Burnley promoted to the Premier League with room to spare - an opportunity for a celebratory day out in Berkshire. And so I joined Superman, Batman, a couple of Smurfs and several thousand happy Clarets at the Madejski Stadium for the 12.15 kick-off on a sunny early May day.
Reading had their future in their own hands - win the game, and they were in the play-offs. In fact, any result which matched Brighton's away to Forest would be enough. So - the "Mad Stad" was full for a game of great importance.
Reading started off at quite a pace, and thought they had a penalty inside the first minute when Pogrebnyak's shot hit Jason Shackell's arm. Referee Russell - who I thought had a good game, trying to keep the match flowing - waved away their appeals for handball.
|Scott Arfield scored our first goal to equalise Reading's opener|
Reading's pressure told after 16 minutes when the unfortunate Kieran Trippier - usually so composed - turned the ball into his own net. Before the game there were some cynics who doubted the Clarets will and desire for this game, given that promotion was assured. What followed showed the character and determination of Sean Dyche's team.
Burnley rallied, and following a slip by Leigertwood, Scott Arfield coolly equalised in the 20th minute. Cue despondency in the majority of the stadium - and delight amongst the travelling Clarets.
It was now Reading's turn to show their resolve, and they gave it their all. - but they were up against a Burnley team giving nothing away. Reading thought they had regained the lead from a powerful shot from Akpan - but they reckoned without Shackell's determined block.
Next, Tom Heaton produced a great close-range save to keep out McAnuff's deflected shot. And then - Burnley took the lead following a free-flowing move that has been a feature of this excellent season. Danny Ings had a lot to do when he collected a beautifully disguised pass from Dean Marney on the edge of the Reading box. With his back to goal, he swivelled smoothly and found the corner of the net with a low finish, his 21st league goal of the season. Danny almost made it 22 just on half-time, but McCarthy saved smartly.
Reading had it all to do as the second half kicked-off, and continued to press. Their equaliser, in the 58th minute, was an excellent goal from McCleary, who was impressive throughout. Even Heaton had no chance of saving his thumping volley.
With over half an hour to go, their fans baying, and momentum with them, Reading must have thought that play-off place was theirs. But Burnley defended resolutely, giving nothing away, and looking to hit on the break. Pogrebnyak and McCleary both had chances to win the game for the hosts, guaranteeing a top-six finish, but they did not take them. Burnley played with the poise and assurance we have come to expect, and the game ended in a draw. The travelling Clarets were happy.
As the Burnley players came over to applaud their fans, farce- which could have become tragedy - ensued. After the final whistle, the Reading players slumped, dejected, fearing the worst. Then, on the home terraces, a buzz turned into a roar of delight - they had heard (...or so they thought...) that Brighton had also drawn, putting Reading in the play-offs. Reading fans stormed onto the pitch to celebrate, and tell their players. Chaos reigned.
And then - the big screen showed the Brighton result - they had won. No play-offs for Reading. The compassionate and caring Burnley fans cheerfully chanted "You're not going up - you're not going up". Reading fans reacted, By this time, the stewards and police had got their act together, and the confrontation remained purely verbal.
So - an excellent 90 minutes from Burnley, infused with professionalism and tenacity. Reading may have had more to play for - but Burnley played for each other, and as a team. A great game to end a wonderful season. Bring on the Premier League.