Alexander picks his spot to give Burnley edge

Burnley 1 Reading 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Graham Alexander sent the crowd wild here with a late winner from the penalty spot to give his side a precious advantage in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final against Reading. The veteran Scottish international, 37, has proved a key figure for the Clarets during their marathon campaign and registered his 11th goal of the season after Andre Bikey had pulled back substitute Steve Thompson.

Bikey was booked for his indiscretion and was shown a straight red card in the closing stages after kicking out at Robbie Blake and throwing his shirt to the ground in disgust as he walked off the field.

Owen Coyle's men have enjoyed a thrilling campaign which has seen them dump Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal out of the Carling Cup and come close to overcoming Tottenham in an epic semi-final. Yet they struggled to make any impression on Steve Coppell's side for the majority of this game until Alexander's late intervention, and Tuesday's decisive second leg at the Madejski Stadium remains finely poised.

Reading should have forced home their first-half dominance as Clarets goalkeeper Brian Jensen denied Jay Tabb, Marek Matejovsky and Bikey while Martin Paterson hacked Kevin Doyle's header off the line.

The Burnley midfielder Joey Gudjonsson and Reading forward Doyle were both substituted in the first half after succumbing to injury and must now be rated as doubtful for Tuesday.

Burnley forced a corner inside the opening minute after Marcus Hahnemann fumbled a deep free-kick from Blake. Royals defender Michael Duberry was then fortunate to escape a booking after clattering Gudjonsson in a challenge which saw the Burnley midfielder eventually depart the action.

He was replaced by Kevin McDonald and Blake found the space to rifle a low shot wide from 20 yards. McDonald then had a shot deflected wide but Reading's goal threat was increasingly evident and a deep cross from Leroy Rosenior found Doyle. His lay-off found Tabb whose fierce shot was repelled by Jensen who did likewise to Matejovsky's follow-up effort.

Ten minutes before the break Bikey powered a header goalwards from a corner but Jensen's excellent reflex denied him and Doyle's follow-up header was hacked off the line by Paterson. Hahnemann made a simple save after the break but it was not a sign of things to come for Burnley.

The ineffective Chris Eagles was replaced by Thompson but he made little impact, and after Chris McCann went close, Reading almost snatched a goal when Clarke Carlisle slipped and Kebe raced clear before Steven Caldwell made a crucial block.

The pendulum swung in Burnley's favour with six minutes remaining when Bikey pulled back Thompson inside the penalty box and Alexander rifled home emphatically from 12 yards.