FA5: A proper Cup thriller at last
FFT.com's intrepid Neil Redpath has seen every FA Cup round since the very first, in August. The latest round was his first return visit...
FA Cup Fifth Round: Reading vs West Brom
Saturday February 13, Madejski Stadium
As I sat in a pub near Liverpool Street Station after a lifeless Third Round tie between Fulham and Swindon, little did I know how well I would get to know the team giving my beloved Liverpool a torrid time on the portable TV situated snugly in the corner.
They would end up being a team that I would not only follow in the Fourth Round but also in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. And that would entail me becoming a member of the club.
It's a club struggling in its league, but one which Ã¢ÂÂ in true FA Cup tradition Ã¢ÂÂ has seen off two top-flight league teams, with a high-flying second-tier team up next. The team in question is Reading FC.
IÃ¢ÂÂm sure you'd forgive me if I were to hold a grudge against the team from Berkshire. But after an impressive win at Anfield and a decisive win against Burnley, the underdogs, as they were called in every round so far, gained my respect and thoroughly deserved to be in this round of the FA Cup.
IÃ¢ÂÂm woken up early on the Saturday morning by a text message saying Ã¢ÂÂ10% off all Reading Merchandise at todayÃ¢ÂÂs game.Ã¢ÂÂ
As tempting as it sounds, I manage to hold onto my money for the car parking fees. In case you missed the last blog, sit down: it's eight pounds!
We set off at 9am Saturday morning. A bit of Valentine's Day shopping on the way (to keep the Mrs happy) doesnÃ¢ÂÂt slow us down and we get to the ground with two hours to spare.
Same car park, same price (it's less of a shock the second time round, but not by much), so let's hope for the same outcome from the last game.
We head towards the ground wrapped in a blue-and-white scarf, acquired at the last game, to keep the chill off. The Madejski never fails to impress, and we take our seats in the North Stand, with an excellent view and copious amounts of leg room.
As the teams come onto the field, the tannoy system announces that Reading hadnÃ¢ÂÂt reached the quarter-finals for 83 years. It's a great incentive for the Royals to put on a good performance.
And it works. In the time it takes to spill your Bovril down your front and to mumble few expletives (nine seconds to be precise), Reading take the lead Ã¢ÂÂ Jimmy Kebe with what is apparently the fastest goal in ReadingÃ¢ÂÂs history.
Robert Koren replies for West Brom on 18 minutes with an easy tap-in, and suddenly the game opens up into an end-to-end battle with the woodwork, rather than the keepers, preventing any further goals.
The 18,008 spectators (4,416 away fans) get behind their teams and the atmosphere is deafening. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a shame it has taken this long for me to witness such a passionate, exhilarating FA Cup tie, but it's well worth the wait.
No one in the crowd wants to hear the half-time whistle. Unfortunately it inevitably comes but most people, including me, stay in their seats, awaiting the start of the second half with anticipation.
The second half starts how the first half ended, thankfully, but on 48 minutes, the Royals' Shane Long lunges into a tackle on Abdoulaye Meite and receives a straight red card.
From here on, the game is all AlbionÃ¢ÂÂs, and with Roman Bednar in fine form they're unlucky on several occasions not to take the lead.
But just after the hour, West Brom's Youssouf Mulumbu gets his marching orders with a second yellow. Ten aside, and the game is anybody's, with chances coming from every angle.
Simon Church, through on goal, decides to chip Scott Carson from 18 yards out, only to have his shot blocked Ã¢ÂÂ but scores with the rebound and Reading are 2-1 up.
The celebrations start; talk of who Reading might get in Sunday's draw rings around the ground. I doubt anyone in the stadium could remember the last time Reading made it this far, but they're certainly enjoying it.
But, as per usual for a game like this, it never ends without something happening. And that something is Joe Mattock's 87th-minute strike for West Brom to set up a replay.
It has been an absolutely amazing game for the neutral, although I canÃ¢ÂÂt help feeling disheartened as I walk away from the ground with the dejected Royals fans thinking how close they were to booking their place in the Sixth Round.
There's a happy ending. If you donÃ¢ÂÂt know what happened in the replay, Reading beat West Brom at the Hawthorns in what looked like another epic match, the visitors winning 3-2 after extra time to book a sixth-round tie against Aston Villa.
The quarter-final fixtures for this weekend in full:
Fulham v Tottenham
Portsmouth v Birmingham
The Mighty Reading v Aston Villa
Chelsea v Stoke
So it's 11 games gone, only three remaining for your FourFourTwo blogger, and although it's very tempting to venture back to the Madjeski for a third time, I feel this whole experience is about witnessing the FA Cup at different levels and in different surroundings.
Although it's getting increasingly hard to secure tickets, I manage to acquire some for Portsmouth v Birmingham. A Wembley place is at stake for both teams... and hopefully I will be there too.
Previously, on The Long Road To Wembley:
FA4: A paid-up member of the Royal family
FA3: There's only one f in freezing at F-f-f-fulham
FA3 preview: The Third man marches on London
FA2: South beats North with ease
FA2 preview: A North(ampton)m vs South(ampton) clash
FA1: Fire and ice at the Abbey
FA1 preview: Enter the big boys
FA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no pies
FA4Q preview: Ploughing through
FA3Q: A local affair at Lowestoft
FA3Q preview: All hail the 4x4ers
FA2Q: Coke, poodle rock & half a fence
FA2Q preview: Let's spend a night together
FA1Q: Lawro, ducks & a care home
FA1Q preview: The preliminaries are over
FAP: Dogs, daughters & dodgy tellies
FAP preview: Preliminary problems
FAEP: Dereham dreams alive and kicking
FAEP preview: The long road starts here