20 Feb 1999
Reading 2 Preston 1
Glasgow, Polston, Primus, Gray, Murty, Parkinson, Caskey, Brebner, Thorpe,
Having got in from the game I switched on Meridian just in time to see the goals being played back. Unfortuantely it confirmed my worst suspicions - that our penalty wasn't a penalty. Luckily it also confirmed that Preston's penalty probably wasn't one either. However they were both given and the difference was that Reading stuck theirs away and Preston's was well saved by man-of-the-match Scott Howie inbetween the Reading posts. So we might have had a bit of luck, but to Preston fans it will seem like an even bigger slice of luck since we stuck our spot kick away in the last minute of normal time. About time we had some luck in the last moments of the game - before today it was always us losing out to last five minute goals. It's taken a long time coming but the second half made sure this was another memorable home victory against a side on top of the table.
The most notable change to Reading's line-up was the absense of Chris Casper, central defender and genuis, missing through illness. The second most notable change was mystery man Graeme Murty making his Madejski Stadium debut for the Royals. With Gurney and Bernal out suspended and the rest of our central defenders out on loan or injured Reading sported a new look formation: the very un-Burns 4-4-2. Gray come into take left back, Polston returned to the starting eleven alongside Primus in the middle of defence, and Murty seemed to be taking the right back position. Slightly different for sure which was probably a good thing - but also slightly scarey to see no Casper. As it turned out it was even more scarey at half time for the game to be 0-0 - I couldn't help but think "Bristol Rovers" as I looked forward to the second half.
So the first half. Not a bad little half for a 0-0 scoreline but not great. Preston NE looked fairly decent without a doubt, and seemed to be another team with a similar tactical style to that of Sir Tommy Burns. Plenty of on the floor build up from Preston and some reasonably direct football that won them approximately six million corners. It was clear to see why Preston are challenging for promotion. Thankfully we were well up to the task of defending. Polston slipped into the Casper role like a dream, calmly playing the ball out from the back and organising all those around him. Primus was winning things that were pumped into the air and Gray was quite possibly having one of his best games for the Royals by being in the right place at the right time and managing to make some meaningful tackles.
Parkinson's raw determination seems to be spreading through the team at last. Parkie only just managed to survive the opening half hour without getting two yellows to make a red. He picked up a yellow not for his initial rough late challenge but for following it through like a train through the next couple of Preston players in the vacinity of the ball. Brilliant. Moments later he could have been off after charging about a quarter of the pitch to make a tackle - if the player had released the ball Parkie would still have gone through him, however thankfully the Preston player waited too long and found himself well, but fairly, robbed of the ball. It seemed that once he'd installed this sense of ball-winning determination through the team he calmed down just enough to avoid another card. Parkie is not a dirty player - it's just pure determination - the kind of determination that wins him player of the season awards.
Reading were doing well at stopping the away attacks short, but when Preston did break through the defence Howie was quick to be the hero. Howie made possibly the save of the match when it looked certain Preston would take a first half lead. After splitting the defence the Preston number 10 seemed to have successfully gone past Howie to leave him with an empty net, but there from nowhere was a Howie hand to grab the ball and stop the danger. The only time Howie was beaten was earlier in the half when a back kick inside the Reading area found a shot from close range clip the bottom of Howie's right hand post.
Although Reading failed to create any real chances from direct play they did come close from two decent free kick attempts. The first saw Brebner curl a shot just wide of the left post with the keeper rooted to the spot. The second saw Brayson do well to thread the ball through a crowd of players but lack the power in his shot which was easily saved by the Preston keeper.
The second half continued in much the same way but with Howie getting more and more confident with corners. Preston continued to win the things but everytime the ball was hoofed into the middle there was Howie legging it off his line to catch the thing. And catch it cleanly. Superb.
The game suddenly burst into life when Preston broke through to win a penalty. The ball was played in the area and it found a Preston player chasing it out to the right. It was probably going out of play but Howie had no choice but to make an attempt to grab the ball. Although he may have made contact with the ball the player ran over his arms to go down for the traditional penalty dive. However Howie was quick to redeem himself. Up stepped Lee Nogan's brother, Kurt, to fire a low shot just to Howie's right. It wasn't the best penalty ever but the save was pure class - Howie got down quick to stop the shot and although he failed to hold it, it was quickly hacked away to safety.
All of a sudden Reading sprung to life and for the first time in the game started putting Preston under some real pressure. It was from this pressure that we won a free kick on the edge of the box after Thorpe had been weaving around a couple of defenders until they were forced to bring him down. This time Caskey fancied a go and popped the shot with some style into the top right corner of the net with the keeper failing to move. YOU RRRRrrrrS!
Off went Brayson who'd again had a determined little game but only the one free kick for a shot, and on came McIntyre. This was McIntyre's kind of game and he seemed well up for battling away for the ball in tight situations. With the introduction of McIntyre we managed to blast the ball around the Preston area a bit more than before. Even so, Preston continued to look dangerous, continued to win corners, and I braced myself for the usual late equaliser, which came ten minutes from time. Reading failed to clear a period of sustained Preston pressure, and a half cleared ball ran wide to the left side of the box where Basham, on loan from Southampton, turned and volleyed the ball into the right of the net. Bollocks.
Much to Reading's credit they didn't stop playing when Preston pulled it back to 1-1. For a moment or two I thought that it might not only be the "normal" late equaliser for the away side, but a late turning point that Preston might go on to win from. Thankfully the Royals appeared to show a difference in attitude from recently and rather than give up were more than keen to continue pushing forward, looking to take something from the game. When the penalty came in the last minute, however controversial it might have been, it came because Reading continued to work the ball inside the Preston box - and when you do that anything can happen.
The ball was just wide of the right side of the goal when Caskey went flying under a challenge from the defender. It looked to be a fifty-fifty challenge at the time but the referee showed consistancy and judged that the defender "made a reckless challenge". Caskey layed still for a bit, the referree pointed to the spot, and after a few moments Thorpe stepped up to take the kick. Thorpe took a massive run up but stopped, much to my horror half way inside the box. The keeper got confused as Thorpe was, and Thorpe tapped it in to the left of the keeper, and the Madejski Stadium errupted. YOU RRRRrrrrS!
Preston will argue that they probably had more of the possession than Reading did and won far more corners - they will feel hard done by to leave the Madejski with nothing. However, Reading deserved at least a point for a great performance at the back and an otherwise determined display. They may have had greater chances, but a bit of luck, a superb performance in goal from Howie, and the right attitude earnt Reading the full three points.
Although Howie was superb, as was the rest of the defence, Murty needs a special mention. He is an outstanding player and looked well worth the 700,000 quid we paid for him. He's as skillful as anyone else in the team, but unlike others, stays on his feet to win the ball everytime and then still manage to leg it down the wing with it. Beautiful.