The rise of Crawley Town over the past three years has been nothing short of remarkable.
The Sussex club, who were nicknamed the Red Devils before Manchester United, were playing the likes of Forest Green, Tamworth and Altrincham just two years ago but are now rubbing shoulders with former Premier League heavyweights Portsmouth, Coventry City and Sheffield United.
Despite their successive promotions from Conference to League One, Crawley are perhaps better known for their FA Cup pedigree, having only been eliminated by Premier League sides in the last two years.
Over that time they beat higher level opposition in the form of Swindon Town, Derby County, Torquay United, Bury, Hull City and Bristol City. It was up to Manchester United and Stoke City to finally knock them out.
But now it is another year and another cup run, and Crawley have seen off potential upsets themselves, beating the Metropolitan Police and Chelmsford City to get through to the third round.
The manager who oversaw their previous exploits, Steve Evans, left for Rotherham towards the end of last season. Former Nottingham Forest gaffer Sean O’Driscoll then took over for a portion of pre-season, but was tempted away to the City Ground before the campaign began and now Richie Barker stands in the dugout.
The former Bury boss has performed admirably thus far, keeping Crawley in the top half for the entirety of the season, and they currently sit just one point outside the play-offs following Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Colchester United.
Crawley’s next shot at a cup upset arrives on Saturday as Reading make the relatively short trip south to the Broadfield Stadium.
The Berkshire club are enjoying a lofty season themselves back in the top flight of English football but they are currently five points from safety and have QPR breathing down their necks after the Hoops’ shock 1-0 win at Chelsea on Wednesday.
Brian McDermott has suggested he will not take his eye off the FA Cup ball in an effort to aid the Royals’ survival bid, but he did rest some players in the Capital One Cup, including in the 7-5 loss to Arsenal.
As far as this game goes, despite the visitors’ Premier League status, it promises to be a tight affair.
Crawley were unlucky to lose to both United and Stoke, both of whom played stronger teams than the one Reading are likely to field on Saturday.
McDermott’s men have struggled on the road in the Premier League, losing nine and drawing two of 11 away games, including a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham on New Year’s Day.
The Royals have conceded 40 goals already, but it should be noted that Crawley have generally struggled in the final third and are the only team in the top ten of League One with a negative goal difference.
The Red Devils rely almost entirely on their midfield and wide forwards Nicky Adams and Billy Clarke for goals, with both netting in the win over Colchester.
Reading could look to striker Adam Le Fondre for goals here as the former Rotherham man is familiar with scoring hatfuls against teams further down the football pyramid with the Millers, as well as Stockport County and Rochdale.
Every now and then, Reading’s defence has a day to forget, mostly when Theo Walcott is around. Since that isn’t likely at Crawley (he still hasn’t signed a new contract and the transfer window is open, so you never know), they will fancy their chances of keeping the League One outfit at bay.
If you think Premier League superiority will rule here then you can back Reading to be victorious in West Sussex at odds of 5/4.
However, if you’re a romantic and think a giant-killing might be on the cards, then Crawley can be found at 2/1 to knock Reading out at the first time of asking.
Such an outcome would perhaps not be all that surprising, given that the Royals were beaten at this stage of the cup last season by another League One side, Stevenage, at the Madejski Stadium.
My personal opinion, as usual, involves fence-sitting. My fancy for an outright winner if I were forced to choose would be the away side, but with a draw being priced at 21/10, I think my money is going to go on a stalemate, especially with winnings of £62 on offer for new customers successfully backing the draw with their free £20 bet.
Both teams have shown they can perform to very high levels on their day, but both have also been comfortably swept aside at times this season and with the cup being the great equaliser, I can certainly see this tie being taken back to the Madejski.
Crawley were very close to getting a draw against Swansea City – Michu and all – in the Capital One Cup earlier this season and will no doubt be up for this one in front of a packed Broadfield crowd.
Top bet: Crawley and Reading to draw @ 21/10