Cardiff City blew their chance of progressing to the Emirates FA Cup last 16 after carving out a wonderful chance of beating Reading.
The Bluebirds led 2-0 and then 3-2 in extra time, but their game management in this fourth round replay was poor with the Royals surging back to win and earn a fifth round tie against Sheffield United at home.
Manager Neil 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 Josh 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 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. 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.