Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, is not a great collector of memorabilia but in his study at home, pride of place on a wall, is a photograph of Shane Long.
The Irishman is heading home Reading’s winner in their 2-1 victory over Liverpool, after extra time, in an FA Cup third-round replay at Anfield three years ago.
It explains McDermott’s fascination with the competition. Not long after, he was elevated from caretaker to full-time manager. He had arrived. Reading went on to lose to Aston Villa in the quarter-finals – and Manchester City at the same stage the following season – and that love affair with the Cup continued yesterday.
Reading, now in the Premier League, not fourth-bottom of the Championship as they were when winning at Anfield, sauntered by Sheffield United with an ease that illustrated how far they have come. They might be struggling in the Premier League but United, fifth in League One at the start of day, had neither the brain nor brawn to seriously threaten an upset.
“People say that the Cup is a distraction,” McDermott said. “No way. I love everything about it and everything it brings. Last season was a nightmare, when we lost to Stevenage in the third round. But we’re in the last 16 and if we win, we’re in the quarter-finals again. Wembley can come along very quickly. Just ask Bradford City.”
Reading went ahead when Noel Hunt, strangely unchallenged, nodded in a cross by Hal Robson‑ Kanu. Yet they subsequently sat back, allowing United a brief respite. Nick Blackman shot across the face of the home goal, with no one able to add the vital touch, and Chris Porter headed wide from a centre by Jamie Murphy. Murphy also forced a fine save from Adam Federici, the home goalkeeper. “We created quite a few chances,” Danny Wilson, the Blades manager, said. “Had we taken one of them, who knows?”
Once Mikele Leigertwood, the former United midfielder, had thundered home a piledriver from 30 yards shortly before half-time, the United effort fizzled out, and Reading soon stretched their lead when Gareth McCleary’s cross was turned in, with the aid of a blatant mis-hit, by Hunt.
McCleary ended the scoring in the 54th minute, when cutting in from the right to curl a delightful left-footed drive past George Long. Stephen Kelly did have to block a Murphy shot on the goalline and Ryan Flynn nodded wide a cross by Tony McMahon but United’s fate had long been sealed. Better now, after a recent lean spell, to concentrate on promotion.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Kelly, Morrison, Mariappa, Shorey; McCleary, Karacan, Leigertwood (Guthrie, 84), Robson-Kanu; Hunt, Le Fondre.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Long; McMahon, Maguire, Higginbotham, Westlake (Collins, 76); Blackman, McDonald (Whitehouse, 69), Doyle, Murphy; Porter (Flynn, 60), Kitson.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Hunt (Reading)
Match rating: 5/10