FA CUP NOT ON CLARKE’S MIND – YET

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Alex Smith

READ­ING manager Steve Clarke is re­fus­ing to get caught up in Cup ex­cite­ment af­ter an at­tri­tional goal­less draw.

The Roy­als face Ar­se­nal at Wem­b­ley next Satur­day for their first FA Cup semi-fi­nal since 1927, but strug­gled in an dour af­fair at the Made­jski.

And Read­ing chief Clarke is re­fus­ing to talk about the semi­fi­nal un­til af­ter their fix­ture with league-lead­ers Bournemouth.

“What cup?” he joked. “There is a fan­tas­tic at­mos­phere around the club, but the next game for us is on Tues­day against the favourites to go up. It is im­por­tant not to be dis­tracted.

“We have a dif­fi­cult game on Tues­day night, every­body’s favourites for pro­mo­tion are com­ing here so it will be a tough game.

“You’ll have to wait un­til Tues­day to see how many changes I make. Some peo­ple say I make too many changes ev­ery week.”

Read­ing are not math­e­mat­i­cally safe from rel­e­ga­tion but have drawn three games in a row as they aim to end the sea­son pos­i­tively.

Clarke added: “We are now three games un­beaten, three draws, but we would much rather have had a win in there but it is still three games un­beaten.

“We are prov­ing a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to beat now and we will try to con­tinue that on Tues­day.

“It was the first time in a few weeks where I have stood by the side of the pitch and felt we had con­trol of the game for al­most the whole game.

“The only thing miss­ing was a goal and we cer­tainly had enough chances to get that goal.”

Read­ing con­trolled pos­ses­sion in the first half but failed to cre­ate many mean­ing­ful chances, as in­jury plagued Rovers toiled in the sun.

Roy­als winger Jamie Mackie twisted and turned down the right be­fore fizzing across goal, but Hal Rob­son-Kanu scuffed his ef­fort straight at goal­keeper Simon East­wood.

The im­pres­sive Mackie was again the cen­tre of at­ten­tion when his header dropped over the bar, af­ter fine work from fel­low flanker Garath McCleary.

Roy­als skip­per Jem Kara­can cel­e­brated his first start in 270 days, af­ter suf­fer­ing a knee in­jury in Septem­ber 2013, and his long-range ef­fort looked set for the cor­ner un­til it was blocked.

Rovers charged af­ter the in­ter­val and cre­ated two half chances as wide-man Ben Mar­shall had his vol­ley blocked on the line, be­fore he forced Adam Fed­erici to tap over his cross-cum-shot.

The best chance of the game was left un­til stop­page time, as sub­sti­tute Hope Ak­pan nod­ded Mackie’s cor­ner to­wards the bot­tom cor­ner but left-back Mar­cus Ols­son po­si­tioned him­self well to flick past the post.

Mid-ta­ble Black­burn could also have been pre­par­ing for a trip to the cap­i­tal next week­end, but lost their quar­ter-fi­nal re­play with Liver­pool.

And manager Gary Bowyer refuted the idea that his side’s sea­son was over fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day night’s cup de­feat.

He said: “One hun­dred per cent we’ve still got some­thing to play for be­cause our play­ers are hon­est and they want to im­prove.

“I think you saw that again. They want to aim for the high­est level they can pos­si­bly play at so th­ese games are mas­sive.

“I thought our play­ers showed great men­tal strength here to come to a dif­fi­cult place.

“We knew it would be a chal­lenge and we stood up to the chal­lenge.

“It is well doc­u­mented that we’ve more or less got a team miss­ing with in­juries.

“Th­ese play­ers are do­ing ever so well be­cause we only made a cou­ple of changes from the other night when they played an un­be­liev­able game against Liver­pool.

“So to come away from home and keep a clean sheet is a mas­sive pos­i­tive in any game.”

PIC­TURE:Ac­tion Images

BATTLE: Black­burn’s Chris Brown in ac­tion with Read­ing's Nathaniel Chalobah. Inset: Mar­cus Ols­son tus­sles with Jamie Mackie

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