Barclays Premier League Under-21s
Reading vs. Manchester United
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Date: Thursday, 24 April 2014
Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Manchester United U21s booked their place in the end-of-season semi-finals of the Barclays Premier League with a last gasp win away at Reading.
An enthralling second half saw The Royals come from one down to lead 2-1, before two late United goals saw them emerge as 2-3 winners at the Madjeski Stadium.
James Wilson opened the scoring for the visitors, before Tariqe Fosu and substitute Harry Cardwell looked to have ended United’s campaign with just eleven minutes remaining, until another substitute James Weir, bagged his third goal in two games, which set up a grandstand finish in which centre-back Paddy McNair struck home for his first goal of the season.
A fantastic spectacle for all watching began with Wilson latching onto Craig Tanner’s loose ball, before his surging run produced a shot in which Daniel Lincoln comfortably saved.
Gozie Ugwu had a shot blocked by Charni Ekangamene, before Fosu’s run and cross saw captain Reece James head behind and McNair clear the lines from the resulting corner.
James then fired the ball across the penalty area, but Saidy Janko failed to connect with a swing and a miss, before the latter’s one-two with Wilson producing a shot just wide of the goal from Janko.
It took until just the 17th minute for Wilson to grab his 8th goal in 11 appearances at this level, as he surpassed Jesse Lingard’s record of seven for the season, with a fine finish underneath Lincoln, after a superb through ball by Joe Rothwell down the right-hand channel.
Another James ball across goal was unmet by anybody in either shirt, before Ugwu showed his strength at the other end to hold off three United defenders after Tanner slipped him through, only to see his shot flash over.
Tanner was involved again, this time teeing up Aaron Tshibola, whose first time effort also flew over the bar, before Andrea Pereira did the same at the opposite end of the field, in the last notable action of the first half.
Tshibola then went roaming and his shot fell straight into the hands of Ben Amos, who had little to do up until that point, before Wilson’s free-kick bent the wrong way and was skewed way wide.
An awkward bounce from Tanner’s cross saw Jack Stacey head over when he really should have scored before Reading were back on level terms just five minutes later, just before the hour mark.
Louis Rowley was put under pressure by Fosu, before he slipped to allow Reading’s number 11 to run at goal, before unleashing an unstoppable strike from distance, which flew past Amos in the United goal.
A neat interchange between James and Janko saw the former curl a shot straight at Lincoln, before his sweetly struck volley was well held after Guillermo Varela’s cross was headed into the path of the adventurous left-back.
Harry Cardwell was booked three minutes after replacing Ugwu after a lunge on Ekangamene, Martin Keown – watching on from the stands – saw his son Niall have a header saved from a corner, and Pereira saw another shot held by Lincoln.
Cardwell should have given Reading the lead after he was left unmarked inside the six yard box, only for his flicked header from Tshibola’s cross to fall wide of the left-hand post, as Amos was left stranded.
Reading did take the lead two minutes later thanks to Stacey’s mazy run into the box which saw Amos smother his effort before Cardwell fired in the rebound first time, as United looked to be crashing out as a defeat would not have been enough.
A draw would have meant United waiting in anticipation for Manchester City’s game at home to Aston Villa on Sunday, and James Weir, on for Wilson, looked to have salvaged that result with less than ten minutes to go.
He received the ball from Ben Pearson, before an excellent turn allowed him to get a shot away at goal, only for what should have been a comfortably stop for Lincoln, spilled, but his desperate attempts to claw the ball back behind the line were ruled out by assistant referee Richard Morris on the near side.
Game on, 2-2.
Just a minute later and Pearson himself shot over before substitute Shepherd Murombedzi did likewise at the other end.
A half-hearted penalty appeal as Janko went down inside the box after a mazy run were waved away, before Cardwell skied a great opportunity to win the game for the hosts, and keep alive their chances of finishing in the top half of the table.
A one-two between Janko and Weir saw the former lash the ball over the bar in what looked like the final chance of the game, before bedlam broke out in the final minute of stoppage time.
Another powerful run from Janko saw him nip the ball out wide to Varela on the right-hand touchline, before the Uruguayan cut inside, laid off McNair – forward from the back – before taking just one touch to set himself, and unleashing a fine finish into the bottom right-hand corner, to send Warren Joyce’s men into jubilation and into the semi-finals.
Defeat ends Reading’s top half aspirations, as they travel to Tottenham for their final fixture this weekend, although they can look back at winning the U21s cup just last week, beating United’s fierce rivals City 4-3 on aggregate.
As for United, they join Chelsea and Liverpool in the semi-finals, keeping their season alive, and hopes for silverware ticking over into yet another chapter of this remarkable season, after a gutsy performance and remarkable game down in Berkshire.
The youngsters can be proud of what they have achieved to date after a difficult start to the campaign, and players in and out of the team due to injuries, suspensions and various loan spells, with 42 different players utilised by Joyce so far this season.
This game epitomized the never-say-die attitude and spirit of United, which is quite fitting really, given the events earlier in the week, as this new regime at Old Trafford commences once more.
Manchester United: Amos; Varela, McNair, Ekangamene, James; Pearson, Rowely; Janko, Rothwell (Harrop 69), A. Pereira; Wilson (Weir 60).
Subs: Rudge, J. Pereira, Weir, Harrop, C. Evans.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Reading: Lincoln; Long, Keown, Sweeney, Griffin; Stacey, Tshibola, Kelly, Fosu; Tanner (Murombedzi 75), Ugwu (Cardwell 64).
Subs: Dickie, Ward, Fridjonsso, Murombedzi, Cardwell.