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Cardiff City 1-2 Reading FC: A Game Of Two Halves

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Once again a substitute proved to be the match winner for the Royals in the FA Cup. @WilliamOwain reports on how Reading reached the FA Cup fifth round for the fourth time in six seasons.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Was anyone really that surprised that it was Hal Robson-Kanu who got Reading's winner? This was after all pretty much a home match for the Wales international. For the second time this season the winger scored the decisive goal from open play to clinch the match for his team at the Cardiff City Stadium.

It was the perfect response from Robson-Kanu to being dropped by Steve Clarke from the starting line-up. In his place came Nick Blackman, whilst new loan signing Nathaniel Chalobah was brought in for his debut at the expense of Simon Cox.

It meant the Royals lined up in an unfamiliar 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation. It was clear right from the start that despite being the home team Cardiff were happy for Reading to dominate possession. It led to a less than thrilling first half.

The first serious effort on goal came from the away side, when a neat passing move led to Chalobah laying the ball off for Oliver Norwood whose shot from outside the box just went wide. There were further moments of pressure from the Royals, including a dangerous run from Chris Gunter after neat interplay with Garath McCleary, but the final pass was always missing.

The two former Forest players linked up again, which led to McCleary forcing Simon Moore into a fine save. This seemed to wake up Cardiff who around the 20 minute mark finally created a serious chance. A long punt forward by Moore was flicked on by Alex Revell, and Kenwyne Jones cleverly turned Jordan Obita before hitting a powerful drive from the edge of the box which was palmed wide by Adam Federici.

Opening goal

Soon after the Bluebirds took the lead with just their second meaningful attack. As has so often been the case on Reading's trips to the Welsh capital, it was the set piece ability of Peter Whittingham that caused the Royals' defence all sort of problems. His corner from the left side was powerfully headed by Jones, the Trinidadian with the most Welsh sounding name ever, for an undeserved lead. Jones' ability to out muscle Michael Hector once again highlighted Reading's weaknesses when it comes to defending set pieces.

The goal only served to encourage Cardiff to sit even deeper and seemed to knock Reading out of their rhythm. A quickly taken free kick led to a half chance for Pavel Pogrebnyak, but the Bluebirds comfortably saw out the rest of the half. Reading's chances of getting back weren't helped by Gunter being forced off by injury on 35 minutes. His replacement Stephen Kelly never looked as comfortable supporting McCleary.

If the first half had rather meandered out for both teams, then it was noticeable how quicker Reading's tempo was in the second half. For the second week in a row it seemed that Clarke had told his team to up their game and move the ball around quicker. The wingers, Blackman and McCleary, were also encouraged to cut inside more, and it was definitely noticeable that Reading's midfield and wide players were a lot more fluid positionally and were happy to swap positions.

A typical Reading move just before the hour saw Obita take advantage of the space made by Blackman cutting in, to whip in a dangerous cross, which was only cleared as far as Norwood. The former Huddersfield man neatly controlled the ball before shooting from 25 yards. His shot took a wicked deflection off a Cardiff player and Moore had to be at full stretch to tip the ball over the bar.

The equaliser

But Norwood wasn't to be denied for long. A clumsy foul on the edge of the box led to a dangerous free kick. Before it was taken I was struck by how far to the left Moore was standing. As soon as Norwood struck the ball, the former Brentford goalkeeper took a step to the right which meant he was unable to react quick enough when the ball in fact went to his left. It was bad goalkeeping but a very clever free kick and a lovely way for Norwood to open his account for Reading.

From then on there only looked likely to be one winner. Cardiff showed even less attacking threat than they did in the first half, and Reading had all the impetus. Blackman's and McCleary's dribbling were causing problems but with 10 minutes to go it looked like Reading were beginning to run out of steam.

Super sub

On 82 minutes Clarke took off Blackman and introduced Robson-Kanu. The substitution was a tad harsh on Blackman who had been one of Reading's better players, with some really good moments of skilful footwork. Soon after coming on, Robson-Kanu showed his aerial strength with a lovely flicked header from a Norwood cross that forced Moore into another stunning save.

And just when it seemed the tie was destined for a replay, Chalobah passed to Obita, who crossed early, and Robson-Kanu nipped in ahead of former Royal Matthew Connolly to score the winner. It was a goal that deserved to win the match, a superb cross, and a lovely finish from a player who often fails to show the quality that he clearly has.

Clarke immediately replaced the excellent Norwood with Jake Cooper anticipating a desperate Cardiff onslaught. But that never materialised as Cardiff meekly exited the cup to boos from the home support. Only one team deserved to win this match and that wasn't the team wearing blue. The first half was once again forgettable, but in the second half Clarke's team upped the game and got a rare win from a losing position.

I feared going into this game that a defeat would effectively end Reading's season. We may not be a great team, but unless we're careless we shouldn't be dragged into a relegation battle. With that in mind it was important to stay in the cup to provide fans with some excitement. With half of the Premier League already out of the cup, today's win allows us Royals to dare to dream! In a season of mediocrity that is crucial.

Cardiff City: Moore; Fabio, Morrison, Turner (Connolly 43), Malone; Harris (Macheda 85), Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Noone; Jones, Revell (Adeyami 71). Subs not used: John, Ralls, Wilson, O'Sullivan.

Reading: Federici; Gunter (Kelly 35), Pearce, Hector, Obita; McCleary, Williams, Chalobah, Norwood (Cooper 89), Blackman (Robson-Kanu 82); Pogrebnyak. Subs not used: Andersen, Cox, Karacan, Taylor.