The Wokingham Paper

Officially frustrated: Reading FC boss Steve Clarke left ruing key decisions in dramatic FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal

Pavel Pogrebnyak
Reading striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, subject of one of three contentious referee decisions, goes close against Arsenal (Picture: Paul King)

Steve Clarke was left frustrated by three key decisions by the match officials, claiming the loss against Arsenal was “typical of our season” following the heartbreaking late 2-1 defeat at Wembley on Saturday.

Reading more than held their own throughout the match and deservedly levelled through Garath McCleary after Alexis Sanchez had put Arsenal in front in the first half.

But despite all Royals endeavour, they were undone midway through extra time when Sanchez struck again, catching Adam Federici cold at his near post as the ball squirmed through his body to send Arsenal to the final.

Reviewing his side’s performance, Clarke said: “It just seems to be for Reading that it’s one of those seasons.

“We’re in a cycle where the team are not getting the breaks and they are not getting the chance to win matches. (This game) was typical of our season.

“You come here, you have a plan for the game and the first big decision in the game, is Mackie offside after 11 minutes? Clear through on goal, he wasn’t offside.

“The second half at 1-1, is Pogrebnyak clear through. He’s not offside. Handball in the box, (Debuchy) stops the cross going in the box from Hal Robson-Kanu. It’s a penalty. And these are the moments you need in a game like this if you’re the underdog.

“Unfortunately for us at the moment they’re not going for us.”

Clarke sprung a tactical surprise to many at kick off by opting to start all three of Jamie Mackie, Robson-Kanu and McCleary rather than a more conservative approach with an extra central midfielder and he felt the decision paid off.

He said: “I really thought we’d win and I think the performance showed why I had that belief. The players were tactically spot on. They played the game I asked them to play.

“Everyone thought we’d come here and shut up shop, camp in and try and defend 4-5-1. We came and had a go, we played a front two and we had a go.

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

“There were certain stages in the game where we were the better team which is a good achievement against such a good Arsenal side.

The game will live long in the memory for Federici. The Aussie stopper made a number of vital saves throughout the match before that fateful spill in the 105th minute, but Clarke had plenty of encouraging words for the 30-year-old.

“This is the life of a goalkeeper and Adam Federici is a top goalkeeper,” he said.

“There’s every chance that he will be the Reading Player of the Season this year so his performances in the Championship have been absolutely crucial for this football club.

“But it’s the life of a goalkeeper. We stick by him, we don’t lose because of Adam. We lose as a team and we win as a team.

“Adam is a strong character. He will take his disappointment, he’ll take it on the chin and on Wednesday night when we play Birmingham at home, I’m sure he’ll be as good as he always is.”

Around 30,000 Royals fans packed out one end of Wembley Stadium and were incredible throughout, something Clarke hopes can be a sign of things to come.

He added: “They got right behind the team from start to finish, they can go home proud of their team.

“I don’t think there’s one that can be negative about that team and that performance on Saturday.

“Everybody gave everything they had for Reading Football Club so the supporters can go home a little bit disappointed like everybody else but they have to be proud of their team.

“It was great to see them all there as well, it shows the potential of Reading Football Club.”

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