This was not so much a giant-killing as an audition for the Premiership, which the Championship leaders, Reading, passed in thrilling style. Fielding an under-strength side they gave top-flight West Bromwich Albion a two-goal start but rallied to win this third-round FA Cup replay with a well-taken hat-trick by Leroy Lita.
Albion, whose goals came from Richard Chaplow, his first in a frustrating year at the club, thus missed out on a fourth-round derby tie against Birmingham City. More damaging may be the psychological impact of this defeat. The FA Cup, as their own team selection indicated, is not a priority but to be beaten by a team which had made seven changes will do little for their confidence.
"At half-time I told the players to keep possession and take the sting out of the game but unfortunately we couldn't do that," said the Albion manager, Bryan Robson. He added: "Credit to Reading, they did really well while the players I had out on the pitch should have done better." His former Old Trafford team-mate, Steve Coppell, said: "At half-time I just thought if we kept on playing we couldn't lose."
Coppell's selection was dictated by the visit to Crystal Palace on Friday, and with Albion focusing on staying in the Premiership to welcome Reading, Robson made five changes.
This gave Chaplow the opportunity of a rare start. It was his FA Cup performance last season, against Liverpool, which won him a transfer window move from Burnley to West Brom and he took just nine minutes to renew his fruitful relationship with the competition. Running behind Graeme Murty on to a superbly timed pass from Ronnie Wallwork he drove the ball across Graham Stack and inside the far post.
On the half-hour Albion ventured forward again. Darren Carter crossed from deep and while Nathan Ellington's shot was blocked by Stack, Chaplow tapped in the loose ball.
After 16 wins in 17 unbeaten home games this was an unfamiliar experience for the Reading support but they need not have worried. Five minutes after the break, John Oster dribbled down the right before finding Lita who turned neatly before driving in. With Steve Sidwell and Jamie Harper, the former Arsenal players, driving Reading on, an equaliser loomed.
When it arrived, on 65 minutes, it was a thing of beauty. Harper strode forward, laid off to Murty, and kept going. The ball came back to him via Sean Long's back-heel, Harper slipped the ball on to Lita who whipped a 20-yard shot over Chris Kirkland. "That's why we're going up," chorused the home support.
Lita, a £1m summer signing from Bristol City, where he enjoyed a prolific strike-rate of 38 goals in 51 matches (amazingly, 49 were as a substitute), completed his treble two minutes into added time, seizing on a loose ball after Harper had driven into the box. His celebrations for all three goals were estatic.
"He's been injured most of the season," said Coppell. "You saw an awful lot of pent-up emotion when he scored. He's spent a lot of time in the treatment room and gym."
Reading (4-4-2): Stack (gk); Murty, Makin, Hunt, Gunnarsson; Ingimarsson, Sidwell, Harper, Oster (Osano, 107); Lita (Cox, 101), Long (Doyle, 90). Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Little.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kirkland; Wallwork (Nicholson, 106), C Davies, Hodgkiss, Albrechtsen; Greening (Dyer, 81), Chaplow, Inamoto (R Davies, 91), Carter; Ellington, Earnshaw. Substitutes not used: Elvinns, Kuszczak (gk).
Referee: P Taylor (Hertfordshire).
Revised FA Cup draw: Fourth round
Stoke City v Walsall
Cheltenham Town v Newcastle United
Coventry v Middlesbrough
Reading v Birmingham
Portsmouth v Liverpool
Leicester v Southampton
Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal
Aston Villa v Port Vale
Brentford v Sunderland
Manchester City v Wigan Athletic
Millwall or Everton v Chelsea
Preston v Crystal Palace
West Ham v Blackburn
Colchester v Derby
Charlton v Leyton Orient
Wolves v Burton or Manchester United
Ties to be played 28-29 JanuaryReuse content