Team: Hammond, Booty, Bernal, Davies, Swales, Parkie, Houghton, Bowen, Morley, Asaba, Williams.
God Of The Match: Hammond.
Cardiff will probably be gutted having lost this one. It's fair to say that neither team deserved to lose this game because both teams could have won inside normal team. Having said that Cardiff probably least deserved to lose. At the end of the game though the difference between the times was in one man along: Nicky Hammond in the R eading goal. Despite apparantly carrying an injury for the majority of the game Hammond pulled off some miraculous saves during the game to keep it at 1-1 and then, to top it all, saved three penalties to take Reading into round 5 for the first time in 6 3 years.
The saves that really stick in the mind were in the first period of extra time, somehow blocking a close range shot by hurling his body across the face of goal only for a second to go flying goalbound. With Hammond on the ground, as if from nowhere, ther e was suddenly an arm stuck up towards the roof of the net to send the ball flying over the bar. And that was enough to keep it level at the end of the extra time.
Overall this was a poor performance from the Royals. The only players that really stand out for the Royals being Hammond, Houghton with a really controlled game, and Davies - a wall in the middle of defence, nothing got past him in the air. Reading fiel ded the same team from Saturdays 2-0 home win against Birmingham City, but with the pitch icing over we couldn't keep our feet. Cardiff didn't seem to suffer too much and gave plenty for their fans, known as Nutters from here onwards, a bit more to bounc e up and down about.
Cardiff went in at half time one goal up. It was probably no more than they deserved. The goal game five minutes before the break when Cardiff at last managed to break the Reading off-side trap, leaving a one-on-one between the Cardiff forward and Nicky Hammond. Hammond came racing out to force the stiker as far out to the right as possible. But the Reading defence was too far behind and the ball was fired home from an angle.
City also managed to bounce a shot off the top of the Reading cross bar before the break, while Reading only had one real chance to score. A well worked free kick from Houghton just outside the area to the right found Morley inside the box. Morley playe d the ball across low to Asaba in the centre of the area. Asaba couldn't get the ball past the City keeper. 1-1 at half time, the Nutters bouncing all over the place and trying to start a fight, and Reading playing shite.
For ten or fifteen minutes or so just after the break Reading got their act together and took control of the game. Some half decent passing at last with some clever build up. But no-one really looking for the shot. In the middle of this period Reading scored the equaliser. A free kick from the right side - towards the corner flag - was played in. The high ball was met by Morley on the near post, he rose above the Cardiff the defence and his header hit the back of the net. 1-1.
With the game about to slip into extra time and Cardiff looking marginally more likely to win the game before it got there, both teams almost grabbed a last minute goal. First a great ball to Morley saw him let rip inside the area with a blinding volley. The ball screamed against the bar and away to safety. Down the other end a one-on-one found Hammond getting the better of the situation to force extra time.
Again Hammond kept us in it in Extra Time. But really neither team looked like they'd score and penalties seemed inevitable. I can't remember seeing penalties at Elm Park since the Simod Cup - but maybe I'm wrong.
With two penalties taken each it looked like we were already through as Reading took a 2-0 lead. A rocket from Morley as you'd expect followed by a nice Hodges penalty. Hammond made two fantastic saves one outstretched low to his left, one nearer his bo dy. Then Reading looked like they might throw it all away with the next two an exact reverse. Asaba with a pathetic attempt, and Parkie (who I thought would blast it) got it all wrong when he tried to place it. Cardiff put their two away. 2-2 after 4 p enalties.
Houghton stepped up to nudge Reading in front on the last penalty of the five. Cardiff scored theirs to put it to sudden death. Booty stepped up to score. 4-3. Cardiff had to score. Appropriately enough Hammond completed his hatrick of saves to send R eading through - and Cardiff out of the cup.
