FA Cup week. It can mean different things to fans based on how your team is doing in the league, but this year’s encounter with Luton Town in a third competition this season may not fill many fans with excitement. So in case you’re not feeling the FA Cup magic, I thought what better way to get that spirit going than taking a look back at arguably our most exciting FA Cup run of the 21st century?
I’m talking of course about the 2009/10 cup run that took Reading to the sixth round. That year, a team that sat in 20th position in the Championship table when they began their FA Cup campaign was able to sweep aside Premier League opposition.
I’ve done my best to find highlights of all of the below games to help you take this trip down memory lane with me. Some were a little harder to find than others, so in some cases, you’ll just find the goals, rather than highlights of the whole match.
Let’s dive in!
Reading 1-1 Liverpool
Let’s set the scene: the mood around the Madejski at the turn of the last decade was not good. Brendan Rodgers had been sacked just two weeks earlier, and some nobody called Brian McDermott had taken over as caretaker boss. Days before this game, we’d been played off the park by lowly Plymouth Argyle and an FA Cup tie against even a struggling Liverpool side didn’t seem like the best way to restore confidence.
Simon Church, despite the warm feeling I have toward him as a long-time Reading contributor, never filled me with confidence as an out-and-out finisher. Good thing there wasn’t much “finishing” required with Reading’s goal in this game. From an inswinging free kick that looked over hit, Rasiak athletically knocked the ball back across the face of the goal. Church hardly had time to react as the ball ricocheted from his shins and past Reina in the Liverpool net. Reading were ahead against one of the most famous teams in the land.
It wouldn’t last for long. Kuyt beat the offside trap as Gerrard curled a bounced ball into the box. The Dutchman may or may not have touched the ball (he may or may not have been offside too but that’s beside the point).
For all their quality, Liverpool and Reading shared the same low number of shots over the full 90 minutes: just three shots apiece. That low number summed up a quiet second half, but holding Liverpool at bay was quite an achievement from a Reading team that had not been able to keep the aforementioned Argyle at bay earlier in the week. Onto a replay at historic Anfield!
Liverpool 1-2 Reading (AET)
Sometimes, there’s just something magic about the FA Cup. And if it can be in the air, as the cliche goes, it was this evening at Anfield.
Reading started well and could have scored twice within the first 25 minutes, with Rasiak and Church unable to connect with biting crosses, when a touch would’ve likely sent them past the Liverpool keeper. Liverpool pressed back against Reading, and went close through Benayoun, but Reading were very much still in this tie when Liverpool took the lead just before half time through a deflected own goal.
Liverpool kept Reading tightly hemmed in as the second half unfolded, their possession easily eclipsing the mark they set in the original tie. They struggled to use that possession to find clear-cut chances however, and when Jobi McAnuff streaked down the pitch past countless Liverpool players in the 79th minute, it appeared destined that Liverpool would rue their missed opportunities. It wasn’t to be however, as Jobi poked just wide after leaving the defence for dead with impressive pace and footwork.
It looked like time was going to run out on Reading; the agonisingly close chance from McAnuff seemed like it would be our final say. That was until Yossi Benayoun bizarrely kicked Shane Long’s ankle out from under him in the box. There wasn’t a chance he could’ve won the ball from his angle, and the referee agreed, pointing to the spot. Reading had a chance 92 minutes into the replay!
Gylfi proved once more that he was the calmest head in the room, coolly stroking his penalty past a keeper he sent the wrong way, and Reading had held Liverpool over 90 minutes for the second time in a month - an incredible achievement for a side looking over their shoulders at relegation spots at the time.
It would get better in extra time. Brynyar Gunnarsson, verified Reading legend but perhaps not our most skillful player ever, found his dancing shoes in the ninth minute. He artfully skipped around Benayoun and then nutmegged Insua on his way to the wing. Once there he curled a cross of perfect height into the box for the awaiting Shane Long, who delicately glanced his header across goal and into the back of the net.
Reading led, for the first time in the tie, 190 minutes in. They wouldn’t give it up. Even when Benayoun burst free from a defence caught unawares, Federici came up with a huge save, thrusting himself to the ground and making himself big to firmly reject Benayoun’s effort. The seconds ticked on, though they felt like hours, and Liverpool’s chances faded.
The final whistle blew and Reading were into the fourth round! Having taken down one of the most famous teams in England, the Royals could already be happy with their cup exploits, but they weren’t done yet.
Reading 1-0 Burnley
Burnley were a Premier League team at this time. A struggling Premier League team sure, but add another “giant” killing to the list for this year’s run. Regardless of Burnley’s abilities that season, this fourth-round clash presented something of an opportunity for revenge for the Royals. The previous season, Burnley had cruised by Reading in the playoffs to effectively end Steve Coppell’s Reading career.
