Given that winning a place in the Premier League and the ever-increasing wealth that comes with it is a clear priority, Steve McClaren was able to indulge in a joke or two after watching the chance of an FA Cup quarter-final taken away by a striker he knows only too well.
McClaren paid £7.5m for Aiyegbeni Yakubu when he was at Middlesbrough and was rewarded with 19 goals from the Nigeria striker in his first season as Boro reached the FA Cup semi-finals and UEFA Cup final.
The old touch was still there as Yakubu, now 32, came off the bench to score the goal that took Reading into the last eight at the expense of McClaren’s Derby.
“As soon as I saw that big smile, I knew we could be in trouble,” McClaren said. “He gets one opportunity and takes it. Only he could finish like that. His first touch was excellent, his second even better -- it was a proper Yakubu goal.”
The consolation for McClaren was that his much-changed side, with five players rested and another Cup-tied, had equalised through Darren Bent after a debut red card for defender Stephen Warnock left them to play with 10 men from the 39th minute.
“I thought the players were heroic. It is hard to win when you are down to 10 men for so long, yet we didn’t try to be negative and defend. We opened the game up and went for it and the performance I couldn’t fault.”
Hal Robson-Kanu had put Reading ahead, curling the ball home from just inside the penalty area, and it was he who set up Yakubu for the winner with eight minutes remaining.
Yakubu, who had replaced Jamie Mackie midway through the second half, controlled the ball superbly from Robson-Kanu’s pass, used his strength to hold off a couple of challenges then showed familiar composure to fire his shot home.
It was a finish that delighted Steve Clarke, the Reading manager, who signed Yakubu on a free transfer from Qatari club Al-Rayyan on deadline day.
“We knew what we were getting,” Clarke said. “He is a goalscorer. It was a great pass from Robson-Kanu, who took his own goal very well, and when he gets an opportunity like that you expect him to score.”
Warnock, booked earlier for a foul on Robson-Kanu, was sent off when he lunged into Mackie unnecessarily inside the Reading half. A yellow was inevitable and with it the red.
Reading took advantage of the extra man when Nathaniel Chalobah’s pass launched a counter-attack that ended with Robson-Kanu curling home a lovely shot.
Derby’s equaliser was well deserved, even if it did carry an element of good fortune because a shot from Jesse Lingard that was going wide struck Bent at the top of his thigh and was diverted into the net.