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Title READING FC got back to winning ways at bottom club Rotherham - and could even afford the luxury of a missed penalty as they eased up to eighth in the table. As usual Royals dominated the possession statistics, this time by a massive 74-26percent, but it took until five minutes from the end for them to make the breakthrough. It was skipper Paul McShane who did the business, with a neat piece of skill, controlling the ball with his thigh before volleying it high into the net following a corner. Earlier Garath McCleary saw his penalty saved by former Nottingham Forest team-mate Lee Camp - and despite their near total domination, Reading still had to rely on a handful brilliant saves by Ali Al-Habsi. Ironically, McShane, returning after injury, had not been in the starting line-up, but he came off the bench after 28 minutes to replace young Liam Kelly, who was making his debut in midfield.
The match started at 100mph, with chances at both ends. Kelly tried to make an immediate impact with a long-range shot which was blocked, then Yann Kermorgant headed wide from a promising position. When Rotherham got going they almost got the early goal they were so keen to get, Joe Newell forcing a flying save from Ali Al-Habsi. Royals soon got back in their stride and Garath McCleary was just wide after being set up by John Swift. Moments later Swift tried the same ball and this time keeper Lee Camp rushed out to nick it off McCleary’s toes. Rotherham were not to be denied for long and Jon Taylor forced another diving save from Al-Habsi.
As usual, Royals were dominating the ball, but as usual, they could not put an end product on it in terms of a goal. Danny Williams had a good effort charged down, and a dangerous Roy Beerens cross bounced off the right legs as far as Rotherham were concerned and it was cleared.Kelly’s debut lasted only 28 minutes before he was replaced by fit-again skipper Paul McShane. It could have been tactical to allow Joey van den Berg forward to stiffen the midfield. Whatever the reason, it kept Reading on the front foot and twice Swift went close to the opener, first firing over from the edge of the box, then sending one inches wide with Camp scrambling after it. For a time it was all Reading, and Beerens might have done better than slicing wide after Kermorgant had been blocked out.
The second half started as the first had, with Al-Habsi having to make a worldy save from a Richard Woods header. Then there was a huge scramble round the Reading goal, but Royals survived, and when they got going, they had a golden chance to take the lead. Van den Berg was fouled in the area, but Camp - who has a history of penalty saves against Reading - guessed the right way and saved McCleary’s spot-kick. Royals soon tried to make up for that disappointment, Beerens was close from the edge of the area, Kermorgant volleyed wide from Beerens’ set-up, then McCleary tested Camp.
Still the goal would not come. Ten minutes later they went even closer, Swift rattling the crossbar after rampaging through from midfield. A neat move between Kermorgant and McCleary looked promising, but the winger’s first-time shot was saved. Rotherham thought the danger had passed when Camp made an amazing save from Beerens’ effort following a corner, but after the ball looped high in the air, McShane controlled it and whacked in the vital volley. MANAGER'S COMMENTS Attendance: 8,800 - 644 Royals fans.
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------------------------------------- THEY say there’s a first time for everything - and how handy it would be if Reading FC could beat Arsenal for the first time ever in Tuesday’s EFL Cup fourth-round tie at The Emirates! The teams have met 13 times in 81 years, and Arsenal have won the lot. Not even so much as a draw either for the Biscuitmen or the Royals. In Premier League days Arsenal were the only one of the big six to beat Reading every time - and outclass them most times. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea all surrendered the odd point or points to Steve Coppell’s team, or Brian McDermott’s. But not Arsenal.
Even in that astonishing League Cup meeting at the Mad Stad in October 2012, easily the most remarkable game, probably in club history, the Gunners found a way to come back from 4-0 down in the first half. Royals gave away a sloppy goal 20 seconds before the break, another early in the second half, and with a minute to go it was still 4-2. Arsenal grabbed a third in the 89th minute, poured forward and got the crucial fourth thanks entirely to the elastic watch of the referee. Theo Walcott scored in the sixth minute of “four to be added”. The Gunners soon scored again in added time, but the Royals were not finished, their “big effing Russian” Pavel Pogrebyak squaring it at 5-5. Reading went for it in a big way and went close many times before Walcott snatched another in the last minute of added time. Insult was added to injury when Arsenal went straight down and scored a seventh - worse still, hat-trick hero Walcott is, of course, a Berkshire boy, coming from Newbury.
Then there was that FA Cup semi-final in 2015. Nobody, not even the most Loyal Royal, gave what was by then a very ordinary, struggling Reading side a chance at Wembley - damage limitation was the best hope, but most among the 40,000 Reading contingent feared the worst. The “worst”, however, was almost the “best”. When Alexis Sanchez scored to set up Arsenal for what most thought would be a routine win. But then-boss Steve Clarke had a battle plan which frustrated Arsenal long enough for Garath McCleary to score what was, by then, a deserved equaliser. Pogrebnyak might have won it in the dying minutes, but it went into extra time, and Royals were still very much in it when Aussie keeper Adam Federici had one of those “moments” footballers never forget in their careers. Feds will forever be haunted by the way he let a soft shot from Sanchez slip through his fingers and legs, and dribble a foot over the line (above) before he clawed it back in vain.
Sometimes down the years the Gunners have been made to sweat - once in Steve Coppell’s glory days of 2006/07 Arsenal clung on grimly for a 2-1 win at The Emirates, thanks to a worldy last minute save by Jens Lehmann from Steve Sidwell’s goalbound thunderbolt. And back in October 1967, in a League Cup-tie at Highbury, Reading lost 1-0, but anyone among the 10,000 Reading fans who filled one side of the ground that night will remember Ronnie Bayliss crashing in a shot so hard from 25 yards that it ricocheted back past him when it hit the crossbar.
And so to this week. While Royals will be tempted to start with the team which finished at Rotherham, rather than their “Cup” team, It will be interesting which eleven Arsene Wenger fields. The Gunners are involved in the title chase again, and also looking to progress in the Champions League as well as the EFL competition. With their monster resources they usually manage to put out a side to get the job done in cup-ties against lower league opposition - and Wenger might well view Reading’s sometimes defensive frailty as a licence for him to rest some of his star names. Jaap Stam’s men, however, will be up for this one in a big way with a quarter-final and maybe onwards towards Wembley coming into focus. Whatever, it’s sure to be another memorable night - and maybe 14th time lucky!