Mikele Leigertwood scored a thundering long-range drive against his old club as Reading strolled into the last 16 of the FA Cup with a very comfortable win over Sheffield United.
With Reading currently sitting in the Barclays Premier League relegation zone, many people had this down as a potential upset, but League One United were completely outclassed at the Madejski Stadium.
Reading boss Brian McDermott made six changes to his side, resting the likes of Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie, but the decision did not backfire as the Royals continued to show the confidence they have gained after a winning run that now stretches to four games.
Noel Hunt, making a rare start, took just five minutes to open the scoring with a neat header and he also beat United goalkeeper George Long in the second half to register his sixth of the season.
Garath McCleary, who gave the away defence a torrid time all afternoon, also found the net following a mazy run into the box, but the best strike of the day came from ex-Blades midfielder Leigertwood.
The 30-year-old had spoken of his enjoyable year with United in the Barclays Premier League in 2006, but he showed little mercy against his former employers today, firing a powerful drive past Long in the dying minutes of the first half.
McDermott had described United as a “giant” on Thursday after recalling the exploits of such Blades heroes as Tony Currie.
There were no signs that any of the current crop of the Blades players were capable of playing at such a level early on, however, as the visitors went behind after just five minutes.
Hal Robson-Kanu found space on the left flank and whipped in a curling cross which Hunt headed in from eight yards before he embarked upon a celebratory backflip.
Adam Le Fondre, rewarded with a start following his match-winning brace at Newcastle last weekend, burst past three players but Long came to gather before Hunt could add a second.
United started to briefly come back into the match. The impressive Nick Blackman skipped past his marker and fired a low ball across a packed penalty box, but Adrian Mariappa turned the ball behind.
McDermott remained on the edge of his technical area, clearly worried his team had lost the initiative.
United’s Chris Porter flicked a header just wide of Adam Federici’s goal just after the half hour and the Australian did well to save Jamie Murphy’s low drive moments later.
Any hopes United had of levelling before the break were dashed in the 40th minute when McCleary found Leigertwood lurking 25 yards out and he unleashed a powerful drive which Long had no chance of stopping.
Reading continued to dominate after the break. Nicky Shorey split the Blades defence with a well-weighted pass, but Long came out to smother before Hunt could shoot.
The seemingly inevitable third goal for the home side came moments later when McCleary cut in from the right and squared to Hunt, whose scuffed shot dribbled past the wrong-footed Long.
Reading’s fans started chanting “Que sera”, clearly convinced the game was over.
And the final nail in the visitors’ coffin came after 54 minutes thanks to a great bit of skill from McCleary. The former Nottingham Forest man picked up Le Fondre’s pass, and embarrassed his marker with a slalom run into the box before beating Long at his far post.
United almost pulled back a consolation goal on the hour through McDonald, who saw his drilled shot tipped wide by Federici.
The Australian was beaten moments later but, luckily for the Royals, Stephen Kelly was on hand to clear Blackman’s shot off the line.
A section of the away support starting making their way to the exits. Had they stayed they would have seen Ryan Flynn miss a glorious chance to pull one back, the substitute somehow putting a free header wide from eight yards following a pinpoint cross from Blackman.