Reading edge past MK Dons in thrilling FA Cup first round encounter
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Trailing to a Kelvin Ehibhatioman strike after only three minutes, Dons looked by far the better side in the first-half and were fairly level on 39 minutes when Alex Gilbey got his fourth of the season.
But Max Dean came off the bench to net his fifth goal in as many games in the 93rd minute, and then was denied a penalty a couple of minutes later to end Dons' cup run.
With Mike Williamson keen to see more of his squad in match action, the head coach made six changes to the side to face Reading. Keeper Michael Kelly made only his second start in goal for the club, while Tommy Smith, MJ Williams, Dawson Devoy, Mo Eisa and Jonathan Leko all returning to the side. Dean Lewington was named on the subs bench for the first time since mid-September, while Darragh Burns was also included for the first time this season.
Dons began brightly but found themselves trailing after just three minutes when Kelvin Ehibatioman turned Jack Tucker inside out to find the bottom corner - but the opening goal would probably be the most surprising moment of the first-half.
And that would be the case because it would be just about all the home side would offer in the opening 45 minutes. Despite the significant changes, Dons looked dangerous, quick, and on the same wavelength - something which they had not always done when big changes came.
Wing-backs Daniel Harvie and Cameron Norman found themselves in acres of space on either flank and were the key men for Dons as they looked to exploit Reading's deep-lying defence, but chances were hard to carve.
Jack Tucker was one of five players to keep his spot in the side, but he lasted just 20 minutes before limping out, replaced by Jack Payne as Williams dropped into defence - a spot he played regularly for former club Bolton.
Captain Alex Gilbey spoke to the Citizen in the week about wanting to add more goals to his game, and after seeing two chances saved by Royals keeper Joel Pereira, drew level six minutes before the break when Norman's first-time cross bounced off the stopper, and was bundled home by the skipper.
It was a hugely different Reading side which emerged for the second-half, with Ruben Selles calling on his more regular players at the interval, bringing on one-time Dons target Harvey Knibbs and Femi Azeez, and the pair made an almost immediate impact. Azeez fired over the crossbar within 40 seconds of the restart after combining with his fellow substitute, and was then caught offside when he played in goal-scorer Ehibatioman to find the net again only to see it chalked off.
Dons began to get their feet back into the game in the second-half, with Leko arrowing one over the bar, but the home side would secure their spot in the next round with two goals in four minutes.
The first came from Knibbs as he directed Lewis Wing's free-kick into the corner of the net on 64 minutes before keeper Kelly played Williams into trouble in their own penalty area, allowing Wing to tap in from close range to make it 3-1.
Williamson made changes to bring on the likes of Conor Grant and Max Dean to try and get back into it, before bringing on two players at either ends of their career in the form of Dean Lewington and Callum Tripp to see it out.
Reading could have should put a bow on the result with two excellent chances falling for Dom Ballard in the closing stages, the first needing to be cleared off the line by Warren O'Hora.
But the game would end on a knife-edge when Dean was on hand in the 93rd minute to poke home his fifth goal in as many games after Gilbey's shot was palmed into his path, making for an uncomfortable final three minutes for the hosts.
Dons piled on the pressure at the end, looking for an equaliser to force a replay, and they felt they should have got it when Tivonge Rushesha appeared to haul down Dean in the box at the very death, though referee Thomas Kirk was unmoved as the final whistle went moments later.
Referee: Thomas Kirk
Reading: Pereira, Elliott (Knibbs 46), Mukairu (Azeez 46), Ehbhatiomhan, Bindon, Wing, Hutchinson (Craig 59) Abbey, Rushesha, Vickers (Ballard 60), Carson (Dorsett 85)
Subs not used: Collins, Holmes, Savage, Guinness-Walker
MK Dons: Kelly, Tucker (Payne 20), O'Hora, Smith (Lewington 80), Harvie, Norman, William, Gilbey (c), Devoy (Tripp 80), Leko (Grant 65), Eisa (Dean 65)
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Ilunga, Burns, Dennis
Booked: Elliott, Hutchinson, Knibbs, Dean