Burnley boss Howe still optimistic over play-off place
A 1-0 defeat at the Madejski Stadium on Friday night was a second successive loss on the road, but the scoreline doesn’t tell the full story.
Burnley dominated possession, hit the woodwork twice, and had the better chances, while playing some of the most attractive football they have played all season.
Four points behind Birmingham in sixth place – who have two games in hand – it will be a tall order to make the play-offs, but Howe said: “There are still a lot of points to play for.
“The real positive is, you can count the games off where we’ve performed well against all the top sides.
“That was one that’s gone against us, but long-term, if we continue to perform like that, we’ve got a great chance.
“I’ve said all season we’re getting better with every game, and I firmly believe, although we will have the odd dip now and then, we’re progressing really well as a team.
“The lads are beginning to really start believing in themselves, so that’s real positive. The result went against us, but I think it was a moral victory in terms of how we played.”
And he was thrilled with a stylish display against the Royals: “I thought we started the game really well. In the first half we were very good, and passed the ball really well.
“I can’t compliment the back four and midfield enough, they were very brave to want to get on the ball. That’s the hardest thing to do sometimes in a big game like that when you’re under the microscope, but I thought the lads responded really well.
“We created enough chances in both halves to get something out of the game.
“We did really well against Barnsley in terms of retaining the ball and keeping it and moving it from side to side, but Friday was a progression from that where we sliced Reading open at times. It was just in and around the box where we felt perhaps our quality wasn’t up to its usual standard.
“We hit the woodwork twice, their keeper’s made a couple of great saves.
“To be fair to Reading, they defended the lead very well in the second half, broke the game up and slowed everything down, which was incredibly frustrating for us.
“You want the game as quick as it can be but they killed the game, almost.”
Jason Roberts’ scuffed finish 11 minutes in proved decisive, and Howe admitted: “I was disappointed with the goal, it was a scrappy one. It’s never nice to concede any goal, but I thought that one was particularly poor, which is unlike us of late.
“For the majority of the game we defended very well. They’ve got two very lively, quick wingers, and I thought we did well against them for the majority of the game and just switched off the once.”
Ben Mee’s astonishing block – putting his head in the way of Noel Hunt’s shot – drew praise from all quarters, with Michael Owen saying on twitter it was the “bravest defending I’ve ever seen”, and Howe agreed: “He is very, very brave.
“He’s had a great season. He’s another one that’s improved throughout the season, and I’m really pleased with him.”
Mee was more modest, claiming it was just pure instinct: “It was a bit of a shock. I wasn’t expecting it to hit me in the face, but you just put it there and see what happens.
“It could have been a turning point but in the end it wasn’t to be, unfortunately.
“I thought we played well enough to go on and win the game.
“It’s just one of those things.”