This game wasn’t a classic, but it ended with an Icelandic explosion only matched in 2010 by the March eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. Alertly latching onto a curled ball into the area, Gylfi got ahead of Kevin McDonald to slip the ball into the far side netting,
After the game, caretaker manager Brian McDermott made no bones about whether or not he wanted the caretaker label removed from his position. “I feel I’m the right man at the right time”. How right he was…
Reading 2-2 West Brom
This game had everything: two red cards including one for a substitute, a first-minute goal and Jimmy Kebe! Who doesn’t love talking about Jimmy Kebe? West Brom were promoted this year, going up with Roberto di Matteo at the helm, just two years before he’d win the Champions League with Chelsea. The Baggies then, just like every other team that visited the Madejski in the cup that year, came in as favourites.
Reading paid no mind to that though and started off hot, with the aforementioned Jimmy getting on the score sheet after just seven seconds! This goal became relevant again this season as Yakou Meite scored after a similar length of time against Blackburn Rovers. It seems that Kebe was maybe just a second ahead of Meite though, and he even did it with the goalkeeper still defending his net!
West Brom would equalise before the 20-minute mark though, and go on to dominate the first half. After the break, a lack of discipline then settled in from both sides. Shane Long saw a straight red for a vicious studs-up challenge, and then Mulumbu spent just 18 minutes on the pitch as a substitute before deciding he’d had enough of the frigid February weather, and picked up two yellows for an early shower.
Church added another FA Cup goal to his record with 17 minutes to go and it looked like Reading were heading for the sixth round. It wasn’t to be though, as Mattock struck with three minutes remaining, arguably giving the Baggies a deserved draw. On to a second replay in three rounds for the Royals then!
West Brom 2-3 Reading (AET)
Until I watched these highlights, Reading’s orange and blue away shirt had been banished to the very furthest depths of my memory. Apologies if you’re an orange-shirt apologist but it really does nothing for me. At least the memories of this game aren’t quite as painful on the eye as the strip is though.
The replay did not start as the Royals would have liked. With West Brom dominating, the commentator described Federici’s net as a coconut shy. Finally one of those coconuts fell, as Federici fumbled a powerful shot in the opening minutes of the game, which was followed up and eventually finished by Koren to give the Baggies the lead. Scott Carson decided to get in on the fumbling fun just three minutes later though, as he parried straight into the feet of Kebe who finished the rebound with aplomb.
This was not Federici’s game. Just after half time, Koren took a tame shot from outside of the area. Somehow, the ball wriggled under Federici, leaving him pounding the ground in frustration. With West Brom in the ascendancy, the second half seemed like a slow death for Reading’s FA Cup dreams, but Brian Howard had other plans. From a hoofed ball forward, Kebe pounced on a mistake to leave West Brom sprinting back towards their own net. His pass into the box found Howard waiting who unleashed a powerful finish into the back of the net with aplomb.
Come extra time, as he often would that year, Gylfi called game. Taking just one touch to steady the ball, Sigurdsson somehow managed to both chip the keeper and powerfully curl it around him at the same time. What a treat to look back at an FA Cup run like this, when so much of it is punctuated by the goals and accomplishments of one of Reading’s best ever players.
Reading 2-4 Aston Villa
Screw you John Carew. Not that I’ve got anything against the big Norwegian, but two FA Cup semi-final appearances in the 2010s would’ve been a lovely record for us. Having taken down two Premier League teams already, Reading were reasonably confident going into this tilt against top-tier Villa. Come half time, they could have been extremely confident!
Shane Long pounced twice for Reading without reply from Aston Villa before the first half was out, leaving fans in ecstasy and dreaming of the semi finals. First, he showed his poaching instinct that he would deploy on his way to 21 goals the next season. From a corner, Long latched onto a headed ball across goal to nod home from closer range.
Next, Kebe scorched down the wing onto an incisive through ball. With Villa’s defence stretched, Kebe cut it back for Long who slowed his run to bury a neat first-time finish past Brad Friedel in goal. 2-0 up after 45 minutes, Reading went down the tunnel dreaming of a third Premier League scalp in one FA Cup run.
It wasn’t to be.
Villa showed their Premier League quality in the second half, this of course being a team boasting long-time England internationals Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner. It was the former, Young, who got Villa started on the comeback, thundering home after confusion in the Reading defence. Carew then got started on an unfortunate hat trick, and by the time he had his second, a classy finish but perhaps the result of tired defending, Reading were behind just 12 minutes into the second half. In a sad final touch, 05/06 team legend Ivar Ingimarsson helped Carew to finish his hat trick, tripping him in the box for a penalty. Carew buried the resulting spot kick and Reading’s run was over.
In a bittersweet final touch, another of Reading’s finest of the millennium got a cursory run-out in the 91st minute. Steve Sidwell would see out our fine cup run in the claret and blue of Villa.
And so it ended: disappointed that we’d let a two-goal lead slip, but proud of the fight we’d shown throughout the run during a difficult league season. With the benefit of hindsight, the shoots of recovery that led to Reading’s playoff final appearance and subsequent Championship win over the next two seasons were on full display here. The workrate, the never-say-die attitude of the team, and especially the ability of Brian McDermott to get the players up for big games. We fell short, but we learned a lot about what we could achieve when we put our minds to it, and I’m sure that belief helped fuel the incredible start to the decade all Reading fans cherish.