HEARTBREAK FOR HERO KEEPER AS DREAM DIES
Federici in tears after Cup howler
READING keeper Adam Federici suffered a Wembley nightmare as his battling Royals suffered extratime heartbreak in the FA Cup semi-final.
Written off before kick-off and behind to Alexis Sanchez’s first-half opener, the Championship underdogs fought back magnificently and stunned the Gunners with an equaliser from Garath McCleary.
Federici then made a string of spectacular stops, keeping his side afloat as the rattled Premier League giants finally imposed their class.
But with penalties looming and an FA Cup final in sight, Federici allowed Sanchez’s tame effort to squirm through his legs – bringing an agonising end to the Royals’ gallant resistance and leaving the Aussie keeper in floods of tears.
Having waited 88 years for an FA Cup semi-final, Reading turned up at this one seemingly beaten before a ball was kicked.
A record of one victory in ten Championship games made for a grim comparison with Arsenal’s peerless run of eight straight wins. There was then, no expectation, and little hope.
But while the Gunners’ early probing carried menace, there was nothing – bar a Per Mertesacker header deftly pushed to safety by Federici – that truly stretched the Championship side.
Had Jamie Mackie not been flagged offside as he galloped onto Jordan Obita’s hopeful punt, the underdogs might even have taken the first bite. It was a tight call, but replays suggested Laurent Koscielny got lucky with a tardy attempt to push up.
And though Federici had to be smart off his line to halt the marauding Sanchez,Wojciech Szczesny also had his fingers warmed by a 20yard sighter from the impressive Obita.
Yet if the half began with unexpected promise, its conclusion was sadly predictable as Ozil and Sanchez – whose annual salaries would account for Reading’s entire wage bill – combined to give the holders the lead.
Though McCleary had failed to spot Sanchez’s cunning run, Ozil hadn’t, and the German’s perfectlylofted through ball was first controlled and then instinctively prodded home by the Gunners’ leading marksman.
Game over? Nobody told the Royals. Roared on by a blue and white hoard whose volume never dropped, Reading emerged after half-time determined to seize on any complacency.
And when Santi Cazorla failed to stop Pogrebnyak’s charge to the byline, McCleary made his amends, sliding the Russian’s cross through the legs of Kieran Gibbs and beyond Szczesny’s pathetic attempt at a save.
Shocked and rattled, the Gunners dropped deep, allowing first Danny Williams and then Nathaniel Chalobah efforts on goal.
And even when the Premier League side did rally, Federici was simply unbeatable, pulling off world-class saves to deny Gabriel, Ramsey and then Giroud. It was, then, a cruel irony when Sanchez – so quiet second half – jinked past Gunter and struck a shot that slipped through Federici’s grasp. This time, there would be no comeback.
The Gunners’ manager, Arsene Wenger, vowed to speak to Federici and express sympathy. “I will tell him he has saved his team on many, many occasions,” said the Frenchman. “He played very, very well.”
His midfielder Aaron Ramsey added:“We got a bit of luck with that last goal, but it doesn’t matter how you do it. What matters is that you get there.
“It’s never nice to see somebody make a mistake like that. I’ve been on the losing side in a Cup final and it’s an awful feeling. But unfortunately there has to be a loser and thankfully for us that was Reading.”
Reading chairman Sir John Madejski insisted he was proud of his club’s efforts, despite the result.
“I’m incredibly proud,” said Madejski. “We played so well. The fans must be delighted with the performance. It’s cruel.”
HOPE LIVES: Garath McCleary, hidden, celebrates with team mates after scoring Reading’s equaliser
ZERO AND HERO: Adam Federici lets the ball slip between his legs to send Arsenal to the final. Inset: Federici makes a save earlier from Gabriel