YAKUBU’S APPETITE WHETTED BY RAMS
Royals move into last eight
HE may be a touch rounder at the waist. He may be a little slower off the mark. But when it comes to hitting the net, Yakubu remains one of the best in the business.
Now 32, the well-travelled Nigerian joined Reading as a free agent in January – the 12th club of a nomadic career that has taken him to Israel, China and Qatar.
But the former Middlesbrough and Everton striker dispelled any notion that he is a spent force by stepping off the bench to fire Reading into the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Leading through Hal Robson-Kanu, the Royals lost their way against tenman Derby and when Darren Bent bagged a deserved equaliser a replay looked a sure bet.
Enter ‘the Yak’, who was fed by Robson-Kanu and duly scored, outstripping Richard Keogh before lancing an inch-perfect finish into the bottom corner just 11 minutes after coming on.
“When I saw that big smile on the touchline, I knew we could be in trouble,” said Rams boss Steve McClaren, who signed Yakubu for Middlesbrough ten years ago.
“His first touch was excellent, his second touch was even better. It was a quality goal. I don’t know what age he is now. Mind you, I didn’t know what age he was then. He told me he was 25 when he signed for Boro. But you
never lose that quality. He was the only person on the pitch who could have finished like that.”
Delighted Reading boss Steve Clarke also hailed his match-winner, who scored 120 goals for Premier League sides Portsmouth, Boro and Everton.
“Yak’s a goalscorer,” said the Scot. “You know when he’s going through one on one he’ll hit the target and nine times out of ten he scores. Thankfully this was one of them.
“He got a nice reintroduction to the Championship in mid-week. He came on against Leeds, got an elbow in the face and broke his nose. We straightened that up, so he’s still looking gorgeous.
“And you saw today why we took him. He scores goals. It’s what he does.”
Yakubu’s strike was harsh on a Derby side who had battled with both bravery and class following the first-half dismissal of debutant Stephen Warnock.
Having upended Robson-Kanu to collect his first booking, the 33-yearold full-back could have no complaints after piling late into Jamie Mackie shortly before half-time. And when Robson-Kanu then bent Simon Cox’s neat cut back into the top-corner and Pavel Pogrebnyak had a header cleared off the line, an away victory seemed a formality.
Yet Derby’s response, albeit driven primarily by the desire to avoid a replay, was bold and brilliant as they continued to pour forward in numbers. Their reward came when Bent inadvertently deflected Jesse Lingard’s miscued shot beyond Adam Federici, who then leapt full-length to deny Jamie Ward as the home side pressed.
But, while admirable, the homeside’s threat left them wide open at the back. Cox missed a host of chances, Pogrebnyak had a shot saved and, when Robson-Kanu slipped a clever ball into space, Yakubu burst between Keogh and Ryan Shotton to make it 2-1. A shattered Derby side had no chance of launching a second comeback.
“I’m disappointed to go out,” said McClaren.
“But I thought the performance was magnificent.
“It was a fantastic effort and I thought the players were heroic.
“Yes, we could have gone all defensive, gone 4-4-1 and tried to get a draw.
“But we wanted a result. We opened the game up and went for it and even with ten men we kept playing, kept passing from the back, kept creating chances. I can’t fault them.”
FOOT IN: Simon Dawkins, left, is tackled by Michael Hector
HE’S YAK: Reading celebrate as Yakubu, right, scores his first goal for Reading
STAR MAN MICHA