Villa fightback stuns Royals
7th March 2010
Despite leading 2-0 at half time, the Royals were beaten by Aston Villa who scored four second half goals. Shane Long had grabbed a first half double but a John Carew hat trick and a goal from Ashley Young sent Villa to Wembley.
Brian McDermott had choices to make in his team line up after the impressive win over Sheffield Wednesday and he made the bold decision to drop two goal Grzegorz Rasiak and bring in the returning Shane Long. He then reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Simon Church wide left and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the middle, Matt Mills also returned at centre back for the cup tied Zurab Kizhanishvili.
Villa started the game well and had a lot of possession but we weathered the early storm and had the ball in the net after just 10 minutes when Jimmy Kebe smashed into the roof of the net, but Church was penalised for a slight push in the back of Stephen Warnock. The England hopeful made a meal of it but it was probably the correct decision from ref Mike Dean.
The Royals dominated the first half and really took the game to their Premier League counterparts and a number of free kicks and corners caused problems for Villa, with Mills winning everything in their box.
It was from a succession of corners that we took the lead, firstly a set piece found its way to the edge of the box where the waiting Jay Tabb smashed a fantastic volley towards goal but Irish defender Richard Dunne got his head in the way and cleared it for another corner kick. This time Brian Howard delivered well, Mills won it and set up Long who headed home from just yards out. The Madejski Stadium went wild and was rocking with the noise the home fans were creating, it`s been a long time since that has happened!
The feel good factor continued with more impressive play from Brian McDermott`s side, one great move ending with Dunne blocking Sigurdsson`s goal bound effort. John Carew did have the ball in the net just before that for Villa but it was ruled out for what looked like offside, but on closer look it was for a foul by James Collins on goal scorer Long.
One of the best first half performances by a Reading side in a long while was capped with a second goal before the break, some intricate play in the midfield saw Sigurdsson release Kebe down the right hand side, and through on goal. As supporters called for him to shoot, he calmly squared the ball to the unmarked Long and the Irishman finished with ease to send those very supporters wild once more! Long picked up exactly where he had left off before his four match suspension and justified his selection in the side.
Half time arrived with thoughts firmly on Wembley, chants of que cera cera rang out in the concourses and it was agreed that we just needed to keep it tight for the first 15 minutes to stand a real chance of winning the game.
Unfortunately 10 minutes later the momentum had swung firmly back in Villa`s favour. Within two minutes they had pulled a goal back when an agonising ball into the middle missed the whole of the Royals defence and fell to Ashley Young who tapped into an empty net.
Five minutes later Stewart Downing crossed and John Carew headed home to level the scores. The third goal seemed like a formality with the silent home crowd simply expecting it to happen, Warnock overlapped down the left and his cut back found Carew who pocked the ball beyond Adam Federici`s outstretched hand.
If it wasn`t for Federici there would have been a fourth goal when Emile Heskey raced through but the Australian keeper made a great save to keep us in the cup tie. Credit to the Royals though, after the horrific start to the second half, we finally got a grip on the game again and had a few decent chances to level.
Ivar Ingimarsson saw one header cleared off the line by Young while Friedel saved another, both from deliveries from Sigurdsson. Sub Rasiak hit a wonderful half volley but the American keeper stopped that one as well, and despite a few other long range shots, we couldn`t break through a resolute Villa defence.
In stoppage time Villa secured their place at Wembley when Ingimarsson pulled down Carew in the area, the decision to award a spot kick for the foul totally correct however the big Norwegian appeared to foul the Royals centre back in the build up. The striker converted the kick himself and grabbed the match ball in the process with an excellent hat trick.
Despite the way we threw away the game in the second half we can feel mighty proud of our achievements to even get this far in the cup and I`m struggling to think of a better first half performance from a Reading side since the 2006 Championship winning season.
With Derby arriving at the Mad Stad on Wednesday, we have a perfect opportunity to forget the second period in this game and take further steps to ensure we are playing Championship football next season.