Two goals in the last four minutes put Crystal Palace into the semi-finals of the FA Cup as they won 2-0 at Championship side Reading on Friday.
Yohan Cabaye blasted a penalty through Ali Al Habsi (86) after Jake Cooper’s needless grab at Yannick Bolasie gave Palace the chance to finish off their hosts at the first time of asking at the Madejski Stadium.
Cooper was shown a second yellow card for his trouble, and Palace cashed in against 10-man opponents chasing an equaliser as substitute Fraizer Campbell hit an added-time second to seal a Wembley spot.
The end result was an accurate reflection of the game, although it was harsh on Royals goalkeeper Al Habsi, whose agility and anticipation took his side to the brink of a replay.
Alan Pardew would scarcely have wanted that as he attempts to halt a slide towards the Premier League’s relegation places, but as it is an FA Cup run that has proved a safe haven now moves on to the national stadium next month.
The visitors were in charge from the start but took a while to turn their lively counter-attacking into anything approaching a chance, and when they did open a route to goal, Bolasie twice slashed into the side-netting when a more subtle finish was required.
Yannick Bolasie missed three decent chances during the first half of Palace’s FA Cup tie at Reading
Emmanuel Adebayor – put through in the left channel – did opt for something more artful. but a Thierry Henry-type curler was so extravagantly signposted Al Habsi was in position to block.
The Reading keeper watched Cabaye’s improvised prod narrowly miss the angle and then stood his ground to keep out another Bolasie blast, Joe Ledley making a hash of a rebound that reared awkwardly in the six-yard box.
Wayne Hennessey’s miscalculation gave the home side a chance at the other end, but Ola John missed the open target from a near-impossible angle with team-mate Stephen Quinn screaming for a pass.
Ola John heads straight at Wayne Hennessey from Reading’s best chance of the FA Cup tie
Pardew and Brian McDermott share an enduring friendship after working together at the Madejski, but the managers’ spirit of bonhomie did not extend to their players as Mike Dean struggled to stay in command during an increasingly ill-tempered second half.
Reading were kept in it by Al Habsi, who followed up a fine save from Mile Jedinak’s header with a more ostentatious stop to keep out Cabaye’s free-kick, and when the Omani was beaten, Scott Dann’s header was hacked off the line.
Reading’s best chance of nicking it was a John header aimed straight at Hennessey, and then came Palace’s late double blow. On each occasion Al Habsi was unfortunate: sheer power prevented him stopping Cabaye’s spot-kick, and a fine save from Campbell deserved more than an unkind ricochet off a post and back into the striker’s path.
Palace will learn their semi-final opponents when the draw is made on Monday evening, and will play their last-four tie on the weekend of April 23 and 24.