Then with the penalties score at 4-3 in Reading's favour, Jon Hallworth having also saved twice for Cardiff, Hammond dived to keep out Craig Middleton's sudden-death effort and win the match. The teams had finished level after 90 minutes and 30 minutes of extra time on a night when almost as much attention was focused on the bad-tempered crowd as the football following a delayed start.
Cardiff were first to score, just as they had done in the first match at Ninian Park. Kevin Nugent's 40th-minute flick on left the Reading defence flat-footed and Carl Dale found himself in the clear. Hammond did well to force him wide of the goal but Dale still managed to slide the ball into the net.
After 11 minutes of the second half 36-year-old Trevor Morley came to Reading's rescue with the equaliser, the former West Ham man jumping highest to head home Martyn Booty's free-kick. With the game in the balance the crowd at last seemed to calm down and concentrate on the drama on the pitch after earlier scuffles, leaving a female steward with an apparent face injury.
For Cardiff's supporters there may have been little surprise at the deadlock because the Welsh side had drawn 19 of their previous 35 games this season. Both sides, though, had late chances to win the game in normal time. Five minutes from the end Nugent found himself clear with just Hammond to beat but rocketed his shot straight at the goalkeeper's body and the ball bounced away to safety.
Then seconds before the whistle Morley went close with a header from Jason Bowen's cross which struck the upright and bounced to safety. Hammond then kept his side in the game with a brilliant double save at the start of extra time.
His first effort kept out Wayne O'Sullivan's shot and then he jumped high to his left to block Dale's header from the rebound.
Watching Premier League football every other week is becoming almost cultural. At Highbury you have (well at least at the North Bank end) a plethora of food outlets -Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel anyone?- along with the obligatory bars, bookies and scaled down version of the club shop. Nowadays you can buy anything from an Arsenal Baby Grow (sp?) to Arsenal cufflinks through to subscribing to the Arsenal internet service or the Arsenal Credit Card (23.9%A.P.R.). The pitch as always at Highbury is pristine, ably supported by the undersoil heating for any cold snaps and it is reputed that the Groundsman works longer hours than the average Kebab shop owner to keep it this way. And just in case you miss any action you can always watch the replays of all non controversial action (away goals not excepted) on the giant televisions.
Step down a level and the picture is slightly more distorted. Last night I went to watch Reading play Cardiff in the FA Cup fourth round replay at Elm Park. Coming straight from work I felt a little bit out of place in a suit and tie and passing a whole load of Cardiff fans bickering with each other and anyone else who wanted too stopping every few yards for someone to take a piss in some unfortunate's garden. Approaching the ground the atmosphere was instantly noticeable. Cardiff were reputed to be bringing almost a full complement - around 3,000 and this had certainly heated things up on what was a bitterly cold night. Attempting to gain entrance to Reading is not usually too tricky a prospect but there was a fairly sizeable queue outside not long after the game had kicked off. The police and the stewards clearly had no idea as to how to deal with the drunken Cardiff contingent and many of their fans were queing happily with the home fans until deterred by the lack of either beer or distinctive Welsh accents made their way round to where they were supposed to be. Just before I made it through the turnstyles (at a cost of nine pounds) a detachment of truncheon carrying, helmet wearing policemen ran past into the South Bank terrace. Once inside it was clear that Cardiff had filled the away end and people were standing on the fencing at the back of the stand which according to my Reading supporting mate was the first time he had seen it. Along the front of the terracing were a number of Welsh flags bearing place names like The Rhondda.
The game had already begun by the time we made our way down the packed South Bank terrace to find the rest of the lads we were meeting although according to them we hadn't missed anything. Cardiff playing in yellow and blue had an away shirt reminscent of the pigeon dropping in the corner effort that Tottenham had a couple of seasons back were not in the slightest overawed by their higher division opponents and their performance belied their lowly league standing. Their fans were certainly in good voice and much of the early insult swapping referred mainly to a hatred of Wales or England depending, of course, on which side of the fence you were standing. The obligatory reference to sheep and sexual deviancies were raised and it seemed as if the stewards were going to have their work cut out as the assortment of "lovelies" continually threatened to climb the fences and adminster some physical punishment to the braying Royals. Meanwhile a police photographer with a hugely powerful flash continued to take pictures of the warring factions. Reading, I thought, looked fairly good in the first half with Houghton prompting most of their better attacks. Asaba ran gainfully around up front and is obviously blessed with good pace. That said the Cardiff left back more than once saved his team with raw pace.
