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21:46 20th April 2010

Report: Royals robbed by late goals

Scunthorpe 2 (Hooper 82, Sparrow 89)
Reading 2 (Pearce 48, Sigurdsson 72 (pen))

Reading had two points unfortunately snatched away from them in the closing minutes at Glanford Park as Scunthorpe fought back to end our outside hopes of a play-off place.

The Royals were very unlucky not to win - United should unquestionably have been down to ten men when Cliff Byrne scythed down Jobi McAnuff as he was clear on goal, and their equaliser came with the aid of a huge deflection.

The red card decision alone did not change the game - but the numerical advantage and a two-goal lead at that point would surely have enabled us to see the game out.

Gylfi Sigurdsson had the first half's best chance and should have scored after Jimmy Kebe's excellent run, while United clipped the crossbar at the end of the period and the start of the second.

We then took control of the game when Alex Pearce sidefooted a volley home, and Sigurdsson slotted home a penalty after that Byrne foul on McAnuff. To add insult to injury, McAnuff was booked for arguing with the referee.

United were then forced to throw men forward, and Gary Hooper turned home after a shot was a little too hot for Adam Federici to handle.

A massive deflection then saw Matt Sparrow's shot end up in the back of the net, and it was a cruel, cruel end to the game. United and their vocal following had turned the momentum of the game in their favour late on, but arguably with a huge hand from the officials.

It is impossible to be too harsh on our boys, who have been on a magnificent run under Brian McDermott. To have even mentioned the play-offs is testament to their incredible character and quality.

Scunthorpe's supporters celebrated their Championship status on the pitch at full time - but we can be proud in the knowledge that our survival came many weeks ago and we turned our club around with great football and spirit.

As it stands, the club is on for its ninth best ever season in its 139-year history, some achievement for McDermott and his charges.

Reading (4-2-3-1): Federici; Griffin, Bertrand, Khizanishvili, Pearce; Howard (c) (Karacan 80), Tabb; McAnuff, Kebe, Sigurdsson; Church (Long 61)
Subs: Hamer, Gunnarsson, Henry, Robson-Kanu, Rasiak
Booked: Pearce (foul 25), Khizanishvili (foul 52), McAnuff (dissent 72), Sigurdsson (timewasting 84)

Scunthorpe (4-4-2): Murphy; Byrne (c), A Wright, Canavan (Forte 85), Mirfin; McCann, Sparrow, Thompson, Woolford; Hayes (Togwell 90), Hooper
Subs: Lillis, Milne, O'Connor, J Wright, McDermott
Booked: Thompson (foul 36), Hayes (foul 51), A Wright (70), Byrne (foul 72), Murphy (timewasting 90)

Ref: G Salisbury

Attendance: 5299 (310 away)

Team news
Reading made one change, Simon Church coming in up front and Shane Long on the bench. Zurab Khizanishvili was fine to start despite coming off early against Peterborough at the weekend. Academy starlet Jake Taylor was our 19th man, travelling with the team and warming up to gain further experience of being around our first team squad.

First half
Reading had the first meaningful shot of the game, Brian Howard shooting only a couple of feet wide after unleashing from 25 yards to round off a nice team move. Howard then had a good free kick clearly tipped over by 'keeper Joe Murphy, but referee Graham Salisbury incorrectly gave a goal kick - not the first decision that we would question.

Backed by a vocal crowd, Scunthorpe then had a decent spell of pressure but didn't really make any inroads. They were tidy in possession but didn't test Adam Federici.

Just past the midway point of the half Reading had a glorious chance to take the lead. Jimmy Kebe went on a fantastic run down the right wing, gliding past a number of men and into the area, giving Gylfi Sigurdsson a chance from 12 yards that he lashed well over the bar - a fantastic opportunity and one you would normally expect him to turn home with ease, especially given his recent form.

Both teams were looking to attack, and United put together a very nice move right at the end of the half, Martyn Woolford getting in a good lobbed volley that hit the underside of the bar and we were able to clear.

Second half
United started the second half by clipping the crossbar again, Grant McCann's well-struck free kick nicking the woodwork on its way over and into the crowd.

The ball was soon up the other end and Reading had the lead - Alex Pearce opening the scoring for the second game in succession. Howard took a free kick that was flicked on well by Simon Church, and Pearce sidefooted a volley home from six yards into the corner.

United wanted a quick response, and Martyn Woolford could have done better when Andy Griffin misjudged a cross but he miscontrolled and it bounced up for Federici to gather. Gary Hooper then had a glorious chance for the home side but skewed a mile wide after dancing aroung Federici and missing practically an open goal.

Reading's pace was impossible for the home side to handle, and Andrew Wright may well have been sent off after a superb burst from Jobi McAnuff. Sigurdsson took the free kick and was very close to making it 2-0.

The same combination then did double our advantage, McAnuff's brilliance winning a penalty and Sigurdsson turning home. How Scunthorpe's Cliff Byrne was not sent off was an absolute mystery, it was the clearest goalscoring opportunity you could wish to see and how he stayed on the pitch was hard to comprehend. To add insult to injury, McAnuff was booked for arguing with the decision. To decide that a professional foul was worthy of the same card as our winger's minor outburst was very difficult to fathom.

Within seconds sub Shane Long nearly had a brilliant third, but for a fantastic save from Joe Murphy in the United goal.

The home side needed a point to secure their place in the Championship for another season, and they began to get shots in as they had no option but to get forward. Federici made a series of comfortable saves as the crowd gave their players vocal backing and turned up the pressure.

The Australian couldn't quite hold an 82nd minute effort though, and Hooper was on hand to turn home the rebound and give his side a lifeline with time ticking away.

Long then sidefooted an effort no more than a foot wide of the upright, and it was a let-off for the home side because that would surely have been game over.

The momentum was with Nigel Adkins' side though, and although there were only 5,299 in the stadium United were getting excellent support.

They also got a real slice of luck, Matt Sparrow's 89th minute effort taking a huge deflection into the net as he lashed home a loose ball in the area.

We could not find another way back, and United's supporters invaded the pitch to celebrate to staying up.

United showed good character to fight back into the game, but the referee's inexplicable decision not to send Byrne off no doubt had an effect. It would be wrong to say that it changed the entire match, but we would have had a far, far better chance of winning if he had been dismissed, and nobody would disagree that he should have gone.

In any event, Brian McDermott's men can take great heart from their run in the second half of the season, and while United celebrated staying up with ten days remaining, we had our party some weeks ago. We could not have wished for this sequence of games but it was a shame to end in such an unfortunate manner. On another day the decisions would have gone our way and the play-off dream would still be alive. Emotions will always be mixed after a game like this, and a season like this, but it's been a hell of a ride.

    Data provided by Press Association