Royals blunt Blades to show gulf in class

Posted by Jon Keen

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty ImagesNoel Hunt summed up the day for Reading supporters with a backflip celebration after scoring one of the Royals' four goals versus Sheffield United.

When you watch a team week in, week out, and frequently see them outclassed by much bigger teams with much higher wage bills and far greater resources, it's easy to lose sight of just how far they've come over the years and just how good they actually are. Today was a perfect opportunity to put that right and to gain some perspective as Reading took on Sheffield United in the FA Cup.

For these two teams were fierce rivals for much of the past decade, with many hard-fought matches, especially when United were under the management of Neil Warnock. The two teams gained promotion to the Premier League together in 2006, and three years later a late season United victory at the Madejski Stadium thwarted Reading's efforts to push for play-off qualification. That was a rare United win though, as Reading tended to edge most matches between them, but often not by much as the two teams were usually fairly evenly matched.

Today, however, things were quite different as this match showed just how far these teams have diverged in the past few years, and just how far Reading have advanced in this time. For the Royals were a whole level of magnitude better than Sheffield United, and won this match virtually without breaking sweat. Although manager Brian McDermott made six changes, recalling a number of players who have recently been only occasional starters, their mobility, vision, and creativity allowed them to comprehensively outclass United and ease into the last 16 of the FA Cup.

- Match report: Reading 4-0 Sheffield United

Playing in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, and despite the lack of first-choice players, this appeared to be almost a training match for Reading, who kept possession with ease and were rarely troubled at the back. Adam Federici hardly had a save to make, while Reading scored four times, twice through Noel Hunt along with goals from Mikele Leigertwood and Garath McCleary. The pick of those goals was a sweet strike by Leigertwood from well outside the United area, with Leigertwood and McCleary having noticeably good games in midfield. Having said that, no Reading player played badly -- the lack of quality and creativity in the opposition made that largely unnecessary.

But, as they say, you can only beat the team in front of you and Reading did that comprehensively today, almost unnoticed and uncommented on by much of the mainstream football media. With confidence already brimming after winning three of their last Premier League matches, this Cup win further enhances the feel-good factor for Loyal Royals, and already some are starting to whisper that this might possibly -- just possibly -- be unfancied, unfashionable Reading's year in the FA Cup.

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