There was late drama at Madejski Stadium as Reading’s Under-23s snatched a win right at the death through a brilliantly-taken spot-kick by Danny Loader to earn three points in Premier League 2 at Brighton’s expense.
Reading had led initially through sub Akinwale Odimayo, but his late goal was quickly cancelled out by Henrik Bjordal as the game looked like it was going to end all square.
But when a free-kick struck a flailing Seagulls arm in the area deep into added time, Loader hit high into the goal to earn all three points for Reading.
Neither goalkeeper was truly tested in the opening exchanges – promising scenarios broke down before the final pass as the two teams tried and failed to find the opener.
The best opening came quarter of an hour in from a set-piece scenario, as Danny Loader won a free-kick on the edge of the area on the left – although he felt he’d been felled inside the box. Nevertheless, Jordan Holsgrove’s low cross was straight off the training ground – it found Tom Holmes, who stabbed just past the near post.
At the other end, a neat bit of play carved things open on the left for the Seagulls, allowing George Cox space to cross… Aaron Connolly, free in the middle, headed wide of target. A let-off.
With little in the way of openings, Danny Loader picked up deep and danced through a couple of tackles before lashing his effort comfortably wide. And as the game ticked over the half-hour mark, Loader and fellow forward Ben House conspired to impede each other as Ade Shokunbi sent a teasing ball into the middle.
Brighton full-back Cox again joined the attack in hope of creating a breakthrough; his whipped delivery across the box had George Legg stranded but Archie Davies wasn’t quick enough on the scene to poke in.
Max Sanders was next to go close for the visitors, arriving to power a header as Davies delivered from the right, but his effort was well over the woodwork. And shortly before the break, Royals goalkeeper George Legg showed safe hands to keep out Henrik Bjordal’s stinging effort as he cut in off the left.
Brighton began to look the likelier as the second half began and Bjordal should have done better when a half-cleared ball fell kindly for him – he had time to set himself for a volley, but skewed wide.
In immediate reply, the Royals worked the ball quickly downfield and Teddy Howe’s delivery was just taken away before Loader could turn in from inside the six-yard box.
And Reading began to wrestle back control and put the pressure on – Ramarni Medford-Smith and sub Tyler Frost but in dangerous deliveries from the left in succession, but the danger passed as the game remained goalless.
That meant the visitors were liable to breaking quickly as the Royals pushed on; as Davies scuttled onto a quick ball down the right, he danced inside and out before pulling a shot into the side netting.
Captain Gabriel Osho couldn’t apply a clean contact with his strike when Holsgrove’s corner wasn’t dealt with – the centre-half swivelled to shoot in a congested area but wasn’t afforded time to make a true connection.
But the breakthrough came 15 minutes from the end as Odimayo charged in to volley home a delightful set-piece delivery from Holsgrove.
The lead was short-lived – Bjordal was the man to poke in. A ball over to Ales Mateju was knocked back across the six-yard box… Connolly couldn’t divert in, but Bjordal was alive at the back post to apply a finish.
Ben House could count himself desperately unlucky not to give Reading the lead again in the closing stages – receiving a direct ball forward from Holsgrove on his chest, he shimmied past two challenges and leathered against the near post… it bounced off the woodwork, against goalkeeper Bailey Vose’s head, and just wide of the upright for a corner!
And at the other end, Legg was again forced into a well-taken stop – it was a well-struck side-footed effort by Sanders, but a good height to hold.
There was late, late drama to come however. In the dying embers on stoppage-time, Adrian Popa stepped up to hit a free-kick from the edge of the area… and his effort struck an outstretched arm in the wall, causing the referee to point to the spot!
In the 95th minute, it was an emphatically-taken penalty by Danny Loader which won it – high into the roof of the net. As soon as the ref restarted, the game was up and the Royals had three more points in Premier League 2.
Full-time: Reading U23 1-1 Brighton & Hove Albion U23
Reading U23: Legg, Howe, Medford-Smith, Osho, Holmes (Odimayo HT), East, Shokunbi (Frost 57), Holsgrove, Popa, Loader, House.
Unused subs: Driscoll, Green, Rollinson.
Brighton & Hove Albion U23: Vose, Mateju, Cox, Hutchinson, Hall, Dallison (Moore HT), A.Davies (Gyorkeres 69), Sanders, Connolly (Ahannach 80), Alzate, Bjordal.
Unused subs: Collings, J.Davies.