With Graham Branch suspended, the versatile Mark McGregor slotted in at left back, in a back four which also featured Gnohere, Diallo and West. Cook, Grant and Briscoe formed a narrow three man midfield, with the trio of Blake, Moore and Taylor up front for Burnley. The subs bench accommodated Little, Alan Moore, Papadopoulos, Michopoulos and Cox.
The first action of the game occurred on 6 minutes, when Graeme Murty made a rare error for the visitors, gifting the ball to Tony Grant. Grant played a nicely weighted pass through to Ian Moore, but the best the striker could manage was a tame effort, which Hahnemann had no problem with.
It was evident from early on in the game, that Reading’s game plan was to attack down the flanks, particularly the right hand side, where the veteran John Salako belied his advancing years and gave Dean West a torrid time. It was his cross on 9 minutes which fell to Andy Hughes, but Beresford was in the right place at the right time to save.
Chances for the home side were at a premium in the first half, and the only two worthy of mention were a Robbie Blake effort which went wide on 21 minutes, and Dean West’s strike which ended up in the Cricket Field Stand a few minutes later. By this point, the Royals were visibly growing in confidence, no-one more so than Salako who looked most likely to open the Clarets up. Stan Ternent had spotted this and on 24 minutes brought Glen Little on for Mark McGregor in an attempt to push Salako further back. It didn’t work. On 28 minutes, the former Crystal Palace and Charlton man sent over a cross which Steve Brown headed over. It was just as well as Marlon was nowhere near it. The pressure was relentless, and with 10 minutes to half time, Beresford almost carried the ball over the line from Nicky Forster’s looping header.
Two minutes later, the inevitable happened. Whilst Burnley were arguing the toss over whether or not a throw-in should have been given, Reading were alive enough to the situation for Ricky Newman to slide in Steve Sidwell for a one-on-one with Beresford, which he duly converted. This was an appalling lapse of professionalism from some of the players, and in fairness to Ternent he laid the blame firmly at the door of his players, rather than lambast any officials.
Any hopes of the goal sparking Burnley into life were unfulfilled. In fact it got worse. On the stroke of half-time, Graeme Murty was picked out on the right hand flank. His cross was allowed to travel unmolested across the entire length of the Burnley box in another instance of limp and indecisive defending. John Salako was on hand to execute a fantastic low drive past the hapless Beresford. Come the interval the visitors had a thoroughly deserved two goal advantage.
Burnley’s first real attack worthy of the description in the second half came on 55 minutes, and it produced a goal. Dean West, dead-ball specialist extraordinaire, gormlessly smashed a free-kick from the edge of the area straight into the Reading wall. Somewhat fortuitously, the ball ricocheted off the wall and into the path of Ian Moore who swivelled and shot the ball home to make it 3-1, and give Burnley a glimmer of hope.
It was around this point that Hahnemann, Reading’s American keeper, started to waste as much time as possible. This act of professionalism is an annoying trait, but let’s not pretend the Clarets haven’t ever tried to run the clock down before. It certainly didn’t excuse the throwing onto the pitch of a number of objects, all of which were aimed in the keepers’ direction. Amongst the objects was a pie, a plastic bottle and a pound coin – although one wag suggested that the only way the pie could have harmed Hahnemann, was if he had taken a bite.
The thing was, he didn’t really need to waste any time, as although Burnley were enjoying a lot of possession, they didn’t remotely look as if they were going to score. The nearest they came was a 68th minute Gareth Taylor header which sailed high over the bar. Robbie Blake who had been Burnley’s only bright spark at times was replaced a minute later by Dimi Papadopoulos as the Clarets chased the game.
Burnley pushed on looking to get themselves a further foothold. On 71 minutes Gareth Taylor hit the target from West’s cross, but Hahnemann saved well. A couple of minutes later, Burnley were given the lifeline they craved when referee Pearson awarded a penalty as Taylor’s shot hit Williams’ arm. With Blake subbed, Papa decided that he, not Paul Cook, would take the penalty. His effort was weak and telegraphed and the keeper parried the effort away. No Burnley player had followed up and Reading cleared.
Five minutes later, there was another penalty – this time to Reading. Marlon Beresford had given away a second penalty in successive league games. This time he upended Darius Henderson. For the first time in a long time, Marlon saved the spot kick from Forster. But once again the Reading players were first to react to a penalty save, and Sidwell completed his brace to go with the two he scored against us whilst on loan to Brighton earlier in the season.
This was the cue for thousands of supporters to leave, and who could blame them? They did though miss two further goals. On 90 minutes, Beresford denied Forster, but Henderson was first to the rebound as the visitors went nap. They should have made it six when they had an effort which hit the underside of the crossbar and was hooked away to safety.
Burnley got themselves another consolation when Dean West slammed in a stunning drive from 25 yards. Amazingly, whichever clown is in charge of the much loathed goal celebration music, decided to give "Tom Hark" an airing despite the fact that no-one in the ground was in any mood to celebrate – apart from the Reading fans who mimicked the naff dance that goes with the tune. Not only had we been humiliated on the pitch, but off it too.