Boro’s cup dream over

Shane Long’s late goal puts Reading through

Stevenage 1 Reading 2

FA Cup Fourth Round

BORO’S FA Cup journey provided drama right until the end.

Darius Charles’ superb solo effort looked like earning Graham Westley’s men a deserved replay at the Madejski Stadium after Mikele Leigertwood had given Reading a first half lead but Shane Long’s clinical finish in the 87th minute broke Boro hearts.

The game wasn’t without some controversy with the major talking point coming 20 minutes from time when substitute Rob Sinclair ploughed into the visitors’ penalty area only to go down under Ivar Ingimarsson’s challenge. Initially it looked like a certain penalty but replays suggest referee Anthony Taylor may just have got it right.

Boro had unsettled Newcastle in the previous round by getting in their opponents’ faces but they struggled to replicate that tempo in this game as Reading matched them physically.

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Both sides made a tentative start to proceedings but it was the visitors who found their grove first.

Leigertwood and Jem Karacan enjoyed the upper hand in the middle of the park forcing Boro to switch David Bridges and Lawrie Wilson with the latter taking over in the centre of the park.

Reading went close when Andy Griffin skipped past Peter Winn’s challenge but lofted his cross onto the roof of Chris Day’s net and Shane Long headed wide after latching onto Ian Harte’s cross.

Boro did ask questions of the Reading defence but too often they were unable to work goalkeeper Adam Federici. The visitors seemed to be suffering from the same problem but they put that right when Leigertwood fired home the opening goal.

Boro were sloppy in midfield with Michael Bostwick surrendering possession to Leigertwood and the on-loan QPR man gratefully accepted the gift. The 28-year-old stormed to the edge of the penalty area before using Jon Ashton as a shield to fire the ball low past the unsighted Day and into the bottom right hand corner.

The goal unsettled Boro and Reading should have taken advantage just minutes later. Hal Robson-Kanu skipped past Ronnie Henry and crossed to the far post for Jobi McAnuff. The former Watford man turned the ball back across the face of goal but the ball went behind both Shane Long and strike partner Simon Church.

After a rocky 10 minute spell Boro got back on an even keel and they could have been level on the scoreboard too.

Scott Laird has been in a rich vein of form for Boro in front of goal and his recent run probably encouraged the full-back to shoot rather than tee up the unmarked Winn. Charles started the move in the left back position before feeding Wilson in the left channel. He slipped the ball wide to Laird who breezed past Griffin but instead of cutting the ball back for Winn the Boro full-back crashed the ball into the side netting.

The visitors started the second half brightly and looked like they’d been told by boss Brian McDermott to kill the tie off early on. Shane Long won the ball out on the right touchline and fed Church. The Wales international turned sharply 20 yards from goal but his effort whistled over Day’s crossbar.

Harte then rifled over the bar from 25 yards and Robson-Kanu was left to rue a poor touch as Day came out to thwart the unmarked winger at the far post.

In a bid to change his side’s fortunes Westley threw Charles up front and the makeshift striker went about making life uncomfortable for the visitors.

From one of his runs, the former Ebbsfleet man picked out Winn whose left foot cross was met by the unmarked Chris Beardsley but the striker, who only has one goal to his name this season, headed over the cross bar.

Then came the controversy. Sinclair’s pace and direct running caused the visitor’s all sorts of problems. The substitute beat one, then two, then three men before being sent sprawling on the Lamex Stadium turf by Ingimarsson. The Boro bench was apoplectic with rage as referee Taylor shook his head but two minutes later they were jumping for joy as Charles drew them level.

Ashton stole possession deep in the Boro half before embarking on a charge upfield. The defender sent the ball right to Charles who used his skill to skip inside Reading captain Matt Mills and place the ball firmly into the far corner of Federici’s net from 20 yards.

The goal sent the Lamex Stadium wild and Boro sensed another shock was on the cards.

A Henry cross was cleared only as far as Charles on the edge of the box but he was unable to repeat his goalscoring heroics, drilling the ball wide of the target.

With the fixture list already congested neither side really wanted a replay but while Reading were able to step up another gear Boro looked tired.

The home defence coped well under some severe pressure late on but they finally cracked three minutes from time.

Right winger McAnuff, who had been quiet throughout, popped up on the opposite flank and sent over a beautiful bending cross for Long who stole in unmarked at the far post and lashed the ball past the helpless Day to ensure it was only Reading’s name who entered the draw for the next round.

Boro had one last chance to force a replay when substitute Stacy Long shot low but Federici got down well to save at the foot of his near post while the visitors could have increased their lead but McAnuff fired over the bar and Day saved superbly from Michail Antonio.

Fifty places separated the two teams before kick off but on the pitch it was only the smallest of margins that saw Reading progress and Boro’s FA Cup journey over for another season.

Stevenage: Day; Henry, Ashton, Roberts, Charles (Odubade 82); Wilson, Bostwick, Bridges (Sinclair 51), Laird; Winn (Stacy Long 83), Beardsley.

Subs not used: Bayes, Foster, C. Griffin, Daley.

Reading: Federici; A. Griffin, Mills �, Ingimarsson, Harte; McAnuff, Leigertwood, Karacan, Robson-Kanu (Antonio 73); Shane Long, Church.

Subs not used: Tabb, Hunt, Khizanishvili, Cummings, Armstrong, McCarthy.

Ref: A.Taylor.

Att: 6,614.

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