After an early scare Reading came through this Third Round tie with Crawley relatively comfortably, showing their Premier League quality with two Adam Le Fondre goals to prevent a potential cup shock.
Reading: Federici (7), Cummings (7), Pearce (7), Morrison (7), Harte (5), McCleary (8), Tabb (7), Karacan (7), Robson-Kanu (6), Hunt (7), Le Fondre (8).
It could have been oh so different. After just 14 seconds Ian Harte (the Reading captain for the day) made a hash of controlling a hopeful long ball from Crawley's Mark Connolly, chesting it straight to Nicky Adams, who ran towards the Reading goal without being challenged before unleashing a fantastic strike high to Federici's left into the top corner from 25 yards. Reading fans could have been forgiven for thinking "here we go again".
McDermott had made 7 changes to the team that had gone down 3-1 to Tottenham on New Years Day, with Cummings and Morrison in for Gunter and Mariappa, McCleary, Tabb and Kanu in for McAnuff, Leigertwood and Kebe and Hunt and Le Fondre for the Pog and Guthrie to complete the 4-4-2 formation. After those 14 seconds it was looking as if those changes were going to cost us.
And so for much of the first ten minutes Crawley were all over us, both Billy Clarke and Adams came close to adding to the home sides lead. Crawley can also consider themselves unlucky not to have got a penalty when (from my position certainly) Josh Simpson cut in from the left and fired in a cross which deflected out for a corner off Morrison's arm. Joe Walsh also saw his goal bound header saved, acrobatically, by Federici. It appeared Reading were in for a torrid afternoon, a classic Third Round FA Cup tie, with the lower league side showing no fear over their Premier League visitors. Luckily it wasn't to be.
Having weathered the storm for 12 minutes Reading finally created, and scored to equalise and remove some anxiety held by nearly 2,000 Reading fans in the away end. The ball was worked to Harte from a Reading corner, he crossed finding McCleary at the back post, he cushioned a header down to the penalty spot where the onrushing Le Fondre finished with aplomb under the dive of Paul Jones in the Crawley goal. The goal seemed to galvanise Reading, who saw a Hunt shot blocked, and several promising moves broken down by the Crawley defence.
That said Crawley were still causing Reading problems at the back, with Federici forced to deny first Simpson after another poor piece of defending from Harte, and then Clarke who was denied from close range as Federici spread himself to save.However it was Reading who stole a completely undeserved half time lead. Some very good work from McCleary on the right, turning Crawley's left back, David Hunt, inside out before crossing for Hunt to tuck the ball in from close range past Jones. It was thoroughly undeserved, but the travelling fans weren't going to complain.
In the second half it was much more comfortable, with Reading looking much more composed and confident. Soon after the restart Karacan glanced a cross from Robson-Kanu wide of goal, before Kanu played a lovely ball over the top, Hunt ran onto it and into the penalty area, falling under the challenge of Crawley's Walsh. As the Reading fans appealed Andrew Taylor, the referee, pointed to the spot, though Walsh later said he got the ball it looked like a penalty.
Le Fondre confidently blasted the ball into the roof of the net, before running off towards the away crowd showing the message "RIP Auntie Sheena", who passed away on New Year's Eve. After that game ebbed and flowed but Reading never looked like surrendering their lead. The away fans, as they had been all game, were giving it their all, chanting "There's only one Stevie Coppell" (now Director of Football at Crawley), "How **** must you be we're winning away?" and "If Jay Tabb scores, we're on the pitch!" In fact, with every touch Tabb had within range of the goal was greeted with shouts of "SHOOT!" and every foray into the penalty area brought expectant shouts from the away crowd.
For the remaining 42 minutes Reading weren't troubled much, Crawley remained a threat but were always met with the impressive Federici in goal, tipping Adam's dipping effort over the bar. He looked back to his best, showing agility and good positioning, along with some very impressive saves too, which is good news for the rest of the season. In front of Federici we got see the first game with both Pearce and Morrison playing, both were solid and seemed to have a real connection that meant they were troubled only rarely, and often cleared the ball very well under pressure.
For Reading Le Fondre could and probably should have completed his hat trick, he mis-controlled horribly when 1 on 1 with Jones, after being played in by Robson-Kanu. He should have had the opportunity to complete it when Cummings surged in from the right only to be felled in the box, only to be booked for diving, much to his and the Reading fans consternation. Hunt also had an opportunity late on, shooting fiercely at Jones who saved well. The final whistle was greeted with cheers from the fans and Reading were into the Fourth Round.
And as the players walked off after clapping the fans, Alex Pearce came over and celebrated in front of the fans, he was greeted with chants of "Sign the contract Alex Pearce" he smiled, gave a thumbs up and tapped the badge. It'd be madness to let him go, possibly one of the most passionate player I've ever seen play for us, he's Reading through and through!
So, a potential banana skin successfully negotiated. There were plenty of positives to take, Federici looks back to his best, Pearce and Morrison looked very solid in their partnership, McCleary (the forgotten man recently) caused lots of problem down the right and Le Fondre looked very good upfront. We also had our first sight of Daniel Carrico, who came along to train with the substitutes before the game. On a negative note Harte's defending worries me, he looked out of his depth against Crawley at the start, and though he came into the game more, he shouldn't play against West Brom. And aside from the football it was disappointing to see some of our fans get kicked out in the second half, clearly some had more "important" things to do than watch the football.
But hey ho, on we go, and a home tie awaits against Sheffield United in the next round. And the small matter of the return of Dave Kitson!
Cheers to @simply_langers for writing this week's match report and if you fancy guesting, why not get in touch via twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org