17 April 1999
Reading 0 Northampton 1
Maybury, Gray, Parkinson, Barras, Bernal, McLaren, Caskey, McIntyre, Sarr (Glasgow),
Depressingly, this was the story of the season all rolled in to one pathetic home performance - in front of a big crowd considering the relevance of the game. Once again Reading put on an entirely unentertaining game for the home fans. It's a wonder that so many continue to turn up. Everything that we've had to complain about this season was on show as Reading surrended to a team who probably wont be good enough to survive in Division Two. Where does this leave us?
Northampton were, in the end, clear winners after Reading, despite all their possession, failed to threaten the Northampton goal except for a couple of rare occasions. Everything seemed to work fine until the last third of the field when we simply ran out of ideas against a strong Northampton defence. Every time we stood still, completely static, completely unable to penetrate with any meaning. We'd knock it around with ease and we'd keep hold of the ball. But Northampton didn't need to win back possession because we weren't attempting to play it through the defence. Very despressing, and very boring.
The game did start brightly with Reading making some early running. However, when we didn't get the early goal we slowed right up again - and so the game continued with Reading playing far too defensively when the game needed an attacking display.
Northampton's tactic was simple enough - to pack the defence and keep us out. We must have known this was how they were going to play. It was no suprise to see the away side defending with anything up to six defenders. How did we combat these tactics? Stick one up front. With McLaren and Sarr playing wide it left just McIntyre in the middle attempting to cope with five or six giant defenders. The few crosses that did come over with easily cleared with at least three men surrounding McIntyre and beating him to the ball with ease. With no target in the middle we ended up not bothering to cross the thing and instead continued with the short little passes and no running off the ball. Sarr and McLaren were supposed to be playing as wingers but firstly there was no point due to lack of men in the middle and secondly they didn't even seem willing to get to the line to either cross or cut in. Instead we tried to walk it through the middle a couple of times (but only a couple of times), but everytime we were met with a wall of defenders. There was no way through.
Our best chance of the half came when we did manage to have an extra man or two forward, and when Gray went on a run down the wing. Gray got right to the line and hooked his cross over curling away from the keeper. There was Caskey just past the far post not far from the edge of the six yard box. Caskey let off a superb volley which slammed against the crossbar before being tidied up by the defence. A simple enough move but extremely effective - why didn't we do this more often?
The only other shot on target of the half came from Sarr who shot low from the edge of the box. The keeper dived low to his right to make a comfortable save.
Northampton failed to mount a single meaningful attack during the whole of the first half. Despite us winning almost everything in the middle we were looking no more dangerous than Northampton. The highlight of the half had been Francis' miskick which went for a corner. A corner we wasted.
The second half continued just the same but Northampton steadily got more and more into the game.
As Northampton, in desperate need of more than just a draw, realised they could push an extra man forward they started to make some chances. A Barras cock up almost gifted Town the lead. His mistake set up a one on one between the Town player and Howie. As Howie came out the ball was played in the middle. As the shot came in from near the penalty spot Howie had made his way back into the middle to make the save. With the game in it's last quarter Northampton again almost took the lead with two great chances. Both times the ball was just over the bar. A header in the centre from a good cross dropped onto the top of the net and a powerful volley from inside the area was just over the bar.
Reading's only shots were long range efforts from Gray who obviously was getting annoyed by the lack of effort up front. One shot was close, another miles away. The most depressingly bad shot came from McLaren on the left. His long range effort was even worse than being closer to the corner flag than the goal - it went off for a throw on the right.
Glasgow and Scott came on for the Royals. At least this suggests Burns was fully aware of the lack of anything up front. It didn't really make that much of a difference although Scott battled away for the ball and Glasgow did fire in one decent low cross that caused some danger.
It was no suprise at all when Northampton fired in the winner with just over ten minutes to go. A corner on the left was fired into the middle of the box. It was touched on and in the bundle stabbed home from the edge of the six yard box. 0-1, we'd been just waiting for it to happen. Cue the usual emptying of the Madejski Stadium with well over five minutes of the game left. The third successive home defeat, and our fifth defeat from seven games. Just how worrying is 2 points gained from a possible 21?
Without doubt Northampton deserved their victory. However they probably couldn't believe they luck upon discovering just how shit Reading were. The away side played like they expected Reading to come right at them in the first half, after realising that we were never going to score they made a few chances of their own, and so ended up winning the game. Reading had been far too cautious - the result of the game didn't matter so it was ideal opportunity to try and score a few goals. It's the same problems we've had all season though - no creative play up front, no pace, no out and out striker, and apparantly no will to win.