LONDON • Michael Hector, signed by Chelsea for £4 million (S$8.1 million) in September from Reading and then lent back to the Berkshire football club, showed he will not be out of his depth when he finally does play in the Premier League.
The tall, elegant centre-half produced a masterful performance and a goal which helped dump West Bromwich Albion out of the English FA Cup 3-1 on Saturday.
He was given a holding midfield position and never looked out of place. Reading came back from a goal behind to score three of their own in the second half, to progress to the quarter-finals of a competition which has brought the best out of them in recent years.
They reached the semi-finals last year, where they were knocked out by Arsenal. They languish in 16th place in the second-tier Championship but West Brom, lying 14th in the Premier League, were outclassed by Hector and his team-mates.
Darren Fletcher had given West Brom the lead in the 54th minute, before former Albion player Paul McShane and then Hector took turns to convert Oliver Norwood's free kicks with close-range headers that left Ben Foster hopelessly exposed and with little or no chance. Substitute Lucas Piazon sealed the victory in stoppage time.
Number of positions second-tier Reading of the League Championship are below West Bromwich of the Premier League
West Brom's mood of dejection was heightened by an unsavoury incident between one of their own players, Chris Brunt, and Albion fans at the final whistle.
The Northern Ireland midfielder went to throw his shirt to Albion supporters but was confronted by angry fans and was hit in the face by an object thrown from the away end. He tried to seek out the culprit, then held his face and picked up an object from the ground which he handed to stewards. This was later reported to be a 50p coin.
Brunt had to be restrained by stewards as he attempted to confront the culprit.
"We've seen an incident where a lad who has played over 300 games for this football club could have had his eye out and that's just not acceptable," his manager Tony Pulis said. "West Bromwich Albion is a fantastic football club - it's a very famous football club - but you can't condone that and I hope the police get involved."
Blunt said he was shamed by his own team's fans. "Our supporters obviously think it's okay to throw coins at their own players. It's absolutely disgusting," he told BBC Sport. "I am ashamed of them.
"If they want to come forward and say they don't like what they've seen then that's fine."
Reading manager Brian McDermott promised that his club would do everything in their power to help identify the culprit, while the Football Association confirmed it had also launched an investigation.
The police are treating the incident as an assault.
Pulis admitted that the defeat was a disappointment but said his team had switched off as soon as they had taken the lead. However, it was clear from the outset that Reading, and McShane in particular, had the greater appetite.
"We've got players who can score from set plays," said McDermott. "To get a couple from set plays today was absolutely fantastic because I know Tony prides himself on not conceding from set plays.
"Tony put out a really strong side and it's a great result for us."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN