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Stats Corner: The Importance Of A Cup Shock

Can Reading repeat previous FA Cup heroics?

Soccer - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Manchester United v Reading - Old Trafford Photo by Nick Potts - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

The less said about Reading’s league performances over the festive period the better. So what better way to forget about being drubbed at home by Swansea City than by getting drubbed by a much better team in a different competition?

Well we’re all in luck then, as next stop on the Rocky Reading Horror Show is a date at Old Trafford against a Man Utd team managed by a man who knows all about scoring against Reading in FA Cup matches. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer of course scored the third goal in that fifth-round replay collapse in 2007 that saw the Royals 3-0 down after just six minutes.

It turns out Reading have a bit of a history with Man Utd in this competition. You may have seen a stat appear after the third round draw which named Reading as Man Utd’s most common FA Cup opponent in history – as Saturday will mark meeting number 15 between the two teams, the first encounter stemming all the way back to 1912. Remarkably though, the two have never been drawn in the League Cup, so quite the contrast.

This will actually be the tenth FA Cup tie between the sides; Reading having lost eight times, winning on just one occasion on our way to the semi-finals in 1927. There has been a history of draws and replays though. All in all, five draws have occurred between the two teams, most recently in 2007 when a Gunnarsson long-ranger and a player of the round performance from Adam Federici brought Man Utd back to Berkshire.

The last time Reading beat a Premier League top six team in the FA Cup third round was that famous victory in a replay over Liverpool in 2010. Now, interestingly enough, that first FA Cup game - a 1-1 draw at the Madejski - came off the back of a heavy 4-1 defeat to Plymouth Argyle. See where I’m coming from?

Now I’m not one to draw parallels but it’s fairly interesting, especially as that defeat to Plymouth consigned the Royals to increasing relegation fears, leaving them just two points and places above the relegation zone. It also meant Reading had won just five league games that season, just one more than the current side.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round Replay - Liverpool v Reading - Anfield Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

At that point in time Reading fans were as equally anxious as to where their team were headed, and two great performances against a Premier League giant helped catapult our season, not only embarking on a cup run to the quarter-final but up the league to eventually finish ninth.

Now I’m not saying we’ll beat Man Utd, or that in the unlikely event we do we’ll turn our season around. But it’s useful to remember that there was a time, not too long ago, when things seemed desperate. Also note the sort of momentum an FA Cup win can bring – meaning Saturday’s game may be more important than fans might currently think.

However, in the more-than-likely event that a repeat of our 2017 FA Cup third-round result at Old Trafford is on the cards, it will mean that Jose Gomes will become only the second Reading manager in the club’s post WW2 history to fail to win any of their first four games in all competitions.

The other, Nigel Adkins took six matches. However, unlike some other new Reading managers who had fairly mixed starts, Adkins didn’t have the saving grace of having a nice cup win against lower league opposition to get him off the list – Brendan Rogers I’m looking at you. Anyway, I’m sure Jose Gomes will be eager not to join Adkins on that list of ex-managers, so here’s to hoping the impossible happens on Saturday lunchtime (gulp).