Reading FC Match Report: 2014/2015 Season - FA Cup
ARSENAL 2 READING 1
Reading: G McCleary (54).
Arsenal: A Sanchez (39), A Sanchez (105)
FA Cup Semi-Final - Wembley Stadium
Reading 1 Arsenal 2 (After extra time, 1-1 after 90 minutes).
Reading’s great FA Cup adventure ended in personal tragedy for goalkeeper Adam Federici. The cliché ‘emotional rollercoaster’ was never more fitting than in the dying moments of the first period of extra time. Pogrebnyak broke through the Arsenal defence and spurned a chance to give Reading the lead, and with Reading fans reminding referee Atkinson that time was up, Federici allowed an innocuous long range Sanchez strike squirm under his body and trickle agonisingly over the line. It was the nature of the goal as much as the timing that left several Reading players devastated. Having clawed their way back into contention with a battling display and a second half equaliser from McCleary to force extra time, an unbelievable victory had become a very real possibility. The dream of an FA Cup final rather than just a big day out had crept into the thoughts of players and fans alike. Reading played from start to finish with a belief they could pull off the seemingly impossible. This game captured the very essence of the FA Cup and, although Royals fans will feel bitterly disappointed with the outcome, they will feel nothing but pride and admiration for their team’s performance.
Arsenal fielded a full strength team although Giroud might have been expected to start ahead of Wellbeck. Few would argue with Steve Clarke’s team selection, but his decision play 4 4 2, which ultimately proved correct, raised a few eyebrows.
The first half was a battle for control of midfield, which Arsenal, in spite of their dominance of possession, never really won. They simply could not find a way through a well organised defence. The energy of Reading in midfield and up front made life very difficult for an exceptionally talented Arsenal team. Reading frequently gained possession by closing down their opponents quickly but unfortunately squandered their hard earned possession with careless passing with equal frequency. Referee Atkinson was keen to protect the Arsenal players from any robust challenges and by the end of the game had awarded a remarkable twenty free kicks to the Gunners. The first save of the match came after eight minutes when Federici pushed away a downward header by Mertesacker from a near post corner. Obita had Reading’s first clear sight of goal but his strike from the edge of the box lacked power and Sczcesny gathered comfortably. Reading kept the composure and a disciplined rearguard action looked likely to keep them level at half time but Arsenal took the lead with a goal of the highest quality six minutes before the interval. Ozil clipped a pass into the Reading penalty area and Sanchez’s superb touch and finishing enabled him to nip into a tight space and poke the ball though Federici’s legs. The goal dented Reading’s aspirations but it certainly had not dulled their appetite as the second half proved.
Having grown in confidence in the first half, Reading pressed forward for an early equaliser which arrived in the fifty-fourth minute. Porgebnyak powered his way to the touchline and dug out a deep cross to the far post where McCleary volleyed past an unsighted and off balance Sczcesny. Belief began to grow throughout the Reading team and fans alike. Reading went looking for a winning goal. Mackie wriggled through the Gunners defence and pulled the ball back to Williams who miscued a shot from the edge of the box, but it was real chance. A well drilled back four caught Mackie offside a couple of occasions but a poor decision by the referee’s assistant denied Reading a good opportunity.
Mertesacker limped off to be replaced by Gabriel. Giroud replaced Wellbeck and the game gathered momentum as both sides went for the winner. Chances came at both ends. Federici pulled off a brilliant one-handed save to deny Gabriel from a corner. Federici was off his line smartly to dive at the feet of Giroud. Mackie also appeared to be hauled down as he burst through the middle past the last defender, but referee Atkinson remarkably waved play on and subsequently ignored the incident. Chalobah surprised Sczcesny with a good strike from outside the box but the ‘keeper managed to push the ball away at the near post. Ramsey came closest to the winner but with only a defender on the line protecting the goal his left foot strike hit the post. Pogrebnyak broke from the half way line but with support available and the Arsenal back four backpedalling his feeble prod was easily gathered by Sczcesny.
Having won sixteen of their last eighteen games, including a run of seven straight wins in the Premier League, Arsenal found themselves facing a very tough period of extra time against a team given very little chance of avoiding defeat by the pundits. Karacan came on to bring fresh energy in midfield as Reading prepared for tough thirty minutes. As expected the Gunners’ passing ability gave them the edge as both teams began to tire. Ramsey almost put the Gunners ahead with a low drive which Federici somehow managed to deflect up and over the bar. The game was still in the balance when Pogrebnyak found himself with clear sight of goal as the first period of extra time drew to a close. Sadly for the Royals he could not find the finish required which has very been the story of Reading’s season. Arsenal counter attacked and Sanchez shot from the edge of the box. Federici got down behind the ball and Royals fans sat horror as the ball tricked over the line in a moment that will haunt the Reading ‘keeper for the rest of his life. Reading tried hard to come back but they had already given more than anyone had the right to expect. The introduction of Cox and Yakubu as Reading played out the final minutes with a 4 3 3 was final defiant but desperate gesture. Arsenal will go on to the final with a chance to become one of the few teams to retain the trophy in successive years and Reading will be left memories of a great game and wonder what might have been.
