Reading FC Match Report: 2019/2020 Season - FA Cup


Reading: G Puscas (pen 43)
Sheff Utd: D McGoldrick (2), B Sharp (105)

Full time: Reading 1 Sheffield United 1

Reading came very close to taking this excellent cup tie to penalties in the very last minute of extra time, when Pele's shot from the edge of the box flew agonisingly just outside the post with United's 'keeper Henderson beaten. Had it gone to penalties and Reading had won, nobody could argue that they had not played well enough to progress to the next round. It was night when Reading Football came back to life. The crowd, the atmosphere, and the team's performance were all something of which everyone at the club should feel proud. Against a team three points off a Champions League qualification place (with a game in hand) in the Premier League, Reading more than held their own, and can realistically claim were capable of winning the tie. The visitor's current status and reputation made this match a daunting prospect for the Royals, and falling a goal within two minutes made their task seemingly beyond their reach. At that point nobody could have imagined how the game would unfold. Reading were far from demoralised by this early setback and showing remarkable composure and determination raised their game to a level we have not seen for some time.

McGoldrick’s goal in the second minute was a consequence of sloppy defending. Osborn’s cross drifted over Morrison and Miazga and Obita allowed the United forward to get in front of him to head home from close range. From that point Reading calmly got on with their game, passing the ball well and keeping the ball when under pressure. If anything was lacking it was the crucial final pass to create scoring opportunities. As in the recent games the timing of forward runs into offside positions was a problem. However, after thirteen minutes Olise found Meite on the right and he cut inside and let fly with a great strike which Henderson had to produce a brilliant save to keep out. It was the spark which ignited Reading’s belief in their ability to get back into the game

United are a superbly organised side and enjoyed a lot of possession, but didn’t look likely to penetrate the Reading defence. Reading were equally organised and disciplined and United rarely troubled Raphael. The confidence Reading players demonstrated on the ball meant there were few errors for United to feed off and mount any significant pressure. Three minutes before the interval Olise floated a lovely ball in behind the United defence and as Rinomhota got beyond George Baldock the United full back clearly pushed him to the ground and Kevin Friend had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. Puscas made it clear where the ball was going from the spot but although Henderson went the right way the power and accuracy of the strike gave him no chanced and Reading were level. Now we had a game on!

Having rid themselves of any notion of inferiority, Reading proceeded to match United in every respect. Puscas, although taking his penalty well, had not been having much impact on the game in the first half. Suddenly he was challenging for the ball in the air and putting United’s back four under much more pressure and the visitors knew they were in for test of their credentials as Premier League high fliers. Now I would not like to imply that referee Kevin Friend cost Reading the game, but apart from the award of the penalty, United got the benefit of some extremely dubious decisions. The first came just after the interval when he decided to show Rinomhota a yellow card for a tug on Freeman as he went past him on the half way line, even though at least two United players went unpunished for exactly the same offence earlier in the game. It was one a string of incorrect decisions and poor interpretation of the ‘advantage’ law in the second half which went against Reading.

United clearly had to up their game and the introduction of McBirnie after sixty minutes was a clear signal of intent. It was developing into an open and even contest and I can’t help wondering why Bowen did not leave just one player up on the half way line when Reading were defending corners to give more of a chance of a quick counter attack. Nevertheless Reading were certainly looking to win the game. Meite was in outstanding form and clearly enjoying the battle. He defended like a man possessed, took players on (successfully most of the time) and constantly won headers in the United half. When he was substituted five minutes in to extra time he must have totally exhausted.

Perhaps if there was telling factor it was the quality of the players United had available on the bench. Crucially Billy Sharp who came on about ten minutes form the end of normal time. It was the ex-Reading striker who ironically administered the killer blow in the final minute of the first half of extra time. Left unmarkled at the far lost he headed powerfully past Obita and Raphael on the line. Reading brought on Sam Baldock and McCleary for the second half of extra time as Reading now had nothing to lose by throwing on more attacking players, and it almost worked. McCleary got behind the United defence but again the final ball was not of sufficient quality. Pele’s narrow miss in the final minute of extra time left Reading fans disappointed but surely not unhappy with their team or manager in any respect. It was testament to Reading’s performance that United were resorting to desperate fouls and time-wasting tactics in the final phase of the game. Perhaps the most telling comment came from United manager Chris Wilder. “We got the job done and found a way to win”. He, as everyone in the ground knew, it was a far from convincing victory, and his team might easily have been on the receiving end of an unexpected defeat.

Finally, Mark Bowen declared last week he does not have a ‘best eleven’, and that may well be the case but the team that started this game must be pretty close to it.

John Wells

This FA Cup game took place 322 days ago in the 2019/2020 season.