Crystal Palace put their Premier League struggles on hold to earn a place in their first FA Cup semi-final in 21 years by beating Championship side Reading with two late goals.
Palace are without a league win in 2016 but will be at Wembley thanks to a Yohan Cabaye penalty and Fraizer Campbell’s stoppage-time strike.
Reading had frustrated the Eagles before Jake Cooper was sent off for pulling back Yannick Bolasie. Cabaye converted from the spot before Campbell added a second from close range.
Palace boss Alan Pardew – who won promotion with Reading in his first managerial job – saw the tie as a chance for the Eagles to shake off their woeful league form but despite dominating possession and chances they could not find a way past Ali Al-Habsi in the Reading goal before the late penalty.
Reading took Arsenal to extra time in last year’s semi-final but apart from an Ola John header which was well saved by Wayne Hennessey, they rarely threatened a repeat visit and were indebted to a string of fine saves from Al-Habsi.
He kept out Mile Jedinak’s powerful header and two Cabaye free-kicks as the tie looked set for a replay, before the goalkeeper almost stopped the penalty awarded by referee Mike Dean for slight contact from Cooper as Bolasie chased a ball into the box.
Turning point for Pardew?
Pardew, 54, has strong FA Cup history with Palace, having scored the winner in the 1990 semi-final win against Liverpool.
And he will now hope to lead them to another final after seeing his side return to their counter-attacking best at times against stubborn opponents.
At the turn of the year Pardew may have been hoping for a place in the Champions League, with Palace four points off the top four in fifth, but they have picked up just two points since.
Cup wins against Stoke, Southampton and Tottenham have lightened the gloom though and Pardew will hope this latest win can inspire enough Premier League points to help end any lingering relegation fears.
The front three of Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Emmanuel Adebayor were a constant threat as Palace chalked up 23 efforts on goal, with Adebayor spurning a golden chance in the first half and Bolasie twice shooting wide.
Former Tottenham and Arsenal man Adebayor then laid on the late second with a fine ball to find substitute Campbell as Palace wrapped up a professional and well-earned win.
A week in the life of Palace penalty shouts
Last Sunday Pardew’s side were on the wrong end of a late penalty decision, with the manager subsequently accusing Liverpool striker Christian Benteke of diving at Selhurst Park.
“You’ve got to be 100% sure,” said Pardew at the weekend, before claiming “if it had been us, we would not have got [the decision]”.
Five nights on, Pardew was less keen to speak about a contentious late penalty as Reading’s 21-year-old defender Cooper was penalised for putting a hand across Bolasie inside the area.
“I haven’t seen the penalty again and I am not going to even give it an opinion,” he told BBC Sport.
“I have had enough trouble with penalties!”
What the managers said
Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew: “I thought it was going to go to a replay, if I’m honest. We’ve won, but we’ve got to win in the league.
“A semi-final in the Cup brings an excitement to you, and we hope that rubs off on our league form.
“We’ve had to win at Southampton and Tottenham, Stoke at home and now at Reading, and yet we can’t get a win in the league.
“We’ve been pressure conscious of late, but that wasn’t there in the Cup. We have 10 games left now and we’re looking forward to them.”
Reading boss Brian McDermott: “The players are gutted in the dressing room, we want this every week.
“We went toe to toe with a very good Premier League side.
“Our priority is the league. We don’t want it to be a situation where we talk about the FA Cup and FA Cup runs.
“We want to be talking about winning league games. The last 18 months, we’ve not done that.”
Man of the match – Ali Al-Habsi (Reading)
Palace will learn their semi-final opponents on Monday, with the draw taking place during The One Show on BBC One at 19:00 GMT.
Then they are back in Premier League action against leaders Leicester on 19 March. Reading – 11 points away from the Championship play-offs, nine from the relegation zone – face Brighton on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they would have stayed up if it had remained the same, but Benitez has given them a big opportunity,” Shearer said.
Newcastle are 19th, one point from safety, but have a game in hand.
Shearer, who is Newcastle’s record goalscorer and also managed the club in an ill-fated spell at the end of the 2008-09 season, said Benitez must be allowed to have full control over the team.
“It’s a great coup for Newcastle to get someone like Benitez, if – and it’s a big if – he can manage the football club the way he wants to manage,” Shearer said.
“What’s been clear is that every manager that Newcastle have appointed has come from a point of weakness, where they’ve not been able to set their own agenda.
“They’ve always had to work to a certain structure, whereas I think Rafa will be different – he’ll set what he wants, he can demand that he controls the transfers, and he can run the football club as he wants to run it.”
‘Fans will love him’
Benitez has previously managed Liverpool and Chelsea, winning the FA Cup and the Champions League with the former and the Europa League with the latter, and Shearer believes that record of success will endear him to Magpies fans.
“When you look at his success rate, almost wherever he’s been he’s delivered trophies,” Shearer said.
“[Newcastle fans] will love anyone who gives them success. He’s shown he can manage in tough situations.
“They’re crying out for something to grab hold of up here. They just want people to sweat blood for the black and white shirt.”
McClaren treatment was ‘disrespectful’
However, Shearer criticised the treatment of McClaren, whose sacking was widely reported in the media before it was confirmed on Friday.
“They did it all wrong,” Shearer said. “The way they’ve treated McClaren this week has been so disrespectful.
“If they’d decided to make that decision, which obviously they had, they should have done it last Saturday night after the game, or Sunday morning.
“It was so unprofessional and so hard for Steve to take, and he shouldn’t have been put through that.”
You can listen to the full interview with Alan Shearer on BBC Radio 5 live shortly after 19:00 GMT.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush at Hillsborough in an FA Cup semi-final between the Reds and Nottingham Forest in 1989.
United said the chants “have no place in the game”.
“It has always been the position of Manchester United that chants of this nature, which refer to historical tragedies, do not reflect the values the club holds,” a spokesman said.
“We are in discussion with our fans’ groups to seek their support in preventing this type of behaviour in the future.”
Former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton told BBC Radio 5 live the chants were “dreadful”.
“It has to come out of our game,” he said. “There were people in the crowd who lost loved ones at Hillsborough and that’s really hard to take.
“It’s something we don’t want to hear. It’s happened in the past with Liverpool fans to Manchester United with what happened at Munich. It’s uncalled for.”
In February 1958, eight United players and three club officials lost their lives in a plane crash in Munich following a European Cup tie.
“When you lower yourself to that level [of those fans], it’s quite remarkable,” said Houghton.
“It should have been a night of celebration – they haven’t played each other in a European tie before. The fans should have been getting behind their own team. When you stoop as low as they did last night, for me, it’s dreadful.”
A story in the Sun newspaper four days after the Hillsborough disaster criticised Liverpool fans’ behaviour at the time. The newspaper is still heavily boycotted in Merseyside as a result.
“It wasn’t continuous but it was clearly audible, maybe four or five times. It kind of got drowned out. The noise at the game was deafening.
“It happened again just after the full-time whistle – it was drowned out by: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘we won it five times’ (a reference to Liverpool’s five European Cup triumphs). There was lots of saddened head-shaking in the press-box.”
Former United striker Dion Dublin told BBC Radio Manchester the songs were “disgusting”.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” he said. “It’s not in good taste, and the people that were actually singing it should feel embarrassed.”