Reading’s magical FA Cup tour was brought to abrupt end when an Alexis Sanchez shot squirmed agonisingly through the hands and legs of the Royals ill-starred goalkeeper Adam Federici. It was a harsh and unfair resolution to a Cup tie that belied the position and form of a Reading team toiling in the lower reaches of the Championship.
Steve Clarke showed the team’s intent by naming an attacking line-up. It was an ambitious 4-4-2 formation with Pogrebnyak and Mackie up front, their task to press the Arsenal defence for every ball, cutting the passes at source. The rest of team, led by the colossus Danny Williams, given the objective of shackling and unsettling the Arsenal superstars. Robson-Kanu and McCleary looking to exploit the expansive space of Wembley once the Royals were in possession.
The opening ten minutes looked nervy, Reading seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion. Arsenal looked smooth in possession and with the pace and movement of Danny Welback they looked dangerous. Federici having to be smart off his line to thwart an early one on one with the speedy Welback, then provided a solid save low to his left when Mertesacker found space from an Ozil corner. Federici’s early confidence and inspiration provided the calming effect for the Royals to settle into the match. An early Arsenal goal had been avoided and it appeared Reading puffed out their chests and started to believe. They were led by the titan, warrior, and gladiator of midfielder in Danny Williams. He gradually broke the Arsenal midfield piece by piece. Smashing into every tackle, driving forward at every opportunity.
With the team scraping in every area of the pitch, opportunities started to come. Obita had a shot on target from the edge of the area, Mackie was incorrectly called offside when set clear from an Obita clearance and a dangerous Obita free-kick following a jinxing McCleary run fell to the powerful Chalobah.
As the game continued at a frantic pass, without Arsenal creating many openings against a resolute and determined Reading, the belief was reverberating from the pitch into the East side of Wembley. A constant wall of noise from the Reading FC fans cheering every tackle, pass and header. It took the craft and guile from two Arsenal players costing £70m to bring the opening goal in the 39th minute. As Arsenal passed the ball, seemingly making no progress, Ozil suddenly lifted a delicious pass over the Reading defence into the feet of Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez, faking to shoot wrong footed McCleary and Sanchez had time to slot the ball under the advancing Federici. A moment of class that left Reading chasing shadows. The final minutes of the first half saw Reading holding onto the one goal deficit. Arsenal sensing the moment to put the Royals to the sword pushed forward, forcing a couple of corners and keeping Reading on the edge of their own area.
Danny Williams was the composer of the half to come with a driving run through the Arsenal midfield as the second half started. Arsenal ganging up to surround and bring down the powerful American. The moment that every Reading fan will remember came in the 54th minute. An obita throw in went into the feet of Robson-Kanu, he slotted the ball through to the big Russian Pogrebnyak. Pogrebnyak drove to the goal-line, digging out a cross high towards the back post. A stretching McCleary volleyed the ball goalwards, Szczesny unable to hold onto the ball pushed it up and over the line.
The goal was celebrated by the players and fans alike. With a third of the Reading population packed into one side of Wembley, it was an expression of release, a moment where the tribulations of the past two seasons were forgotten, a time where the fans, players, staff and boardroom were at last united in solidarity.
Reading carried the energy and desire forward, looking the more likely winners. Pogrebnyak and Mackie played on the backline of Arsenal, unlucky to be called offside when set free. Danny Williams sliced a good chance wide following some industrious work by Mackie.
The moment of the half came from Adam Federici though, a spectator in the second half was brought into action in the 68th minute. Another Ozil corner found Gabirel running across the box, his header was angled into the top corner before the acrobatic Federici propelled himself into the air. He managed to get a hand behind the ball pushing it high and clear. A world class save that once the pain of the defeat heals he can reflect on and be remembered for.
The game became end to end, few clear cut openings but a desperate and frenzied final twenty minutes. Possession was swapping between the two teams, Reading pressing every ball. Arsenal with the luxury of bringing on the over £20 million worth of talent in Giroud and Walcott. It was the Russian roulette battle of the last five minutes of full time when both teams had a chance to fire the winning bullet. Giroud slipping Ramsey clear only to see his first shot closed down by Federici and his second rebounding off the post. Pogrebnyak sent clear, chose to continue forward on his own instead of pushing a pass through to the supporting Mackie. Jem Karacan replaced Robson-Kanu in the 90th minute as Reading switched to a three man midfield for extra time.
Despite all the endeavour as extra time progressed, neither team looked to have the energy to go and win the game. Stray passes from tired legs became the blueprint of play. Penalties seemed the inevitable outcome, the final curtain call on an entertaining and enthralling occasion. The final seconds of the first half of extra time brought a cruel twist of fate. The hero of moments Federici was left distraught and broken hearted as Sanchez cut into the area and drove a low shot through a crowd of Reading legs. The ball squirmed from his grasp and slowly crept over the line as the Australian was left with his face in the turf.
Reading were unable to pull themselves back into the game, bravely playing out the final 15 minutes. Heroic in the tackle and effort. The final whistle ending a game that Reading will look back on with pride. It was a titan of a performance from Reading FC. One that gives hope that, with players like Hector, Williams and Federici, we can mount a serious promotion challenge next season. They are not a bad team just had a poor season, this cup run and semi-final performance can act as a springboard for progression. We were determined, competitive and ultimately, unlucky.
