HEART­BREAK FOR HERO KEEPER AS DREAM DIES

Fed­erici in tears af­ter Cup howler

The Football League Paper - - THE FA CUP SEMI-FINAL - By Chris Dunlavy

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

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

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

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