READING boss Steve Clarke accused the Football Association of “devaluing the competition” after bowing to UEFA pressure to stage their FA Cup quarter-final replay with Bradford a week on Monday.
The two lowest-ranked sides left in the competition must meet again with the prize of a Wembley semi-final at stake after cancelling each other out in a gutsy goalless draw at Valley Parade yesterday.
A UEFA rule prohibits FA Cup games being played at the same time as continental fixtures and means both clubs face a replay less than 48 hours after difficult away league games at Watford and Notts County respectively.
Clarke, pictured right, said: “I think the FA are devaluing the competition a little bit by making both teams play on Saturday then Monday. Why don’t they just play it [on Tuesday or Wednesday] – what are UEFA going to do?
“I love the FA Cup and everything it stands for. Bradford’s run to this point has been amazing and all that romance is there, but the FA choose to make both teams play on a Monday. That is the one disappointment.”
Clarke hailed his side’s spirit after a clattering encounter in which the visitors hit the woodwork twice through Pavel Pogrebnyak and Oliver Norwood, and which captain Alex Pearce finished with a broken nose.
But he denied they would be considered hot favourites to progress to the semi-finals for the first time since 1927 when the Royals face the Bantams for the second time on their controversial replay date.
Clarke said: “When the draw was made I said it was a 50-50 tie and I believe it is still a 50-50 tie as both teams showed today that they are quite evenly matched.
“It was a good old-fashioned cup tie between two fully committed teams. It was a physical game with no quarter asked and no quarter given and both teams just looking for that lucky bounce of the ball.”
Clarke confirmed Pearce finished the game with a broken nose after an accidental clash with Bradford substitute Francois Zoko in the 87th minute.
Clarke added: “It would have been easy for him to go off the pitch but [his attitude was] wipe the blood away, straighten the nose and get on with it – a proper centre-half.”
League One side Bradford had the best of a fractious affair but Phil Parkinson’s men could not quite summon the spirit which had swept them past Chelsea and Sunderland in the two previous rounds.
Despite the Bantams dominating for long periods, Championship outfit Reading almost snatched it at the death when Oliver Norwood’s free kick eluded everyone in the box and struck the base of Ben Williams’ right-hand upright.
Reading striker Pogrebnyak and Bradford’s Gary Liddle also hit the woodwork in the first period in a game that was big on intent but clearly suffering from the pressure of the momentous prize at stake for both clubs.
Reading were lucky to stay on level terms in the 71st minute when James Hanson fired just wide from point-blank range after a cross by Jon Stead.
Bradford came close again four minutes later when the excellent Filipe Morais flung in another cross from wide on the right and found the head of defender Andrew Davies, who powered his shot just over Adam Federici’s bar.
Then came Norwood’s late free kick which sprang through a crowded box and sparked a mighty goalmouth scramble as the visitors missed their big chance to snatch a place in the last four by a lick of paint.
A winner would have sent Bradford into the semi-finals for the first time since they won the trophy in 1911 while the Royals were bidding to end their own 88-year wait.
Parkinson believed the second-half performance in particular was deserving of more reward but said he would relish the opportunity of a replay at a club he graced with aplomb for a significant portion of his playing career.
Parkinson said: “I thought we were in the ascendency in the second period and it was always going to take a mistake or a moment of quality to settle the game today.
“You have to give Reading credit because they looked at the Sunderland game and they tightened up and did the basics really well and made it a scrappy affair at times.”
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