Reading were magnificent in defeat as FA Cup holders Arsenal eventually overcame the Royals, in extra time, in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The Royals, in their first FA Cup semi-final since 1927, surpassed all expectations and not only avoided a thrashing but came back from a goal behind to deservedly take the game into an extra 30 minutes. The Royals looked more than capable of taking the game onto penalties, or even snatching a winner such was their determination, before the Arsenal winner when 105 minutes had already been played. The goal will be remembered for a Federici error as the ball squeezed through his hands and through his legs before trickling over the goal-line in slow motion in front of the Reading fans.
It was an extremely unfortunate and costly mistake from Federici who was clearly distraught and had had an excellent match for Reading. Federici had made a string of excellent saves to keep Reading in the game and had displayed very safe hands throughout. It was just a single moment after a superb display from the entire Reading team.
Reading fans had come to Wembley expecting a defeat and just hoping to enjoy a great day out. They got both of those things but were treated to a great game of football in which Reading would have easily won over all the neutrals. In the end there was a feeling of disappointment that we hadn't managed to reach the final after getting the closest in the entire history of the club, and putting up since resistance to the team on amazing form and second in the Premier League Extra-time at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final and only losing by one goal to Arsenal. I never thought I'd see the day.
Wembley was covered in sunshine as over 30,000 Reading fans turned up in high spirits for a welcome distraction from a disappointing league campaign. With Reading "nearly" safe from relegation this was always going to be the climax for the season. The club arranged free blue or white t-shirts arranged in hoops around the Reading half of the ground and there was a decent atmosphere - particularly in the second half when Reading surged forward towards their own fans.
Reading did create chances but will have won most praise for their incredible defensive performance. Both Pearce and Hector were outstanding in the centre of the Reading defence, but Hector shone. Obita and Gunter had excellent games at full back. The pattern of the first half was a variation on what we had been expecting. Arsenal did have the most of the ball but Reading seemed to be able to contain them and even got forward themselves. The tidy passing game belonged to both sides, but it was Arsenal that were guilty of the odd mis-placed past as they looked uncomfortable under Reading's close attention. The Royals refused to give Arsenal space and certainly weren't scared to tackle. Hector and Williams appeared to win nearly every tackle they went in for.
The best chance of the first half for Reading fell to Jordan Obita who got forward well and struck the ball with force, only to see it straight at Szczesny, the Arsenal keeper. Jamie Mackie appeared very unfortunate to be called off-side as Reading tried to counter attack. In goal, Federici comfortably claimed some crosses and saved well from Mertesacker. As the time passed Reading appeared to grow in belief, as did the supporters, and we'd almost stopped counting down the minutes that Reading had held on for when Arsenal took the lead. Sanchez twisted through the defence sending players the wrong direction before firing in his shot. Federici tried to spread himself, but the ball passed through his legs to give Arsenal a half time lead.
At the break talk was of an excellent Reading performance already, but the reality that we were probably already dead and buried with Arsenal leading. However, Reading again set out with a point to prove and make a mockery of their league placing. Williams was even more active in midfield and he seemed to be everywhere for Reading, stopping Arsenal's possession and causing a real nusience of himself. It was beautiful to watch. McCleary was very lively down the wing, following on from his performance in the 3-0 victory over Bradford City in the quarter final replay against Bradford.
Nine minutes into the second half Pavel Pogrebnyak got to the line and cut the ball back into the area to find McCleary in the other side of the area. McClearly slid in and his shot wasn't held by Szczesny and it looped well over the line for the Reading equaliser. As it was right in front of the Reading fans there was an instant celebration before a momentary pause just to confirm that the referee was going to give the goal, before absolute chaos to celebrate.
The second half wasn't far off being even as both sides had chances to prevent extra time. Pogrebnyak was doing well to get in the right place and engineer chances but was twice wasteful as he failed to either get in a proper shot or to lay the ball off. Federici kept Reading in the game with a spectacular save reaching high to tip the ball over the crossbar when a header looked to be heading into the top corner. The game turned into a dramatic end to end contest with a few nervous moments as Arsenal came forward. We still expected the heartbreak of a late Arsenal winner before both sides appeared to ease off before the end of normal time to settle for extra time.
In extra time, Reading somehow found the energy to continue at the same level for the first period. Federici was fortunate to see the ball hit him and bounce over the crossbar to safety before Arsenal's counter attack with the 15 minutes already played led to Federici's nightmare error. Reading had a penalty claim ignored in what looked like a hand ball from down our end, but after that unfortunate Arsenal goal the chances were limited. After the extra time break, Arsenal were able to contain a tired Reading and play out time. Reading kept on running, kept on passing, and kept tackling with only a slightly reduced intensity. At full time of extra time, Federici was off down the tunnel while the rest of the team came over to rightly take the applause of the Reading fans. This was a very good performance from a Reading team that can be rightly proud of their FA Cup performances this season.
This FA Cup game took place 1164 days ago in the 2014/2015 season.