“What an atmosphere in the ground today. The atmosphere was absolutely top-drawer, and when we got back to 1-1, the fans got us over the line again.”– Reading Manager Brian McDermott
“We still had two really great chances at the end which we missed but credit to Reading and I hope they get a good draw.”– West Brom Manager Tony Pulis
When West Brom were drawn to face Reading at the Madejski in the FA Cup fifth round, “winnable” was the word being used most by Royals’ fans. With the Premiership side struggling in the league and Reading performing well in the FA Cup competition, optimism was high going into Saturday’s game amongst the home fans.
Despite going behind to a second-half Darren Fletcher goal, Reading ultimately sealed their place in the next round of the cup in style with goals coming from Michael Hector, Paul McShane and Lucas Piazon. The West Brom squad arguably had the better quality squad on paper but the overall performance from Reading was fully deserving of victory.
Prior to the game a few questions were asked about Brian McDermott’s starting line-up. With Yann Kermorgant and George Evans once again cup-tied and Danny Williams sidelined through injury, the Reading manager made several enforced changes. The most questionable was the choice to give Simon Cox the nod up front with Deniss Rakels making his full debut for the side on the left wing. There was arguably no better opportunity for Cox to make a case for a more prominent place in the side, however, than against his former club.
Before the game began, a mention must be given to the minutes applause for Reading’s top goalscorer who passed away this week aged 90. It was a poignant moment to begin the fixture, with both sets of fans joining in the moment of celebration.
The first-half was a largely uneventful one but Reading were the better of the two sides from the off. West Brom seemed content to sit back and contain the Championship side but Reading still managed to create a couple of chances. The first surprisingly fell to Paul McShane just outside the West Brom penalty box but his fired effort curled narrowly wide of Ben Foster’s post. The other opportunity fell to Hal Robson-Kanu, who rose to meet an Oliver Norwood cross, but his headed effort was straight at the West Brom keeper. The most entertaining, but concerning, moment of the half was Al-Habsi’s diving defensive header which will hopefully not be making another appearance.
As the second half got underway, West Brom began to work themselves into the game. When the ball fell to Darren Fletcher in space on the edge of the Reading box, it was the first occasion that the Premier League side demonstrated any real class. After taking a touch, the former Manchester United midfielder fired the ball across goal and into the back of Ali Al-Habsi’s net to give West Brom an undeserved 1-0 lead.
It was clear the Royals were fired up and that the game was not over just yet. Now needing to chase the game, McDermott made a couple of attacking changes that would go on to change the dynamic of the game- bringing on Ola John and Matej Vydra in place of Simon Cox and Deniss Rakels. Just before the hour mark and straight after the substitutions were made, the home side equalised courtesy of a McShane header. With an inch perfect delivery from Norwood, the Reading captain simply directed the ball into the bottom right corner of Foster’s goal. At 1-1, the game was on.
While Reading usually struggle when it comes to converting set pieces, it was another spot on delivery from a Norwood free-kick that lead to the second Reading goal. This time the midfielder picked out Michael Hector at the far post who was rewarded for a highly impressive performance with a goal. Despite having some tall defenders in their ranks, West Brom made it all too easy for Reading to take the lead.
With just under twenty minutes left of the game, the Royals were well on their way to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. The Baggies were intent on getting back into the game, however, and were to have a couple of opportunities to even the score before the final whistle. A corner had Reading scrambling for a brief moment when it was flicked on at the near post and Fletcher could only pass the ball into Al-Habsi’s arms when a follow up ball picked him out in space in the penalty box.
Despite West Brom’s best efforts, Reading were to add a third through some inspired play by substitutes Vydra, John and Piazon. Vydra broke with the ball down the left wing and looked as if he was going to just hold the ball in the corner. The striker had other ideas, however, when he picked out John on the edge of the box who rolled the ball one way before passing it the other to Piazon. Despite being on the pitch for only a matter of seconds, the Brazilian sealed the victory when he fired the ball into the net to make it 3-1.
It was an impressive performance from the hosts and one full of positives. On no occasion did West Brom look like a Premier League side and if their performance is anything to go on then I am sure their fans will be concerned. Reading, meanwhile, seem to be thoroughly enjoying the FA Cup competition once again this year as their fourteen goals so far make them the current highest scorers.
As arguably the best display of the season so far, there were no weak performances throughout the Reading side. Cooper continues to grow in confidence and together with McShane is beginning to build a solid partnership at the back. If any particularly stood out, however, it would be the likes of Michael Hector and Stephen Quinn in the centre of midfield. Both players put in a dominating display and had the better of the opposition throughout, with Hector improving in the holding midfielder position by the week. Hal Robson Kanu also continues to impress in the cup, clearly feeling confident enough to pull a few tricks out the bag on the right wing. The Welshman was fully deserving of a goal, but he was unable to add to the tally when he found himself one-on-one with Foster late on.
Anyone who witnessed Al-Habsi’s leap into the crowd or any of the goal celebrations will have been able to see how much this win meant to the players. The general atmosphere in the stadium also showed how much this win meant to the fans with the volume being the best it has been for a long time despite the drab weather. While the game may be remembered for the incident occurring amongst West Brom fans after the final whistle, the Reading performance was one to be proud of and will hopefully help the players to push on both in the Championship and in the next round of the FA Cup.