Reading FC Match Report: 2023/2024 Season - FA Cup


READING 3 MK DONS 2

Reading: K Ehibhationham (3), H Knibbs (64), L Wing (68)
MK Dons: A Gilbey (39), M Dean (90)

Reading made an excellent start to this FA cup tie. A superbly weighted Wing pass sliced open the MK Dons defence in the third minute and Ehibhatiomhan's well-timed run put him in possession. The young striker still had a lot to do but his first touch took him inside the last defender before beating 'keeper Kelly at the near post with a crisp finish. In spite of taking an early lead through well taken goal, Reading failed to take control of the game largely due to the impact of Ruben Selles' policy of using cup competitions to rest key players and give his talented youngsters the opportunity to gain first team experience.

Reading's laboured and predictable build-up going forward, and generally poor defending enabled a well organised MK Dons side to dominate possession. Poor decision-making on the ball and a lack of discipline resulting in unnecessary and rash challenges contributed a lack of cohesion in Reading's play. Throwing together a group of inexperienced players randomly may have worked previously against weaker lower league opposition Swindon and Exeter, but it against a well organised MK Dons playing four in midfield, it was simply not good enough.

Reading looked particularly vulnerable down the flanks against Portsmouth on Saturday, and even with different personnel the same problem re-surfaced this afternoon leading to the Dons equaliser. Norman, wide on the right, was given acres of space to deliver a ball into box for an unmarked Gilbey to tuck away from close range. Leaving players too much room in wide positions is a tactical error which is always likely to end badly. Furthermore a lack of width has proved a problem for Reading going forward this season.

Selles clearly needed to change something at half time. Elliot and Mukairu were replaced by Azeez and Knibbs immediately providing some width in and shape to the attack. Azeez should have regained Reading's lead when a penetrating run on the right presented a one on one opportunity with the 'keeper. For some reason Azeez is struggling to fulfil the promise he demonstrated in previous seasons and he dragged his shot wide. With the Royals showing greater directness and urgency MK Dons were very much on the back foot. Selles made further changes on the hour. Hutchinson and the disappointing Vickers gave way to Ballard and Craig as Reading gathered momentum.

Reading regained the lead just after the hour. Knibbs won a free kick on the left, jogged over to the six yard area to deftly glance Wing's resulting excellent cross past Kelly. Energised by regaining the goal, Reading pressed the Dons defence. With five Reading players pressing in the box Wing pounced on a sloppy pass to put Reading in possession and Wing's confidence and composure allowed him to tuck away a relatively simple chance to give Reading the comfort of a two goal lead.

Reading were now looking comfortable and had chances to extend their lead through Ballard and Azeez. They only had to see out eight minutes of stoppage time to book their spot in the next round or more crucially, to avoid a mid-week replay away trip to Milton Keynes. Unfortunately Reading's current defensive frailties always give their opponents hope, particularly late in the game. (Has it occurred to Selles to give Tom Holmes a run out in this sort of situation?) Naively Reading found themselves caught with only three at the back on a Dons break. Although nothing came of it, it was a warning, and offered encouragement to the opposition.

A shot blocked by Pereira, making his debut in goal, popped out for Dean to pull one back from close range with a scary five minutes of stoppage time left. It was now far from comfortable for Reading but they hung on for a far from convincing narrow win.

No doubt the 'hard core' Reading fans still chanting "...we are going up..." during the game, will be equally convinced we are on the road to Wembley!

John Wells

This FA Cup game took place 117 days ago in the 2023/2024 season.