READING, UK: Crystal Palace reached the FA Cup semifinals for the first time in 21 years as Yohan Cabaye’s controversial penalty inspired a 2-0 win at second tier Reading on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
Alan Pardew’s Premier League strugglers looked as though they would have to settle for a replay with just minutes left in the quarter-final at the Madejski Stadium.
But Yannick Bolasie won a debatable 86th minute penalty after tumbling following the slightest contact with Reading defender Jake Cooper, who was sent off for the foul.
France midfielder Yohan Cabaye stepped up to convert the spot-kick and Fraizer Campbell added Palace’s second goal with virtually the last kick.
The Eagles’ late flourish takes them into the last four for the first time since 1995 when they were beaten by Manchester United in a replay.
They last made the final in 1990 when Pardew, then a journeyman Palace midfielder, was the goal-scoring hero in a famous semi-final upset of Liverpool.
Palace’s progress to the semi-finals at Wembley is at odds with their terrible league form and they arrived at Reading on a 12-match winless run that had seen them slide towards the relegation zone.
It was a much-needed boost for Pardew, who cut his managerial teeth at Reading before walking out in 2003 to take charge of West Ham.
He received a frosty reception from Royals fans on his latest return, but eventually had the last laugh.
“I haven’t seen the penalty again and I’m not going to even give it an opinion. I’ve had enough trouble with penalties!” Pardew said in reference to Liverpool’s dubious penalty winner against Palace last weekend.
“It was a tricky tie for us but we were really good and should have wrapped it up before the penalty.
“We’ve been terrific in the cup but edgy and nervous in the league. Hopefully we can take this into league.”
Chances were at a premium and it took over 20 minutes for Reading, 14th in the second tier, to threaten for the first time when Michael Hector’s header was comfortably saved by Wayne Hennessey.
Palace gradually began to exert a measure of control and Cabaye’s free-kick drew a fine save from Ali Al Habsi.
Emmanuel Adebayor should have put Pardew’s men ahead when the Togo forward held off Paul McShane for a strike that was too close to Al Habsi.
Reading forward Ola John fared no better than Adebayor when a golden opportunity fell his way just before half-time, with his hesitancy allowing the Palace keeper to save after he misjudged a cross.
Palace pressed hard for the opener at the start of the second half and Mile Jedinak’s goal-bound header was brilliantly clawed away by Al Habsi, while moments later another Jedinak effort was cleared off the line.
Al Habsi remained the game’s pivotal figure and he flung himself to his left to keep out Cabaye’s free-kick.
Palace were nearly undone at the back by a routine cross that reached John at the far post, yet the forward’s diving header was straight at Hennessey.
The visitors’ pressure was finally rewarded in the 86th minute when Cooper needlessly tugged at Bolasie’s shirt as a harmless ball bounced towards Al Habsi.
Bolasie made the most of the slight contact, throwing himself to the turf to earn a penalty and a red card for Cooper.
Cabaye took the spot-kick and smashed it down the middle, with Al Habsi unable to keep it out despite getting a hand to the ball.
There was still time for Campbell to rub salt into Reading’s wounds deep into the stoppage-time when he scored from on the goal-line after initially hitting a post.