FA CUP NOT ON CLARKE’S MIND – YET
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.”
BATTLE: Blackburn’s Chris Brown in action with Reading's Nathaniel Chalobah. Inset: Marcus Olsson tussles with Jamie Mackie