Firstly, whilst this result means a great deal to us all Reading fans, I must take a smidge of personal delight as this is my first piece of analysis that has resulted in a win SINCE OCTOBER and against Blackpool to boot. OCTOBER!! So my delight was doubled and no teen spirited pitch invasion could curtail my unadulterated joy at being able to report on a win. The win of all wins.
The perfect set piece routine
And what better place to start than our first of three goals. (Still quite amazing we scored three times in any game, let alone this one.) Anyway, step forward one Hal Robson-Kanu. Our much maligned mercurial forward allayed all our nerves after just five minutes with this deft header.
Notable was that without Norwood on the field, McCleary returned to corner duties. From this graphic, Bradford are set up to attack any ball that comes into the near post area. The flaw here being that our players are anywhere but attacking the near post itself.
The beauty of this very simple corner is that the delivery is exceptional. An in-swinging corner delivered away from the near post defenders and towards the penalty spot where Hal lurks.
At the point of delivery, Hal already has stolen a march on Darby. If the cross is good then options are open. Either a flick on to the far post, or go for goal. Ultimately, it was better than good, it was pinpoint accurate.
Whether it was a plan or an aberration, Bradford have nobody at the far post leaving a gargantuan gap for Hal to aim at. I would imagine that Clarke did his homework and noticed that Bradford are bereft on the posts. Ergo, numero unos. Thank you very much.
It's a textbook training ground move that will undoubtedly been worked on a great deal - the marvel of this is that Robson-Kanu wouldn't necessarily be the first choice player for a headed goal. One would think that the Pog or Pearce would be a more valid target. A bit of a bluff maybe? Either way, it is simple and highly effective.
The fist pump that says "I love it when a plan comes together."
Bradford's lack of out and out wide players
One of the most pleasing aspect for us was how we completely nullified the diamond formation that Bradford deployed. Whilst it has worked for them thus far, we countered it very easily on the night. The downside was cruelly exposed for our second goal.
This graphic is the build up to our second goal. Bear in mind here we're in the ninth minute and not the eighty-ninth - look at the room we have at our disposal. Gunter has acres of space ahead of him, Robson-Kanu is being trailed by Halliday whose deflection ended up in the net. The left back, Meredith is hardly tight to goalscorer McCleary either.
If Bradford had a proper wide player to hustle Gunter into a mistake, then we could have been thwarted. If Robson-Kanu had encountered more of a presence in midfield (as often happens in the Championship) then again, the move could have ended. I need say no more about what happens next for McCleary.
"And that's how you fool a full-back."
All three of our goals had variation and showcased a lot of what we all hoped would be inside this squad all season. The epitomy of this recovery has been shown by two loan players, namely Nathaniel Chalobah and Jamie Mackie. The latter has pulled up the collective socks of the team and scored some vital goals recently. None more so than our third and final goal which combined both our loanees.
The goal looked impressive in the flesh, but looking at it again as a still shot it's even more admirable.
Personally, Chalobah was my man of the match, he and Danny Williams controlled the midfield with some ease. His confidence grew after a very tidy performance at left back against Brighton and he continued in this vein when returning to his more familiar midfield role.
As we can see here, this through ball to eventual goalscorer, Mackie, is not a simple one. Having skipped past two challenges, and now with four players in close attendance to the ball, an accurate pass is a must...and it was laid on perfectly between left back and centre half.
Mackie made no mistake, controlling the ball expertly before hammering the low drive past the helpless Williams of the Bradford variety. How we have cried out for a forward to be playing on the shoulder of a defender this season rather than with their back to the goal. Mackie has a knack of putting himself in the right positions at the right times and no more than this fine finish.
And what did the manager think of that?
So much for a man who doesn't, by his own admission, jump up and down on the touchline! Safe to say that he REALLY enjoyed that finish.
Aside from our system which worked a treat, the tempo was quicker, the passing was much more crisp, the movement that's been missing all season was there. Pretty much everything Clarke would have wanted from his team, he got in spades. The fact that we were a force going forward as well as denying City to just one shot on target (out of a total of just three) showed it was as much of a complete performance as we have seen in recent history.
Bradford may have run out of gas and luck after a highly impressive and memorable cup run, but for many reasons beyond the scoreline, the manner of the victory for Reading was just as pleasing and sweet...(Caroline.)
Graphics courtesy of BBC Sport.