So who saw this coming? After a gutless display at Plymouth devoid of any fight, out came Reading with all guns blazing to hold Liverpool.
The Reds might not be having their finest season but they are still Premier League giants and the Royals are Championship strugglers. With an injury preventing the one luxury player in the squad playing, Brian McDermott opted to bring in a replacement with rather more bite. The classy Marek Matejovsky, all too often on a different wavelength to his more ordinary team mates, watched from the sidelines. Promising battler Jem Karacan returned after a period in reserve. Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez spent millions on young Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva – on this showing he would have been better off signing Karacan.
After a period of looking disinterested since his former Watford boss Brendan Rodgers was given the push from Reading, Jobi McAnuff was back at his flying best. Emiliano Insua, capped by Diego Maradona for Argentina, was tormented time and again by the Royals’ rampaging winger, desperately conceding the free-kick that led to the home team’s goal. On this display, one would think that Insua’s international appearance was a result of Maradona having one of his loco moments. In reality, McAnuff was just too good on the day, almost unplayable. Ryan Bertrand will have enjoyed the added attention garnered by the occasion. Previously hidden from mass view on loan in the Football League with Oldham and Norwich, the Chelsea youngster took his chance to show Blues fans what he can do. Showing a keen willingness, his set-piece delivery was superb and repeatedly tested Liverpool’s nerviness at dealing with deep balls to the back post. Message boards were lighting up online with suggestions that Ashley Cole’s successor had been found. Those that watch Reading regularly will feel more than a pinch of hyperbole in the mix, but if he can keep up this level of performance in 2010, then the Royals might have at least found the new Nicky Shorey.
When Simon Church bundled in the opener for Reading, Rafael Benitez was greeted by chants from the home fans of “you’re getting sacked in the morning.” < For all his obvious failings, the Spaniard should at least be given credit for showing the Royals enough respect to play as strong a line-up as he could. In the back of his mind, his last visit to Madejski Stadium would have loomed, though this is a very different team to that which comfortably beat the Reds that day. Still, Benitez had obviously seen signs that McDermott’s men could cause his team damage and he responded by naming both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Alberto Aquilani, the £20m man, was only a substitute but that seems to be the case whoever the opposition.Reading themselves know a bit about leaving out expensive signings. Matt Mills may have cost just a tenth of Aquilani’s fee but that was still enough for Kevin Doyles. The ex-Doncaster defender has found first team appearances few and far between but he was thrown it at the deep end in place of Alex Pearce following the Home Park mauling. Mills and Ivar Ingimarsson had not only Fernando Torres but David Ngog to deal with but deal with it they did.
At the other end, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel had arguably the busier evening up against Church and Grzegorz Rasiak. If Torres’ heading radar had been slightly better aligned, it might have been a different story but it would be a great surprise if Mills does not line up against Newcastle on Saturday.The performance and prospect of a replay at Anfield will have been a great delight for the Madejski faithful who were in great voice for this Cup tie. What will be frustrating is why such a big performance was brought out of the bag for Liverpool and not for the important league games that have come thick and fast in recent weeks. It is easy to get up for a game when you have nothing to lose but that is still no excuse. The selections have only varied mildly in recent weeks so those same players have now laid down a marker of what can be expected of them in the matches to come. The replay aside, the next few league ties are all against strong Championship opposition. The hope will be that a string of tough matches, where Reading will continuously be the underdogs, will bring out the best in a side that showed the ability to fight against the odds in taking a member of the Big Four to an FA Cup replay.