Reading’s Under-21 side took a point from their trip to Colchester United in the first group game of the Checkatrade Trophy – but missed out on a bonus point, as the U’s were victorious in the resulting penalty shoot-out.
The Royals battled back from behind to take a lead before the break – Sammie Szmodics had opened the scoring for the hosts before Josh Barrett and Ben House found the net in turn.
But a goal three minutes before the final whistle by Eoin McKeown, turning in from close range, was enough to force a shoot-out.
In the new ABBA format of spot-kicks, the first 11 takers successfully converted from 12 yards. But Rene Gilmartin stood strong between the sticks when sub Joel Rollinson stepped up for Reading, and his saved earned the U’s a bonus point.
It was an especially young Royals squad in action at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, all of whom are Academy products and whose combined squad numbers totalled 898 in the matchday 18.
And it was Colchester who landed the first blow. A hopeful cross-field ball by Kane Vincent-Young was cut out by Tyler Frost, but fell kindly for Szmodics to latch onto. Striding towards the Royals rear-guard, the U’s forward poked around Tom Holmes, collected on the other side, and opened his body well to place past George Legg.
House had a chance to equalise minutes later as Jordan Holsgrove wriggled through, teed up Frost on the flank, whose cross was only half-cleared by Tom Eastman. The Colchester defence closed down the Royals striker as he hammered the loose ball.
And then Tariq Issa went close to doubling the hosts’ lead, as a hurried clearance by Holmes was picked up on the run by the hosts’ attacker… Axel Andresson got back to force him wide, and he struck the side netting.
Drey Wright was next to chance his arm – picking up deep in his own half, he burst downfield with the ball and eventually, with other options available, fired a shot from the edge of the area which Legg held comfortably.
Less than a minute later, the ball was in the net at the other end. House’s tenacity saw him win the ball firmly – but cleanly – and fed Barrett on the right. The attacker took a touch before dispatching past Rene Gilmartin to level things up.
Sam Smith, who made his Championship debut at the weekend in Birmingham, twice had chances to put Reading ahead. The first was pulled past the far post from outside the area, and the second – from a similar area – was deflected behind for a corner off the shin of Vincent-Young.
Between those chances, defender Cameron James went close as he steered Murray’s corner just past the far post, before Wright’s glancing header from Lewis Kinsella’s deep cross was a shade too delicate to test Legg between the sticks.
Reading’s second, shortly before the break, was a gift. Eastman, under little pressure in defence, took a loose touch – allowing House to snap into the tackle and snaffle the ball away. Using the dummy run of Smith outside him, the forward rounded James and slotted in cold-bloodedly past the goalkeeper.
Mikael Mandron twice had efforts hacked clear off the line in the second period, as the young Royals threatened to hold out for the three points.
But defender Eastman, atoning for his earlier error, showed good footwork in the Reading area to jink through some challenges and square for McKeown to stab in.
And so from the resulting shoot-out, Andresson, Smith, Holsgrove, Holmes and Barrett all found the net for the Royals, while Kinsella, James, Mandron, Wright and half-time subs Tom O’Sullivan and Ryan Jackson all found the net for the U’s.
Gilmartin would be the shoot-out hero, blocking out Rollinson’s effort to earn an extra point for the Essex club.
Full-time: Colchester United 2-2 Reading U21
(Colchester win 6-5 on pens)
Colchester United: Gilmartin, Eastman, Kinsella, Vincent-Young (Jackson HT), James, Murray, Wright, Szmodics (O’Sullivan HT), Wright, Mandron, Issa (McKeown 78).
Unused subs: Walker, Lapslie, Kent, Edge.
Reading U21: Legg, Holmes, Medford-Smith, Osho (Rollinson 90), Andresson, Frost, East, Holsgrove, Barrett, House, Smith.
Unused subs: Driscoll, Howe, Shokunbi, Burley, Green, Nolan.