Brian McDermott made two changes from the 0-0 draw against Burnley last weekend, with Deniss Rakels making his full debut for the club in place of the cup tied Yann Kermorgant , whilst Simon Cox also came into the first XI having not started a game since August. Matej Vydra was fit enough to return to the substitutes bench.
Keeping West Brom At Bay
There's not a lot to report from the first half at the Madjeski Stadium, but Reading showed that they were more than equal to their Premier League opponents. Indeed, it was the Royals who had the best chances of the opening 45 minutes, with captain Paul McShane of all people very nearly hitting the back of the net with a half volley from 20 yards following a corner.
The Irishman's effort just skimmed wide, but Hal Robson-Kanu got even closer, as his powerful header was tipped over the crossbar by Ben Foster. There was a lot of neat build up play from the Royals, most of it involving the new attacking partnership of Deniss Rakels and Simon Cox. But misplaced passes and lack of strength in the tackle meant that many opportunities were wasted.
Any opportunities that West Brom had were well dealt with by Paul McShane and Jake Cooper, helped by the presence of Michael Hector covering the back four. Chris Brunt's often emphatic delivery from dead-ball situations didn't trouble Reading's defence, whilst efforts by Saido Berahino and Sandro were easily dealt with.
Showing That Underdog Spirit
Tony Pulis obviously fired his team up at half-time as I thought that the Baggies started the second half very well, and the first ten minutes was their best spell of the game. Darren Fletcher deservedly gave them a lead with a very good finish that went through the legs of Cooper and gave Ali Al-Habsi little chance. Credit must go to Salomon Rondon for some good build up play.
But if anything, that goal gave Reading the kick up the backside that they needed. Was the cup run and effectively the 2015-16 season going to end here and now? You bet not. West Brom crept back into their shell and with the crowd geed up following the introduction of Matej Vydra and Ola John, McShane notched his first Reading goal with a powerful header from Oliver Norwood's delivery. It might have been against his former club, but the skipper's celebration showed that his team were here to win and the cup tie was very much back on.
From then on, it was the underdog spirit and magic of the cup that encapsulated the 11 players on the pitch and the 15,000 odd Royals fans in the stands dreaming of another trip to Wembley. When another free-kick was awarded to the Royals just over 10 minutes later, you knew what was coming. From another Norwood whipped ball, this time it was Michael Hector who nodded in at the far post, a deserved goal following an impressive display from the Chelsea loanee.
It wasn't then backs to wall defending from Reading, but they dug in deep as West Brom increased the pressure for the first time the whole game. Firstly, Saido Berahino's header was cleared off the line by Norwood before goalscorer Fletcher missed a golden opportunity from extremely close range which Al-Habsi gratefully gathered. He wasn't the only one grateful for the Scotsman's lack of a cool head.
In the last few seconds, Hal Robson-Kanu raced through on the breakaway, but his shot curled wide. Fine. We'll have to settle for just the two goals on this magical afternoon. But a third did come as a result of another counter attack, with good skill from substitute John setting up Lucas Piazon who had only been on the pitch for a minute. 3-1. SCENES. WEMBLEY.
I think even a West Brom fan wouldn't disagree that Reading very much deserved the victory today. The chant "Premier League, you're having a laugh" was very much the case today, as a virtually full strength Baggies side was poor. Yes, they were worthy of their goal at that point of the game, but showed little attacking impetus and rarely troubled the Royals' back four.
But take nothing away from Reading though. I don't know what it is, but something seems to come alive within those players when the FA Cup comes to town. I thought the first goal would prove to be crucial in this game, but a dominant comeback performance proved that that wasn't the case. This campaign, like 2014-15, is now all about the cup. There does have to come a time, in my mind next season, when league performances need to take priority, but whilst we're on this wave of positivity in the cup, let's enjoy it. Who knows, another trip to Wembley could be on the cards? Playing under the arch is just one game away, and Reading will find out their quarter-final opponents tomorrow evening at around 6:15pm following the Chelsea vs Manchester City tie.
Reading: Al Habsi, Gunter, McShane (c), Cooper, Obita, Hector, Robson-Kanu, Norwood, Quinn (Piazon 90+3'), Rakels (John 59'), Cox (Vydra 59').
West Bromwich Albion: Foster, Chester, Evans, Olsson, Brunt, Sessegnon, Fletcher, Sandro (Pritchard 82'), McClean (Anichebe 75'), Berahino, Rondon.