REVENGE, finally, was sweet.
The memories of Cherries’ Jermain Defoe-inspired near-miss of 2001 may have faded but the scars had lingered. Leading 2-0 and 3-1 at the Madejski on the final day of the season, a late leveller saw Sean O’Driscoll’s men pipped.
Defeat at Dean Court towards the end of the 1998-99 campaign had also put a spoke through their play-off aspirations, while Wade Elliott’s penalty miss during a 2-2 draw in Berkshire in 2002 proved costly as the Dorset club were eventually relegated.
However, another scintillating first-half showing, coupled with some clinical finishing, ensured this contest was effectively over by half-time as Howe’s team recorded an eighth win in their past 10 games and a fifth on the trot.
Having last achieved the double over the Royals during their days together in Division Three (South) in the 1960s, Cherries put this one to bed with relative ease inside 45 minutes.
Reading, who last night joined Swindon as Cherries’ most-played opponents in the Football League, were ruthlessly dismantled as Howe’s rampant charges turned on the style to emphatically put to the sword a promotion rival.
Matt Ritchie’s double inside the opening 19 minutes paved the way for victory before Yann Kermorgant’s header on the stroke of half-time capped another memorable first-half display.
Eunan O’Kane was recalled to the starting line-up as boss Howe made one enforced change with Harry Arter serving the first of a three-match suspension.
The Royals made a flying start and went close to drawing first blood inside the opening 60 seconds when Cherries goalkeeper Lee Camp was forced to beat away Jordan Obita’s stinging volley.
And Cherries had an escape when Reading defender Kaspars Gorkss wastefully headed over from close range after being picked out by Alex Pearce’s centre.
Cherries took the lead from their first attack after six minutes when Ritchie drilled home his seventh goal of the season with a thunderous left-foot strike.
The winger, who netted during Cherries’ 2-1 win at the Madejski in December, swept his shot past Alex McCarthy after Lewis Grabban’s cross had fallen invitingly for him just inside the 18-yard box.
An excellent team goal, it owed much to defender Steve Cook’s defence-splitting pass, which set Grabban scampering free down the left flank before the striker provided the assist.
As the visitors went in search of a quick riposte, Camp scooped up a low drive from Royston Drenthe after the former Real Madrid man had let fly after skipping across the top of the box.
Grabban was crowded out by a posse of defenders as he looked to carve out a shooting opportunity – but the move still paid dividends as Cherries doubled their lead after 19 minutes.
Kermorgant seized on the loose ball and teed up Ritchie, the winger majestically passing the ball into the bottom corner to register his and Cherries’ second.
Pavel Pogrebnyak’s tame effort failed to trouble Camp before Ritchie’s free kick from 35 yards was deflected past the post and out for a corner.
McCarthy pulled off a top-drawer save to keep out Kermorgant’s bullet header, the Frenchman climbing above the Royals defence to meet Grabban’s cross, only for the goalkeeper to thwart him from point-blank range.
Referee Andy Woolmer waved away Grabban’s appeal for a penalty after a Simon Francis cross had appeared to strike Chris Gunter on the hand.
And from the resultant corner, Ritchie headed the ball back into the danger zone where Tommy Elphick’s overhead kick just cleared the crossbar.
As Cherries looked for a third before the break, Grabban fired narrowly wide from a tight angle after outstripping the Reading defence to latch on to Kermorgant’s pass.
Kermorgant, whose promptings were at the heart of several Cherries moves in the opening period, deservedly got his name on the scoresheet on the stroke of half-time.
The striker arrived at the near post to apply a diving header to a Francis centre after the full-back had waltzed past hapless former England defender Wayne Bridge.
Marc Pugh, who had failed to make good contact with a Ritchie cross at the start of the second half, then fired inches wide of the upright after bursting through and trying his luck from 20 yards.
Grabban went close to netting the goal his efforts had richly deserved when he lifted his shot over the crossbar following neat approach play involving Ritchie and O’Kane.
And the Cherries striker again went close when his low effort flashed past the post before Reading pulled one back when Hal Robson-Kanu’s venomous drive whistled past Camp with 15 minutes remaining, his strike proving little more than a consolation.
Cherries: Camp, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Harte, Ritchie (MacDonald, 90), Surman, O’Kane, Pugh (Fraser, 73), Grabban (Pitman, 84), Kermorgant.
Unused subs: Smith, Ward, Rantie, Allsop (g/k).
Royals: McCarthy, Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss, Bridge (Kelly, 60), Drenthe (Blackman, 74), McAnuff, Robson-Kanu, Obita, Le Fondre (Leigertwood, 60), Pogrebnyak.
Unused subs: McCleary, Morrison, Federici (g/k).
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).
Attendance: 11,182 (including 1,390 away supporters).