In the end, Burnley's stubborn refusal to give up turned this poorly attended contest at the Madejski Stadium last night into a closely fought Cup tie, but for most of the evening Reading, including nine reserves, seemed to be coasting towards a trip to Newcastle United or Birmingham City in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Well-taken goals from Leroy Lita, Shane Long and Sam Sodje after 27, 37 and 55 minutes had eased Steve Coppell's Premiership team into a 3-0 lead before their Championship visitors, seeking a first win in seven games, hit back through Ade Akinbiyi, with 19 minutes remaining, and the substitute Garreth O'Connor, in added time. No home supporter could rest easy until the final whistle.
"I was pleased enough with our finishing, but we gave away three bad goals and our defending let us down. If we had defended properly, we might have won this game," said the disappointed Burnley manager, Steve Cotterill, afterwards. "I am sorry we are out of the Cup. They were bad goals from our view."
For Coppell, it was, of course, a different story. "We were loose, we left too many gaps when we were in possession," he said. "We had a few too many flowery displays. But that is to be expected, I think, with a team put together like that on the night and we had some things, too, that made me happy."
Coppell had made nine changes from the side that embarrassed West Ham United 6-0 in their last home fixture and there was an obvious lack of cohesion, particularly in defence, but in attack the Irish teenager Long, another Coppell find from Cork, made the most of the absence of his rested friend Kevin Doyle to show he, too, has the potential to succeed in England.
Long was swift, dangerous and quick-witted and his goal epitomised this. Collecting a long ball from Lita, he outpaced the advancing goalkeeper, Brian Jensen, but was forced wide to the right byline from where, with a twist, he fired the ball in off the far post.
Before that, Lita had scored with a crisp diagonal shot following a Long flick-on and when Sodje rose powerfully to thump a classic header past Jensen the contest appeared over. Not, however, for Burnley.
As Coppell withdrew Lita and then his captain, Ivar Ingimarsson, sending on Dave Kitson for his first showing since he sustained a knee injury on the opening day of the season, the Lancashire men fought back. Akinbiyi, who had wasted a clear opportunity when he allowed Adam Federici, Reading's third-choice goalkeeper, to make a spectacular save from his straightforward header, made amends when he lobbed the 21-year-old Australian. O'Connor then made the most of a close-range chance to give the result an unexpected hue.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; De La Cruz, Ingimarsson (Pearce, 74), Sodje, Golbourne; Seol, Bikey, Oster, Convey; Long, Lita (Kitson, 60). Substitutes not used: Hahnemann, Hunt, Harper.
Burnley (4-4-2): Jensen; Foster, Thomas, McGreal, Harley; Elliott (G O'Connor, 85), J O'Connor, McCann, Jones (Mahon, 71); Akinbiyi, Noel-Williams (Lafferty, 71). Substitutes not used: Branch, Spicer.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)
* Jason Puncheon completed an unexpected come-back for Barnet at home to Colchester United in the Cup last night. Jamie Cureton opened the scoring in the 35th minute to give Colchester the lead over the side ranked 55 places below them in the League, and the Essex side never looked troubled in the first half. But after the break, Ismail Yakubu equalised before Puncheon claimed the winner with 10 minutes left.Reuse content