READING 2 PRESTON NE 2 Attendance: 7,628
Scorers: Smith, Scott Date: 1 September 1999
Team: Howie, Gray, Bernal, Casper, Gurney, Smith, Grant, Caskey, McLaren, Williams, Forster.
Subs: Scott (for McLaren), Haddow (for Forster), McIntyre, Primus, V.D. Kwaak
Audio: Nope / Not yet Match Hero: Scott

Once again Reading leave me feeling completely confused. How can they play like complete shite for the first 45 minutes and then spend the last 20 minutes of the game playing a side at the top of the table. The worst and best of Reading FC within 90 minutes. The worst and best of Tommy Burns' football within 90 minutes. The last 20 minutes almost certainly saved Tommy Burns' job. At 2-0 down, to two more soft goals, the "Burns Out" chants were just starting up. When we made it 2-2 some fans were chanting "Tommy Burns' Barmy Army".

Some people just can't make up their mind. And you can see why after this performance. If we're going to play like the first 45 minutes again this season then Burns should leave now. If we're going to play the last 20 minutes for the rest of the season then the corner is turned and we're on the way up with Burns in control. The whole second half was Burns' style football with it being played on the ground all over the pitch with Reading in control - a complete change from the first half when Preston took full advantage of the hit and hope hoofing Reading were making us suffer with. The introduction of Keith Scott at half time for the pathetic McLaren was a postitive and sensible solution - and it paid off.

Reading started the game with a much weakened defence. With Hunter off on international duty the centre defence was a scarey combination of Casper and Bernal. To take things worse Gurney was recalled as full back - and did himself a lot of good with a stonking second half. In the middle McLaren was back to play wide and didn't do himself any favours at all. Haddow was back on the bench and the new pairing of Smith and Grant played behind Williams and Forster.

The first ten minutes looked reasonably promising as Reading appeared to be showing at least a bit of determination against a Preston side who failed to threaten. There were a couple of decent challanges going in, and although we weren't playing the ball around that impressively there was no reason to worry. Especially when Williams almost gave Reading the lead after ten minutes. Smith played the ball into the box from just outside from right to left into the path of Williams storming into the box. Williams took it in front of him and with the keeper coming in forward powered a shot across goal. Although the keeper may have been beaten it flew over the bar to safety. Moments later Smith was involved again - but this time at the other end after a near fatal mistake inside the Reading half. Preston took full advantage and a couple of quick passes later the ball was in the box at the feet of their forward. Howie came out and the shot was played against him leaving the scores at 0-0.

Unfortuantely the brightness quickly died away and the game degenerated into a pointless long ball hoofing competition. It felt like watching Branfoot football again - everytime the ball was played forward by Preston we'd hoof it back into their half, they'd hoof it back, etc, etc. A load of headers and volleys - very scrappy and Reading looking more like a Sunday league side to be honest. McLaren failed to cross a single ball and every attempted pass was off target. At the back we looked suicidal again with the only defensive tactic to hoof it clear (unlike the usual Burns method of playing it out of defence). We weren't making any runs off the ball and there was no attempt to play it along the floor. In midfield Grant hung back too much and Caskey's distribution was non-existant. Williams and Forster weren't getting anything to do up front but were still involved by coming back to join the defence and make some tackles (Williams won a couple of challanges) - perhaps they were getting bored.

It was no suprise when Reading conceeded a weak goal on the half hour. Preston won a corner on the left which was played quite short to the edge of the box. The defence remained static and a low diagonal shot was fired in. No-one got in the way, Howie was probably unsighted, and the ball was in the bottom right corner, to Howie's left. 0-1 to Preston. At a goal down Reading came a little to life for a bit - but nothing that troubled Preston at the back. The closest we came was after a decent Forster run down the right wing - he played an excellent cross in which was chested narrowly wide by the full back who probably scared the shit of the keeper. Naturally we wasted our following corner (one of very few).

When Preston made it 0-2 about 8 minutes later it seemed Reading were dead and buried. The ball was played long down the right, Howie came storming out right to the edge of his area (perhaps he should have stayed put), the ball was played over him and into the opposite side of the net. And with about 5 minutes left of the half Reading did nothing to suggest they had the ability or effort to come back. With the majority of the crowd expecting a 4 or 5 goal stuffing by the end sections of the crowd made their feelings known by booing Reading everytime they got the ball and chanting for Burns to go.

The East Stand hardly made a ripple when Reading emerged for the second half. The away end in contrast were in full voice. The biggest noise from the home fans so far came with the news McLaren had been replaced by Scott. When the half got underway it was clear Burns had said something at half time to make a change. The hit and hope stuff was replaced and we were back to Burns' trademark football. Plenty of on the floor stuff - patient but attempting to move forward. The good news for Reading was that Preston were clearly content to sit on their lead - a Reading-style mistake that they'd pay for later. We failed to penetrate - mostly due to the lack of wing play and pace, but we did manage to string about 20 passes together in a row and Preston sat back and waited. Naturally when we did look slightly threatening the last pass would go wrong or the away side would put in a vital tackle. They were more than happy to soak up the pressure of the possession football and play out time.

Thankfully they hadn't counted on the battling football that Scott, Forster, Williams, Smith, and Gurney (yes, Gurney!) were about to produce. Gurney won a fantastic tackle and turned and took the ball upfield in one moment. It didn't come to anything but it earnt him a bit of applause. For a moment the Reading fans got behind the team. And it seemed to work. With 20 minutes left to go Reading began to step up the pace and Preston gave up coming forward. Then Reading were back in it, Gurney took the ball down the right and whipped in a great cross. Scott met it perfectly with his head to put it in the back of the net. 1-2. And suddenly the East Stand came to life sensing a Reading revival. And the East Stand was not to be disappointed.

Moments later if was pure luck for Preston that we didn't pull it level. The ball was driven into the box against a defender, then against the goalkeeper, Forster and Scott both had attempts, the goalkeeper was stranded, the goal was empty. But it didn't quite come off and was hacked away by the Preston defence. Reading stepped up another gear spurred on for the first time by a home crowd completely behind them willing them to get something from the game. Pacey attacking football that was a joy to watch. Reading whipped in another cross from the right (yes a cross!), Scott met it yet again but couldn't get his head behind it enough and it sailed over the Preston bar.

Then, on about 80 minutes, Reading got the equaliser through pure determination. The ball was played in from the left by Smith or Gray (I think), it was knocked on inside the box by Williams or Forster (all a bit of a blur you understand), but it was definately Scott that put it into the back of the net with a bullet header. It was no more than Scott deserved for once again beating his man in the box and hassling them like anything. 2-2, and we all went completely mental. A rare moment of pure joy inside the Mad House.

Just less than 10 minutes left but getting a winner was definately asking too much. But to Reading's credit the cheeky buggers even tried to score a third. Fantastic. The introduction of Haddow for Forster with a couple of minutes left even managed to inject a bit more excitement down the left wing before the final whistle went to conclude a magnificent Reading fight back. The first half had still been shite and with a second half the same who knows how much the anti-Burns might have boiled over. The majority applauded the team off the pitch at the end, but the determined few still chose to jeer.

The jury still remains out on Burns then. The thrilling last 20 minutes can't hide the problems that look set to over shadow this season yet again, but there's evidence that Tommy can make them play well. We need to build the confidence, and perhaps the fans need to lay off Burns for a couple of matches at least. The pressure will remain on and Tommy needs at least a fighting draw at Bournemouth.