The Wokingham Paper

‘Let’s make history’: Steve Clarke relishing ‘great challenge’ as Reading FC prepare for FA Cup semi-final date with Arsenal

Steve Clarke
Steve Clarke was proud of the performance produced by his Reading side at Wembley (Picture: Reading FC)

Steve Clarke has warned his players not to let the occasion of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal get the better of them.

More than 30,000 Royals supporters will descend on the capital this weekend to watch the side try and plot a way of knocking out the defending champions and set up a final date with either Liverpool or Aston Villa in May.

While cup fever is currently gripping both town and county, boss Clarke is confident his charges will not be overwhelmed at the idea of playing in front of a capacity Wembley crowd and all the excitement that comes with it.

“The only way to enjoy a semi-final is to win the game,” said the Reading manager.

“You cannot go to Wembley and play the occasion, it is not about playing the occasion, it is about playing Arsenal.

“For us it has to be about a day of work. We have to go focused only on what happens on the pitch. The supporters can go and enjoy the day, that’s their little reward for a cup run.

“For us, it is to go there with a mentality we are there to do a job.

“And if we can do that right, we can go through.”

Reading players and supporters alike need no remainder of the task facing them come Saturday afternoon.

For a side 18th in the Sky Bet Championship table and without a league win in seven games following Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to leaders Bournemouth, the idea of toppling a Gunners side who have lost just one of their last 11 games – winning eight on the bounce in the league – represents a tall order.

Clarke, though, knows what it takes for his side to pull off an almighty upset.

He said:  “I think we have to play almost the perfect game.

“Obviously we have to defend well and we have to be solid, we have to be resolute and we have to be mentally strong.

“But it is a game where we cannot make too many mistakes because if you make mistakes against the top teams, they punish you, so we’re looking to play the perfect game.

“If we can do that, then we have got a chance.”

Should Royals go on and claim victory, reward is not just a return trip to the home of football a few weeks later, but also a place in the club’s history books, as no other Reading team have ventured beyond the last four of the competition before.

The road to Wembley has been an interesting one, as three of the four victories in the cup have come against Championship rivals; form which they have struggled to reciprocate in the league.

Clarke suggested his players perhaps take to such games with ‘a little bit more freedom, a little less nervousness’, but believes a change in fortunes in the league has not been for the want of trying.

And as he looks at ways of keeping the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla quiet on Saturday evening, the manager admitted the performance shown during the loss to the Cherries has left him encouraged.

“You would have to ask the players if it (the semi-final) has affected them a little bit,” said Clarke.

“I don’t see it in the performances. But if you look at the game last night, there was a full-blooded game, nobody pulled out of any challenges.

“I didn’t look at our team and think they are saving themselves for Saturday because they weren’t. They gave everything.

“I don’t think it has affected them, but you never know. Psychology in football is key.

“It is a difficult one to answer. Maybe some players have kept a little bit back, I don’t know.’

He went on to say: ‘I think it is a great challenge for us. It is the chance for us to give a little bit of excitement to the town, for the supporters who have had a difficult season and also for the players.

“It is the chance for them to make history.

“Reading Football Club have never played in an FA Cup final, so these players have a chance to make history.

“What an incentive”

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