at the best of times and the three times we’d lost there (and Cardiff) pre-Semi-Final were all pretty harrowing experiences, so to have yet another big-stage appearance end in such tragic circumstances, particularly for Adam Federici, was shattering.”
“After the game, I said my goodbyes to my brother and sister-in-law, walked disconsolately back down Wembley Way and said nothing to anyone until I got home some two hours later. The post-match feeling is one that won’t leave my memory. I’ve never come close to crying at a football match, but occasionally I’ve had some pretty robust feelings of devastation – this was one of those occasions.”
On the subject of Adam Federici’s mistake, Harris said: “I was sat behind the goal I had a good view of it. There’s nothing to say other than when a goalkeeper makes a mistake, the outcome is usually catastrophic. Watching the goal again, the reaction in the stand behind the goal speaks volumes and the reaction from Federici at full time was a little upsetting.”
On Crystal Palace: “I always try to be realistic with my expectations and analysis of games; the feelings from big matches aren’t always dictated by hope and expectation. With Palace, the game was winnable; they were horribly out of form and so there was always the chance we could win it. As it turned out, the Reading game plan was based around sitting back, soaking up pressure and hitting them on the counter – although we had clear chances at 0-0, we seemed frightened of their lightning pace and seemed too defensive overall, not getting enough players forward to support the isolated Cox (and then Vydra).”
“Additional to that, too many players didn’t perform individually well enough to the level we know they’re capable of. Palace outplayed us in all areas except goalkeeping, created the vast majority of the chances and in the end deserved their win. Obviously the penalty was questionable, although I can see why Mike Dean and his assistant gave it. So overall, no, it wasn’t as difficult to take, as over the 90 minutes, we didn’t do enough to win and too many players had off days. Naturally I was disappointed to lose – I always am, every defeat is tough to take – I was looking forward to a birthday trip to Wembley but in the end, Palace’s superior quality told on a night we didn’t really perform.”
A 19th placed finish last term has been backed up by a 14th placed campaign so far – a position that Harris says is ‘underwhelming’ for the Royals.
“A lacklustre, goal-sparse start to this season was soon forgotten in September after the transfer window slammed shut and for a while it looked like we were on a bit of a charge; we went up to second in October after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Charlton. But then the wheels came off at Fulham, losing 4-2 having been 2-0 up in the second half.”
“The squads confidence took a massive dent and [Steve] Clarke then had his eyes turned by Fulham – my own belief is he would have gone had they not been threatened with a transfer embargo. In the end, insipid performances against Nottingham Forest and QPR did for him. Even with all the turmoil our club has endured, the position we find ourselves in is slightly underwhelming.”
Clarke left his position as manager halfway through the season and was replaced by fans favourite, Brian McDermott.
“I’m in two minds [about the sacking of Clarke], really, but what can be said with absolute certainty is that he dug his own grave. His league results were very underwhelming overall and I think had he not had the cup run, I feel he would been sacked in the summer.”
“I was tentatively in favour of re-hiring McDermott. My personal favourite was Nigel Pearson, but I wasn’t displeased with Brian returning. There’s no question that he achieved some remarkable results when in charge the first time around – some would argue that we punched above our weight.”
When asked about the Royals’ aspirations for next season, Harris claimed that he is ‘hopeful of a challenge for the play-offs at the very least’: ‘Some would say otherwise, but there’s no question in my mind that McDermott is capable of that at the very least.”
“A second summer re-building job in succession is required for next season. We’ll be losing Matez Vydra, Michael Hector, Lucas Piazon, Alex Fernandez, Ola John and Andrew Taylor, all of whom are loan players. We will also more than likely lose Anton Ferdinand and Hal Robson-Kanu, who are both out of contract.”
“We will have some good youngsters in the spine of the team in Jake Cooper, Jordan Obita, Aaron Tshibola and Dominic Samuel, but I would be disappointed if we didn’t strengthen in defence, up front and out wide. Provided we do that and McDermott settles on a formation that works consistently well, I’d hope for a top six challenge minimum.”
“By the same token, I’d be happy with a top half finish, which would be an improvement on this season. Patience is what is required given the tumultuous few years the club has experience, although there are a few supporters who aren’t prepared to give the manager time and are quite hostile towards him – an utterly disgraceful stance to take against a man who has served the club with absolute integrity since he first stepped through the door in 2000.”
“Those fans are unwavering in their assertion that McDermott doesn’t have the nous to do it all again, despite what occurred in his previous stint in charge. It’s a sad indictment of the spoilt, bratty element of support the club now has – ‘I want it all and I want it all now’.”
Which side will be right? Only time will tell…