Red flares were thrown from the celebrating home end and blue from the despairing away fans, but when Amari Morgan-Smith ran away to celebrate what turned out to be the winning goal in the 82nd minute, everyone associated with Kidderminster Harriers seemed to be personally involved.
Everyone in red piled on: all the outfield players, the substitutes, the goalkeeper Luke Simpson (who ran 70 yards to join in), the coaches, the manager. The bottle-washer and the tea lady were not far behind. It was pandemonium and, as the Reading fans chanted “This is embarrassing” and their coach was shown a yellow card, 14 minutes were added on before the stadium witnessed the kind of pitch invasion to warm neutral hearts and send the man on the PA into palpitations as he tried to restore order. No chance.
Veljko Paunovic, the Reading manager, said “the safety of all of us was put in jeopardy and even worse things could have happened” during the pitch invasion, after his staff were seen in verbal confrontations with disenchanted fans.
His points are valid but this day belonged to Kidderminster, who are four divisions and 79 places below Reading, and no one would want to deny them their chance to paint the town red. In a season when Reading have been docked six points for financial irregularities and fallen from seventh in the Championship to just above the relegation places, this was a new low. The 2015 FA Cup semi-finalists join Preston North End and Birmingham City as Kidderminster’s biggest scalps and this will be a day the 5,178 present will surely never forget.
George Puscas gave Reading the lead in first-half stoppage time but even before Sam Austin, the Kidderminster captain, equalised midway through the second half, the sense of an upset was always on.
Morgan-Smith is 32 and has played for 11 other clubs as well as England C around his two spells at Kidderminster but nothing, surely, can compete with this. Austin said: “It’s absolutely amazing. To get the win first was a great feeling but to get a goal as well was something special. I’ve been here six years now and to lead the boys out tonight was just brilliant.”
Austin fancies Manchester City in the fourth round while Russell Penn, the Kidderminster manager, would like to face Wolves up the road, should they prevail against Sheffield United on Sunday. “I’m a Wolves fan but I’ve never played there. So selfishly I’d love to play there,” he said. “But Wolves, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea – it’s mad to even be talking about these clubs.
“We want to be a [Football] League club and that’s our overall objective. But these are the days that will never leave the memories of these players.”
Reading went into this tie with only two wins in 11 games after conceding two late goals to draw with Derby on Monday. And when Paunovic made eight changes, naming six players aged 21 or under, to save Andy Carroll and company for Tuesday’s league game with Fulham, promotion contenders Kidderminster must have received a fillip that even falling behind could not ruin.
The National League North side acquitted themselves very well in the first 45 minutes, starting aggressively and keeping their shape, and they even looked like scoring before Reading struck. Omari Sterling-James was at least 30 yards out when he let fly with his right-footed shot but, as it dipped down towards the top corner, Rafael Cabral tipped the ball over the bar.
Then Danny Drinkwater, roundly jeered every time he got the ball for the crime of having won a Premier League title six years ago, played a pass into the feet of Tom Dele-Bashiru and Puscas scored his first goal for nine months with an assured first-time shot.
Reading made all five of their available substitutions, the last when one replacement, Felipe Araruna, sadly had to be taken off on a stretcher with a dislocated knee after only recently returning from a year out with a serious knee injury.