And then on forty minutes Cardiff took the lead. Cue absolute pandemonium from the boys from the valleys. They surged en masse toward the fence and at one point it looked as if the gate was going to give. The goal had a suspicion of off side about it with Carl Nugent sending Carl Dale clear and through on goal. Hammond came out to meet it but Dale calmed went round the keeper and converted from a tight angle about ten yards out. This added bonus proved to be just the tonic that the Cardiff fans needed and for the next twenty five minutes or so decided to play Fence Chicken with the increased police presence. Coins and other assorted extras were exchanged and what looked like a bottle was thrown by the Reading fans. The riot pod (as someone near me quipped) stood firm as around twenty youngsters sat taunting them with one leg on either side of the fence. The police managed to get them back down and then promptly walked off giving the lads a chance to resume their position. One fan resplendent in a cream jacket with closely cropped red hair sat atop the fence within yards of the Reading fans taunting all those near him. The response from the Reading boys referred to his seeming lack of ability to regulate either his food or beer intake and then the more imaginative (but doubtless bogus) "We're Reading, We're Reading, we'll kick your fucking head in" and a series of songs about Swindon and cutlery which I'll leave to your imagination. The cries from the Cardiff fans of "Chelsea where are you" did nothing to appease the growing and by now relentless animosity and Reading replied with "Oxford where are you". Before the game there had indeed been talk of a number of Oxford boys who were coming down to do the Reading but this didn't materialise. The half time entertainment of the Golden Gamble - 420 pounds to the winner - was completely ignored and it seemed that the Golden Gamble now was whether or not the police were going to regain any semblance of control and prevent the Cardiff fans from coming over to say hello to their Reading counterparts.
At the start of the second half the Cardiff boys settled a little bit but their mood was certainly not aided by a 55th minute equaliser from Trevor Morley. He scored with an unchallenged header from a Martin Booty free kick and this seemed to be the time for Reading to impose their supposedly superior league status. The expected onslaught never came and if anything Cardiff looked more likely to break the deadlock. Their fans were buoyed up by a series of corners and free kicks and our confident pre-game 2 and 3 nil predictions looked ever more unlikely.
The final whistle seemed to come around very quickly and with little ado we were into extra time. Nicky Hammond in the Reading goal made a string of great saves including a double save he had no right to make. Without him Reading would definitely have gone out and they have him to thank that they managed to get through to penalties. After an amazingly protracted delay the penalty shoot out began. Thankfully this was at the opposite end to the Welshmen and successful spot kicks from Morley and Hodges and two great saves by Hammond (again) Reading were 2-0 up. They then conspired to miss two (Asaba, Parkinson) and with Cardiff converting theirs the game was back in the balance. Both sides scored their fifth penalty and then with Martin Booty (who scored the winner against Cheltenham in the previous round) scoring the sixth Carl Middleton had to score to prevent Reading going through to face Sheffield United in the fifth round. Hammond though pulled off his third penalty save amidst a cacophony of booing winning the game for the Royals.
Hammond was head and shoulders above everyone else for the Man of the Match award and considering he was carrying a groin injury which was clearly causing him pain his performance was even more noteworthy. That said the Cardiff fans en masse "Ayatollah" was a sight to behold and certainly merits a mention. The only thing left to mention is quite what the Cardiff fans who came on the train home did last night because the stadium announcer informed everyone that the last train was leaving at 10:23 which due to extra time was one very few Cardiff fans were likely to make.