With live coverage on terrestrial television at the end of such a dull afternoon, the nation was looking to Reading to conjure some of that old Cup magic. They are neither the club nor the team they were when Liverpool last played in Berkshire two years ago, but they made a decent fist of yesterday evening's tie and deserved to earn a lucrative replay at Anfield on Wednesday week against a side now 33 places ahead of them. Although one punch was successfully landed midway through the first half, Simon Church, a 21-year-old striker, putting them ahead, a knockout proved just beyond them.
Jobi McAnuff, a lively presence down Reading's right flank, won the individual honours from his opposite number Dirk Kuyt, who was instrumental in a Liverpool recovery that never reached its expected conclusion. Having been granted a slightly fortunate equaliser from Steven Gerrard, the visitors did not manage to impose any presumed superiority during a second half of disappointingly little goalmouth incident.
Rafa Benitez, who in his first season underestimated the importance of the competition, fielding a weakened FA Cup team at Burnley and suffering the embarrassment of elimination, did at least make fewer changes than many Premier League sides yesterday, bearing in mind that Glen Johnson and Javier Mascherano were both unavailable. "We have chances to win trophies in the Europa league and the FA Cup so we'll try our best in both," he said of his team selection. "I am disappointed because we didn't want to play more games, but credit to Reading."
When Liverpool were beaten here just over two years ago, Reading stood 12th in the Premier League. Five months later they were relegated and have been on the slide ever since. Brendan Rodgers, hailed as a coming man while working with Chelsea's youngsters, lasted barely half a season and the club are now in the care of the chief scout Brian McDermott until a replacement is found.
"I'm proud of our players," he said. "That performance was for the supporters, especially the 1,500 who travelled to Plymouth for a 4-1 defeat."
McDermott likes to emphasise crosses and set-pieces, which had already offered some encouragement before the goal, one of them finishing in the Liverpool net, although the officials rightly decided that two players were offside and one of them was fouling the goalkeeper. Appeals for a penalty against Jamie Carragher had barely died down when Emiliano Insua fouled the lively McAnuff. Ryan Bertrand swung the free-kick beyond the far post, where Grzegorz Rasiak, once of Tottenham, knocked the ball back and Church bundled it in.
On a pitch shared with London Irish, Liverpool had found it difficult to settle in their straight 4-4-2 formation and had a combination of Kuyt's enthusiasm and Gerrard's imagination to thank for ending the first half level. David Ngog, Fernando Torres and Fabio Aurelio all put chances wide from crosses by Kuyt, who then played a crucial role in the goal by rushing across Adam Federici's line of vision, just onside, as Gerrard curled over a cross-shot from out on the left. The goalkeeper, distracted if not actually unsighted, allowed it to bounce in front of him and rear up into the net.
Reading have won only one League game at home all season and the signs towards the end of the first half were that they had lost their early buoyancy. When Pepe Reina beat out a fierce drive by Gylfi Sigurdsson, it was his first involvement since picking the ball from his net half an hour earlier.
There was nevertheless little sign of Liverpool scoring again until after Federici had to be taken off with a hamstring injury in the 68th minute. Reading also introduced Brian Howard, whose last-minute goal once won Barnsley an astonishing Cup victory at Anfield, while Benitez played safe in reverting to his favoured 4-2-3-1, withdrawing Ngog for Alberto Aquilani. Not until added time was there any other prospect of a goal, Torres looping a header on to the roof of the net from a cross by another substitute, Yossi Benayoun.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: McAnuff
Match rating: 5/10