Long shot brings Stevenage back down to earth

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The Independent Online

Just when Stevenage thought they had prolonged their FA Cup adventure, up popped Shane Long three minutes from time to end the dream. The Republic of Ireland internationalsucceeded where Newcastle United'smore celebrated attack had failed in the previous round with a simple enough finish for Reading to steer the Championship side through.

The League Two team had already showed great spirit to come back once in the tie, Darius Charles's excellent strike cancelling out a first-half openerfrom Mikele Leigertwood, but despite some desperate late forays they could not repeat the feat. Their players, regarded as the fittest in their division, had been matched physically by Reading, while in terms of ability the game had also been in the balance until Long's decisive contribution, volleying home from Jobi McAnuff's high cross from the left for his 15th goal of the season. He had also scored the winner against West Bromwich Albion in the third round.

"We were disappointed with the first half – we let them dictate things," said the Stevenage manager, Graham Westley. "But credit to the players for the way they adapted in the second half and we are gutted to go out."

Stevenage showed some early initiative down the left flank, where Scott Laird was a handful for Reading's right-back, Andy Griffin. Starting in left midfield, he went closest for the League Two side when he bewitched Griffin before cutting in and shooting into the side-netting. By this stage, though, Reading had edged ahead and were seizing control. The ball fell to Leigertwood, on loan from QPR, without any apparent menace to the home team, yet as he strolled forward, two defenders backed off and the midfielder fired past an unsighted Chris Day from 20 yards.

The Royals also had a shout for a penalty when Hal Robson-Kanu appeared to be felled by Ronnie Henry, grandson of the former Spurs Doublewinner Ron. The referee was unmoved. Long was also denied when Day rushed out to block his shot just before the interval.

Westley rejigged his line-up during the break, crucially moving the left-back Charles up front, and they were the better for it, taking the game to Reading and getting the crowd on their feet.

Robson-Kanu missed a good chance for the visitors but Stevenage began to press and Chris Beardsley headed over from a good position. Westley's men should have had a penalty when the substitute Rob Sinclair was tripped by Ivar Ingimarsson. "You could tell by their player's reaction that it was a penalty," said Westley.

Ingimarsson's luck was not to hold, though, as Stevenage drew level a minute later. Charles ran on to a sublime pass from Jon Ashton, turned inside his man and unleashed a wonderful left-foot shot that comfortably beat Adam Federici in Reading's goal.

Ingimarsson saved a certain goal when he blocked a Sinclair shot but Stevenage's superiority ended when Charles limped off with calf trouble and Long stole in for the winner. "I thought we were in control for the first hour but the changes they made worked, they got a goal and we were up against it," said Reading's manager,Brian McDermott. "We knew it would be difficult and we had to be spot-on physically. We prepared to the nth degree, otherwise we'd have lost."

Attendance: 6,614

Referee: Andy Taylor

Man of the match: Leigertwood

Match rating: 7/10

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