We’re no strangers to playing Reading in cup competitions, having played them twice last season, however they’ve strengthened considerably over the summer, with the aquisitions of Leroy Lita for £1m from Bristol City, as well as adding Bobby Convey to their midfield. Already they sit atop the championship table, having won their last three games, and are one of the favourites for promotion to the Premiership.
Add to that the fact that we had a very depleated squad and that the competition isn’t of much value to us anyway, and already things are looking pretty bad. With Irieikpen, O’Leary and Robinson all suspended, as well as injuries to Trundle, Forbes, Monk and Goodfellow, we were really down to the bones of our squad – many players who struggled in league two last season.
Reading, as predicted, started the stronger, and although Gueret had nothing to do, they created a few chances through good movement in the box from corners, and Tate and Austin were both in the way to block headers, and another went wide.
With only Akinfenwa up front we were looking hopeless – far too often we played long balls to his head when he was up against a player 6 inches taller than him, and screaming for the ball to his feet. McLeod and Connor tried to get involved from the wings, but with Connor playing in a very unfamiliar position and not having the skills of a winger, our attacks mostly came to nothing.
Reading on the other hand were looking well in control – Harper and Sidwell in the centre of midfield were running rings around our three, but their opening goal came from a long hoof forward from keeper Stack. Doyle flicked it on and Kitson raced onto the loose ball before both Austin and Gueret before hitting a sublime lob from 20-yards over the keepers head and into the empty net.
Sidwell himself came close with 20 minutes gone, finding space just outisde the box he powered a shot goalwards that Gueret was only just about able to parry over the bar. Althougth that was their last real chance of the half, and we were finally able to get some posession, we did very little with it, with only a deflected long-range shot from Owain Tudor-Jones right on the stroke of half time worth noting.
After the break Reading stepped up the tempo again, and will surely wonder how they failed to add a second in a twenty minute spell that saw them hit the bar, have a goal disallowed, draw two quality saves from Gueret and also hit the side netting. Doyle had the first chance just after the break, but Gueret got his legs in the way of his volley. He wasn’t too sure a minute later though as substitue Glen Little capitalized on his hesitation but mis**t his shot into the side netting.
Kitson hit the bar with a header following a free-kick, and a few minutes later the big striker was unlucky to see another effort chalked off for either a foul or offside – nobody seems sure which, although the Reading P.A. took a while to discover that the goal hadn’t been allowed. Doyle had another header well saved by Gueret, before we had our first sorte forward of the half, with Akinfenwa bustling over a few defenders before being disposessed by Sonko when he was about to shoot.
Reading’s back four looked comfortable, and they must have thought that they had the game won with only ten minutes to go. But a deep cross from Ijah Anderson in the 81st minute was only parried by Stack, and Akinfenwa reacted quickest to head the ball into the empty net. Akinfenwa was unlucky not to add a second a minute later, the ball fell to him in a crowded penalty area, but this time the referee’s whistle had already gone for a Reading free kick.
With time ticking away on came Leroy Lita for the home side, while Ijah Anderson was busy getting himself sent off for a completely unneccecary lunge on the half way line. OTJ was lucky not to be off himself in stoppage time when he got away with a similar lunge. But despite four minutes of stoppage time we were able to hold on to force extra time.
And the less said about the extra time the better really. Rookie Shaun MacDonnlad replaced a nackered-looking OTJ for his debut, and he’d only been on the pitch a few minutes when Harper shrugged off Martinez and fet Kitson, who beat the offside trap, held off Austin and rounded Gueret before slotting the ball home from a narrow angle to restore the Royals’ lead. We looked out of it at the interval, but Leon Britton came to life in the second half, and we should have been awarded a blatant penalty when he was hacked down from behind after a good run into the area. It must have been a pretty obvious penalty because Jackett, usually so clam and unmoving when it comes to referee’s, shouted something and was immediately sent off.
From then on we knew we’d had it, and Leroy Lita added a third for the home side with 5 minutes to go, sliding in to divert an excellent Harper cross past the stranded Gueret. He nearly made it 4-1 in stoppage time, but he blazed over the bar after finding himself in space on the right wing.
We never expected to win last night – we didn’t deserve extra time, and with only 10 men it was always going to be difficult to hang on for penalties. Unless Reading draw a top Premiership club in the next round it doesn’t bother me too much that we’re out.