Reading missed out on the final play-off place after being held to a 2-2 draw by promoted Burnley at a sun-drenched Madejski Stadium.
The Royals knew that they needed to better Brighton’s result at Nottingham Forest to clinch sixth place, and looked set to do so going into added time, with the Seagulls drawing at the City Ground.
However, a late Leonardo Ulloa header secured victory for Oscar Garcia’s side, and the dejection around the Madejski Stadium was evident as news filtered through that the Royals would fall just short.
It was an entertaining contest. The home side could have had a penalty in the opening minute when Pavel Pogrebnyak’s goal-bound effort appeared to strike the arm of Clarets captain Jason Shackell, only for referee Mick Russell to wave away vigorous protests from fans and palyers alike.
Yet, it took just sixteen minutes for the hosts to break the deadlock. Adam Le Fondre sent captain Jobi McAnuff away down the right-hand side, before the former Watford winger drove a low, fizzing cross along the six yard box, which the unfortunate visiting full-back Keiran Trippier turned into his own net under pressure from Chris Gunter.
This early goal sent the Mad Stad into raptures, as the home fans knew victory would assure the Royals of a shot at play-off glory.
However, this delirium was short-lived.
The hosts were caught napping from a free kick down the Burnley right, which eventually fell the way of Scott Arfield. The Scottish midfielder rifled home from 15 yards past the helpless Alex McCarthy to level the scoreline.
Eight minutes later, Sean Dyche’s side took the lead through a fantastic low finish from striker Danny Ings, his 21st league goal of the season. Ings could’ve doubled his tally for the afternoon had McCarthy not made himself big to deny him what looked a certain goal on the stroke of half-time.
The Royals responded thirteen minutes into the second half to get their play-off bid right back on track. A free kick from the right fell the way of winger Garath McCleary, who sent an unstoppable 20-yard volley into the top corner, leaving ‘keeper Tom Heaton stranded. It was a sensational strike, and it looked like it might have been the one to get the hosts into the top six.
Nigel Adkins’ men continued to press for a winner which would have settled the play-off race. Pogrebnyak was denied by a remarkable goal-line clearance from Shackell, before McCleary picked up a Hal Robson-Kanu’s through-ball, only to be denied well by the onrushing Heaton.
Then news came through that a point wasn’t going to be enough.
Alex Pearce saw his point-blank header well saved by Heaton but the Royals ran out of time to find that elusive winner.
Adkins was despondent on the sidelines; the players were on the floor through exhaustion and disappointment; the fans were gutted.
Then, a big cheer went up from the home supporters as false news of a Forest equaliser came through, sparking a pitch invasion which hardly seemed apt for a sixth place finish, before confirmation of Brighton’s victory was posted on the big screen.
It was a disappointing day for those home supporters, given that the play-off dream was very much theirs for the majority of the afternoon. To be dashed as they were, in the 92nd minute up in Nottinghamshire, was tough.
Full credit to Burnley who look a very good outfit and we wish them luck in the Premier League next season, and full credit to Brighton for making the play-offs.
For Reading, they’ll have to hope their prize assets stay despite the growing cloud of uncertainty at top of the club, before they can begin their assault up the Championship table next season.
Marcus Oades (@RFCOadesey)