Al Habsi; Gunter, Ferdinand (McShane 68'), Cooper, Obita; Tshibola (Hector 10'), Norwood; Robson-Kanu, Williams, Quinn (John 79'); Vydra
Just two changes to the team which came back to draw 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday last weekend - Stephen Quinn came in for Lucas Piazon on the wing, whilst Aaron Tshibola made his own comeback from injury as he replaced the cup-tied George Evans in the middle of the park. Tshibola would have the first real chance of the match when he tried an audacious long range volley after just five minutes, which hit the top of the net as it flew over. Sadly for the youngster that would be his last real involvement, as he injured himself in a challenge on the floor and had to be replaced by Michael Hector.
Tom Bradshaw is the man in demand for the Saddlers, and he almost showed any visiting scouts exactly why he's so highly rated. A long ball forward found the number nine running at Jake Cooper, the striker eventually firing in an effort which deflected off Cooper and agonisingly wide for a corner. At the other end was a forward trying to continue his fine form in the FA Cup; Matej Vydra couldn't quite control a lofted through ball from Oliver Norwood and the chance was gone.
In truth the first half was a tedious affair for the first 35 or so minutes, Walsall dominating possession without ever really troubling Ali Al Habsi, whilst the Royals simply couldn't wrest any control of the game. But it was a moment of magic which finally unlocked the match. Chris Gunter threw the ball to Hal Robson Kanu on the corner of the six yard box, the Welshman turned his man and fired high past a stranded Neil Etheridge. Four minutes later it was 2-0, with Championship class coming to the fore. Danny Williams played a beautiful slide rule pass behind the Saddlers' back line to Stephen Quinn, who drilled across goal for the simplest of close-range finishes for Vydra. The Czech had a chance to add to his tally just before half time when Robson-Kanu robbed Walsall left-back Taylor and played him in on goal, but he dragged his shot horribly wide. Two lapses in concentration, or two brilliant pieces of play, meant Reading went in to half time with a 2-0 lead.
The second half started in much the same way the first half ended, with Walsall opening up far more in need of a goal to salvage any hopes they had of continuing their own cup run. Sam Mantom released Romaine Sawyers running in on goal and the St Kitts and Nevis international fired a rasping drive from 25 yards which hit the bar on the way over Al Habsi's goal. The Royals found the framework just five minutes later, Norwood's free-kick smacking the corner of post and bar after Danny Williams had been fouled en route to goal. Williams had another chance to extend the lead on the hour mark but he couldn't get his effort on target after Jordan Obita's effort was punched out by Etheridge.
Persistence was the key though, as the American did eventually find the net to make it 3-0 and finally allay any fears that Reading could throw away their advantage. Williams tried to play in Vydra but instead saw his through ball fall back at his feet - instead, he charged forward through little resistance from the Saddlers back line and finished low past Etheridge for game over. The unfortunate goalkeeper was injured in a collision with his own centre-back whilst conceding that goal, meaning Craig MacGillivray came on to guard the net for the last fifteen minutes.
The combination of a third goal and the injury seemed to knock all life out of the away side, whilst Reading were intent on extending the advantage. Vydra failed to get the ball out of his feet when presented with a chance, but found Williams who curled over. Robson-Kanu crossed for Williams at the far post who headed back past MacGillivray... but Vydra tapping in on the line saw him ruled offside and the goal was chalked off. The much-debated striker would grab a second of his own though, a peach of a cross from Chris Gunter emphatically nodded home.
This match was by no means a classic but it showed the ability Reading have when everything comes together. Credit must go to Walsall who, for most of the first half, frustrated the Royals and didn't let them have any time on the ball to create openings. But once the goals came, the home team were firmly in control. Hal Robson Kanu's umpteenth rebirth seems to have come with a switch to the right wing, whilst Danny Williams' charging runs through the middle have caused problems for many an opponent this season and the Saddlers were yet another victim. The league form still needs sorting, with consecutive wins still eluding Brian McDermott in his second spell, but if Reading can continue to perform in the cup then confidence should - should - come back.