After much anticipation and excitement, Reading FC have secured their place in the FA Cup Semi-Finals, for the first time since 1927, courtesy of a 3-0 victory against Bradford at the Madejski. The Royals are now the only side left in the competition who have not lifted the FA Cup before. Waiting for them at Wembley is Premier League side Arsenal, the current holders of the title. With an allocation of 31,500 seats, the Reading fans are sure to get behind their side and make plenty of noise in Reading’s biggest game this season.
“Bradford have been fantastic underdogs in the tournament this year so we look to pick up the baton this year and continue their good work in the semi-final.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
Steve Clarke reverted back to his normal starting eleven for the Quarter-Final replay, following some drastic changes only two days before against Watford. Bradford, in comparison, could not afford to rest some of their key players in their match against Notts County and it made a key difference. Following the initial tie both sets of fans were expecting an edgy affair this time around, with some expecting the game to make it all the way to penalties. In reality, Reading looked fresh and up for the game from the off with Bradford struggling to get any hold on the game. For the majority, Reading looked comfortable in possession and dangerous going forward.
The key for Reading going into the game would have been to get an early goal, assert their supremacy and control the game from there; That’s exactly what happened. The Royals were 2-0 ahead in the first ten minutes and it was difficult for Bradford to come back from there. The first goal came courtesy of a Hal Robson-Kanu header from a Garath McCleary corner which flew past Bradford keeper Ben Williams. Just three minutes later, McCleary himself doubled the Reading lead when he cut inside from the right wing before his twenty yard shot was deflected past the Bradford keeper. It was McCleary’s first goal this season for the Royals, and a great time for him to open his account. Reading continued to dominate, with a Danny Williams attempt testing the goalkeeper. The Reading performance was unlike anything fans have seen so far this season. Playing with passion and determination, the Royals were making their superiority count all over the pitch.
Towards the end of the first half, things became a little scrappy with long looping clearances and tough tackles coming in from both sides. Reading, however, went into half-time comfortably ahead and the jubilant home fans in good voice. Bradford started better in the beginning of the second half, but the commanding performances of Alex Pearce and Michael Hector meant that the Bradford attempts came to nothing. Bradford were already a side struggling to find the net, and their troubles only worsened when their man Filipe Morais was justifiably sent off for a high kick in Nathaniel Chalobah’s midriff. Only a few minutes later, Reading were to put an end to the game in stunning fashion when Chalobah’s through ball found Jamie Mackie in the box. The man in form took one touch before hammering the ball through the legs of the Bradford keeper and making the score 3-0. With “Que Sera, Sera” ringing out from the stands for the majority of the game from the Reading fans, the result was now beyond any doubt with even Steve Clarke celebrating from the sidelines.
In such an important game for the Royals, it can be said that not one of the players put in a poor performance. The players looked confident on the ball, and when they weren’t they were chasing down the opposition to get it back. Robson-Kanu has been particularly impressive in the cup, especially in comparison to his performances in the league, and he looked like a new man this time around. Providing an outlet on the wing on several occasions, he took on opposition and scored once again for his side. Here’s hoping that he can now give that kind of performance from now on in the Championship. Chalobah was also once again outstanding. The Chelsea loanee helped to control the midfield and his pass to Mackie for the third goal was perfection. It is probably unlikely that Chalobah will be allowed to sign for the Royals next season, but he is certainly making a name for himself amongst the Royals fans with his recent performances.
The need to sign up Jamie Mackie is also becoming increasingly apparent. With another Man Of The Match award under his belt and having scored five goals in six appearances, Mackie has seemingly resolved Reading’s striker crisis. The striker provides much needed pace in the front lines and his work-rate is outstanding. When he chases the ball down up front, it not only pressures the opponents but gets the crowd on side. Fans will be sincerely hoping that come the end of the season, Clarke will be able to hold on him going into a hopefully more rewarding season in the Championship next year.
After what was a truly exciting game of football, the actions of a few will probably mar an outstanding result for the Royals. With a Bradford fan arrested for alleged racism against McCleary, a Reading pitch invasion and a Reading fan throwing a smoke bomb into the away fans, the FA are sure to take action in some form against the clubs.
Over the next few weeks, Reading fans will be counting down the days to Wembley where they hope the Royals can take up the mantle of “giant-killer” and cause an upset against Arsenal. With several important fixtures coming up in the Championship before then, however, the players must first focus on winning more games in the league and ensuring mathematical safety for next year.