Billy Sharp scored an extra-time winner as Sheffield United squeezed through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-1 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
David McGoldrick had given the Blades the lead early in the match on Tuesday night but his header was cancelled out by George Puscas’ penalty just before the half-time break.
United manager Chris Wilder had said his side wanted to be successful in the competition, having gone out in the third round last year to non-league Barnet, and they needed extra-time to reach their first quarter-final since 2014.
The Blades did not have to wait long to take the lead in the tie, going ahead in just the second minute. Luke Freeman drove through the midfield, before passing to Ben Osborn who sent in a well-weighted cross from the left which McGoldrick headed home.
The goal was the Republic of Ireland international’s first for his club in 1,344 minutes of football.
Dean Henderson was called into action in the Sheffield United goal for the first time in the 13th minute, making a good save to deny a long-range Yakou Meite effort.
McGoldrick looked to add to his tally for the season in the 34th minute but his shot from outside the box was straight at goalkeeper Rafael.
Just as the visitors looked to be taking control of the match, referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot after Andy Rinomhota was brought down in the box by George Baldock.
Reading leading goalscorer Puscas calmly put the ball to the right of Henderson to level the tie and score his 11th goal of the season in all competitions.
Just after the hour mark, the visitors looked to increase the pressure on the home side, with Sander Berge having an effort blocked by the Reading defence.
With just over 15 minutes left, Freeman tried to put his side ahead for the second time in the game but his shot from distance was parried away by the Reading goalkeeper and the contest went into extra-time.
The hosts threatened first in the additional half an hour, as Rinomhota weaved through the Blades defence, only to send his strike wide of the target.
In added time in the first period of extra time, Sharp made the decisive breakthrough when he nodded in a Freeman cross.
The 34-year-old had only scored two goals prior to this match, compared to 24 the previous season – but his header was enough to see his side through.
On-loan Monaco midfielder Pele almost levelled in the final minute of added time – but his strike bounced off the outside of the post with Henderson beaten.
What the managers said…
Reading boss Mark Bowen: “It’s hard to take when you put that much effort in. We soaked up pressure and we had periods where we took the game to them.
“It was a game of few chances and we have been done by two crosses into our box. It was a long hard-fought battle and it’s hard to take. My players know what we’re about and what we can do together.
“We have to take this on in our league form, we have 10 games to go and we will pick up points.”
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: “It was always going to be tough. We didn’t under-prepare, we knew what we would face. It was a fantastic start. The Reading punters got right behind their team and they lifted their game. It was never going to be easy.
“As a Championship side, we knocked out so many Premier League sides in this cup and the League Cup, so we knew it was never going to be easy. The biggest thing is getting through, it took us extra time to do it, but my team turns up, is consistent in their performance as I’ve always said. We got the job done and found a way to win. It was a difficult night for us.
“The first box was ticked last week when we reached 40 points and now, we’re in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, tick. It’s all to play for and you never know where these players can take this football club. There’s a great desire to finish this season off as well as we can.”
- Sheffield United have reached the FA Cup quarter-final for the first time since 2013-14. In fact, they last reached the last eight as a top-flight side in 1992-93.
- Reading have lost their last five meetings with Sheffield United in all competitions; only against Arsenal (14), Manchester United (6) and Middlesbrough (6) are they on longer current losing streaks.
- Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp has been directly involved in four goals in his last five appearances in all competitions (2 goals, 2 assists), he only scored once in his first 15 games this season (1 goal, 0 assists).
- Reading forward George Puscas has scored in four of his last five appearances in all competitions (4 goals), as many goals as in his previous 24 for the club.
- David McGoldrick’s second-minute strike was his first goal of the season for Sheffield United, in his 21st game with what was his 37th shot.
Both teams return to action at 3pm on Saturday, with Reading away to Birmingham City in the Championship and Sheffield United hosting Norwich City in the Premier League.