BRIAN McDermott refused to blame youngster Jake Cooper after the defender’s moment of madness robbed gutsy Reading of a shot at Wembley.
A wonder show from Royals keeper Ali Al-Habsi looked to have ground out a deserved replay and kept the dream of back-to-back semi-finals alive.
But with just four minutes left to play, Yannick Bolasie’s pursuit of a lost cause was halted by a needless tug from Cooper, whose misery only intensified when Mike Dean produced a second yellow card.
Yohan Cabaye scored from the spot before sub Frazier Cambell rubbed salt into the wound late on, sending Palace to a first FA Cup semi-final for 21 years.
“I’m disappointed for the players,” said McDermott. “They’re gutted in the dressing room because they’ve put their bodies on the line out there. They deserved more.
“Coops has raised his arm. Bolasie has gone down pretty easily. But that’s what happens in this day and age. He made the referee make a call and he decided to give the penalty.
“Was their lad clever? I don’t know. What I would say is that Jake was terrific. He was really, really good and he’ll learn from that. We’ve got some really good people in that dressing room and they’ll pick him up.”
If defeat was harsh on Reading, it was a rank injustice for the sensational Al-Habsi. Denied a shot at FA Cup glory when he was injured on the eve of Wigan’s shock triumph in 2013, the Omani stopper was determined to make up for lost time.
Time and again the jinking feet of Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha unpicked the Royals back four.Time and again, Al-Habsi proved a redoubtable barrier.
Yohan Cabaye, a menace from every set-piece, saw one swirling free-kick tipped round the post and another plucked from the top corner.
Mile Jedinak’s powerful header suffered a similar fate. Emmanuel Adebayor was denied from close range, as was Bolasie. Al-Habsi even got a despairing fingertip to the penalty.
“Ali was outstanding,” said McDermott. “He made some fabu-
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