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Four days after Fulham comes a visit from Aston Villa, one of the two visiting teams who scraped a win at the Mad Stad last season. The fourth game is another tricky one, away to Preston, whose own play-off bid only narrowly faltered last seaason after they failed to win any of their last six games. Christmas/New Year is all about the B's - and not Brentford either. On December 23rd Royals will be home to Burton, followed by a trip to Bristol City on Boxing Day. Then it's Barnsley away before Birmingham City come here on New Year's Day. If it all comes down to the crunch at the end of the season, Royals end home to Sunderland, away to Sheffield Wednesday, home to Ipswich, and finally away to Cardiff for "inflatables day". Let's hope it's not "deflatables"! CLICK HERE for full fixture list from the club website.
A glance at the teams involved in next season’s Sky Bet Championship only serves to underline the agony of the Wembley shoot-out. It looks as though Huddersfield have made the Great Escape from what seems the toughest line-up for many years, dumping the Royals right into the thick of it. It goes without saying that if the new Chinese owners back boss Jaap Stam to the extent they should do, and trust his judgement to the full, there’s no reason why Reading should not at least make the play-offs again. The flipside is that if the owners don’t come through for him and his successful entourage, then Stam could not be blamed for being tempted by one of the many offers which are sure to come his way now that he has proved himself so fast as a shrewd manager.
But just look at who is involved next time around, and who is prepared to throw money at a flat-out bid for promotion. With millions lining their pockets, you can say that Middlesbrough, Sunderland and maybe Hull will all be there or thereabouts. Likewise the serious “big club” under-achievers from the season just ended, Aston Villa, Derby, Norwich, Forest, QPR, Wolves and Leeds. You have to believe that Fulham, if they keep their key players, will be a big danger again, also Sheffield Wednesday. Preston looked good for at least half the season, and it remains a puzzle why Brentford were not in the promotion mix - they are sure to be next time. Cardiff, Ipswich and Bristol City are probably due to make an impact again soon, Burton and Barnsley are nobody’s mugs - and when you count in the promoted teams, Sheffield United, Bolton and Millwall it’s one heck of a division! Huddersfield should certainly pay Herr Schindler a huge bonus for keeping his cool on that last penalty - and Danny Ward for saving the previous one.
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THIS was the day it was supposed to be fourth time lucky in play-off finals for the Royals - but it all ended in the heartbreak of losing to the last kick of a penalty shoot-out after extra time. Reading probably had the slight edge in a tense game which ended goal-less - and they were briefly 3-1 up in the shoot-out. But Liam Moore and Jordan Obita missed in succession from the spot, Moore's effort clipping the crossbar and Obita's being saved, and that was that. So this one goes down alongside Bolton in 1995, Walsall in 2001 and Swansea in 2011 in being so near and yet so very far. It condemns Jaap Stam's team to another season in the Championship, where the competition promises to be much tougher next time around. But regardless of that, it's been a fantastic season for the Royals, and one of which the players and manager can be proud.
The game started at a frantic pace, and for a time Huddersfield made the running. The first of several awful decisions by the referee - this one against Chris Gunter - gifted the Terriers the first big chance, Michael Hefele heading narrowly wide from Aaron Mooy's free kick. When Huddersfield came again, a series of lucky bounces set up Izzy Brown for an open goal which, thankfully, he managed to miss from a yard out. Royals were being limited to spasmodic raids, but from one of them Grabban fired narrowly wide from 20 yards with the keeper beaten. It was taking Reading a long while to hit their stride, with Huddersfield defending solidly.
The second half was largely devoid of chances at either end, and going into seven minutes of added time it was crucial not to concede - and equally crucial to get a goal. Royals might have had it when McCleary's left-wing cross found Gunter at the far post, but the Welshman's header under pressure was a fraction high. One minute to go, and Swift tried for glory, fizzing a low drive a yard wide. With five seconds remaining Wells forced Al-Habsi into a diving save with a 30-yard hit and hope - and that was it - extra time. Ten minutes into the 30 and the pace had slowed considerably. Royals made a final substitution with Liam Kelly replacing Swift - and almost immediately Kelly set up McCleary for a 20-yard pop which flew just wide. So it was down to spot kicks.
PENALTIES: Yann Kermorgant scored 1-0; Chris Lowe scored 1-1; Danny Williams scored 2-1; Michael Hefele missed, saved by Al-Habsi still 2-1; Liam Kelly scored 3-1; Nahki Wells scored 3-2; Liam Moore missed - over, still 3-2; Mooy scored 3-3; Jordan Obita missed - saved still 3-3; Chris Schindler scored - Huddersfield win 4-3. JAAP STAM'S POST-MATCH COMMENTS. Wembley skipper Chris Gunter, obviously, could not hide his disappointment.
ON the night when Reading FC clinched a place in the Championship play-off final at Wembley, there was almost as much drama off the field as on it. Because while Jaap Stam's team battled to their heroic 1-0 win over Fulham, in the boardroom the deal was being signed and sealed to sell a majority shareholding to Chinese billionaire sister and brother, Xiu Li Dai and Yongge Dai (right). For the past six months, the current Thai owning consortium has reportedly been ready to sell a controlling interest. The Thais intend to keep 25pc of the club shares and the entire "Royal Elm Park" development project around the stadium. The sale was not sanctioned immediately by the Football League, but a Royals club statement recently confirmed that a potential deal was still in progress. CLICK HERE for club statement.
It was in November that the pair’s interest was first revealed, but it’s believed the Football League was originally cautious about sanctioning their takeover because questions had previously been raised about their aborted bid to buy Hull City in August last year. That was apparently vetoed by the Premier League, reportedly not for a problem with the brother and sister, but because of others involved in their bid. Yongge Dai and Xiu Li Dai are among the wealthiest and most influential people in China. Their father is a former head of the China Central Bank, and the pair are billionaires on the back of a network of underground shopping malls in cities across China.
In early 1992 the Chinese government began to look for alternative uses for a number of huge Cold War-era underground bomb shelters. Joining forces with her younger brother, Xiu Li Dai, then living in London and married to British teacher Tony Hawken, formed Renhe Commercial Holdings, an investment company which started to transform several former military bunkers into shopping malls. Profits were generated through shop rents and management lease deals and by 2008 Renhe had earned a listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Having built the empire of shopping malls to over 30 Chinese cities, Renhe sold that side of the business last year for a billion US diollars, investing instead in major expansion of an agricultural wholesale markets business it had acquired in 2015. The company website lists its “business model” as : (a) the leasing or providing of space in the form of trading halls or open areas to traders for the trading of agriculture produce; (b) the leasing or providing of warehouses, icehouses and other designated space to the traders for the storage and packaging of agriculture produce; (c) the provision of transportation and third-party logistics information services to traders; (d) other value-added services including packaging of the agricultural produce.
Xiu Li has appeared in a recent version of the influential Forbes Rich List as having a net worth in excess of two billion dollars. She and Mr Hawken were divorced in 2014, rather bizarrely because he was quoted as saying he did not enjoy the lifestyle of a billionaire, or the time they spent apart while she was on business in China. They met on a blind date after she arrived in England in 1991, and it was whilst living in South Norwood, near Croydon, that Xiu Li developed her interest in football, attending various Premier League matches with the couple’s son, William. On the back of that, Xiu Li and her brother bought a Chinese League club, then based in Shaanxi, but now relocated to the capital, and known as Beijing Renhe. That, presumably, will become a sister club to the Royals, although in recent seasons it has not been a great success, suffering relegation two years ago to its present Division One status, finishing fourth there last season. The club plays at the 31,000 capacity Beijing Fengtai Stadium.
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