Cardiff City manager Neil Harris has told his players: “The FA Cup is finished – let’s go for Championship success.”
Harris was bitterly disappointed that his team lost 4-1 on penalties against Reading in last night’s FA Cup fourth round replay after the sides had finished locked at 3-3 after extra time.
The Bluebirds – who would have earned a plum home tie against Sheffield United in the last 16 – dominated the first half and led 2-0, leading Harris to admit: “You have to attack as a team and defend as a team.
“We need to be better, have better concentration and understanding.
“Turning draws into wins is something we’ve fallen short of and that was the case over 120 minutes against Reading.
“We’ve conceded three goals from crosses, which isn’t good enough. The senior players are going to be disappointed.
“We’re disappointed tonight but pleased with certain aspects – Murph scoring twice, playing well, and two young boys – Joel Bagan and Tom Sang – making their debuts.
“The FA Cup is finished for the season. We have 16 league games left and the boys will have a right go. We have a big game on Saturday against Luton and we look forward to that.”
Cardiff blew their chance of progressing to the Emirates FA Cup last 16 after carving out a wonderful chance of beating Reading. They now turn to hopes of qualifying for the Championship play-offs.
The Bluebirds led 2-0 and then 3-2 in extra time, but their game management was poor with the Royals surging back to win and earn a fifth round tie against the Blades.
Harris and his players looked massively dejected when they walked off after extra time, knowing they had lost after producing their best 45 minutes off the season during the first half.
The fluency and movement from Cardiff was a pleasure to watch. Teenager Joel Bagan, making his debut, looked composed, while Josh Murphy was on the charge and Gavin Whyte tormented Reading.
Reading fought back from 2-0 down to make it 2-2 before Murphy scored his second goal three minutes into extra time. Cardiff, though, were pegged back again and Reading forced the game into a penalty shootout.
Garath McLeary, Gabriel Osho and Jordan Obita fired the Royals 3-0 ahead on spot-kicks before Sone Aluko clinched victory.
Aden Flint volunteered for Cardiff’s first penalty and failed to score, while Will Vaulks hit the bar. Marlon Pack scored from the spot, but it was too little too late for City.
The pity was that Cardiff were by far the better team for long periods. They dominated the opening half with man of the match Josh Murphy a major threat down the left, cutting inside and causing Reading major problems.
Reading set up with three centre-backs and could not cope with Cardiff’s 4-4-2 formation. Royals manager Mark Bowen switched to a four-man defence after half-time and the visitors looked far better.
Murphy fired Cardiff ahead after 19 minutes when he fired into the bottom right-hand corner and Robert Glatzel added a second when he fired in after 54 minutes.
At that stage Cardiff looked certain winners, but it all went wrong in the final 21 minutes. Omar Richards headed in for Reading after 69 minutes before Andy Rinomhota fired into the top left-hand corner on 79 minutes.
Reading looked the more likely winners at that stage, but Murphy struck again on 93 minutes and suddenly Cardiff were on top.
The Bluebirds failed to see the game through, though, and Yakou Meite scored to make it 3-3.
Then came the penalty shootout disaster, but there were many, many positives from the team performance. Man of the match Murphy was sharp and decisive, while Glatzel grew in confidence after scoring his goal.
Hopes of FA Cup progress have gone, but the Bluebirds will focus on their SkyBet Championship clash with Luton Town at Kenilworth Road on Saturday when they have the chance of moving a touch closer to at least some of the clubs above them.
Cardiff City: Neil Etheridge, Joel Bagan (Joe Bennett 82), Aden Flint, Sol Bamba, Jazz Richards, Marlon Pack (capt), Will Vaulks, Josh Murphy, Danny Ward (Callum Paterson 77), Gavin Whyte (Tom Sang 90), Robert Glatzel. Sub not used: Sean Morrison, Alex Smithies (gk), Sam Bowen, Ntazana Mayembe
Reading: Sam Walker, Gabriel Osho, Michael Morrison, Tyler Blackett (Jordan Obita 97), Omar Richards, Charlie Adam (Garath McCleary 46), John Swift, Pele (Andy Rinomhota 63), Chris Gunter, George Puscas (Sone Aluko 46), Yakou Meite. Subs not used: Sam Baldock, Jordan Obita, Jokul Andersson (gk), Jeriel Dorsett
Referee: Gavin Ward
Full Emirates FA Cup fifth-round draw (Wednesday, March 4):
1 Sheffield Wednesday v Manchester City
2 Reading v Sheffield United
3 Chelsea v Liverpool
4 West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United
5 Leicester City v Coventry City or Birmingham
6 Derby County v Manchester United
7 Southampton or Tottenham Hotspur v Norwich City
8 Portsmouth v Arsenal