Reading’s Under-23s were forced to settle for a single point from their first group game of this year’s Premier League Cup campaign, as Colchester United struck deep into stoppage-time to take a 2-2 draw.
Thierry Nevers opened the scoring at Madejski Stadium, before Michael Fernandes had the sides level at the break. Skipper Gabriel Osho converted a penalty 10 minutes from time, before Jake Hutchinson snuck in the equaliser with just a minute of added time remaining.
The U’s were first to threaten through Fernandes, but his first-time shot was well held by goalkeeper Harvey Collins as a low was crossed in from the left.
But before long it was Reading that led through Nevers. Smart wing-play and clever footwork by Garath McCleary earned some space on the byline to pull back for his teammate to slot in unopposed in the centre.
Minutes later, through a similar source, the lead was nearly doubled as McCleary picked out Oli Pendlebury this time, arriving on the edge of the area. But he couldn’t quite make a clean contact with the wet ball and his effort was cleared comfortably.
The Royals’ trialist came close too when he rounded his marker on the left and fired a shot from a tight angle, which cannoned off the near post and back into play.
Those missed opportunities came back to bite the Royals’ youngsters when a loose pass in midfield turned into a through-ball for Fernandes, who showed some trickery to work space before popping a left-footed effort into the top corner.
And there was almost a repeat of the same incident when a quickly-taken free-kick inadvertently found Fernandes in space again; this time the U’s forward was wasteful with his effort.
The Royals were looking the likelier as the half wore on and McCleary forced a solid stop from Colchester goalie Callum Coulter as he flicked the ball into some space in the D and thrashed a low effort towards the near post – saved smartly.
Full-back Ramarni Medford-Smith came close to re-establishing Reading’s advantage before the break as Nevers delayed his pass perfectly to find the full-back on the run. As he cracked a shot at goal, the outstretched arm of the ‘keeper diverted low around the post.
Half-time: Reading U23 1-1 Colchester United U23
No sooner had the second half started than it was brought to a halt; Nevers and United defender Miquel Scarlett collided heavily as the Royals forward attacked a high ball into the area, leaving both in need of treatment.
The visitors were showing plenty of guile and ability, and Fernandes went close from a similar area to his first-half goal. A sweeping move and a fine strike was matched by a terrific fingertip save by Harvey Collins, high to his right.
A slick passing move through the Reading lines ended with a firm shot from Freddie Hinds and a save to match from Collins, and Cameron James was wasteful for the U’s as he met a cross from the left unchallenged but steered his volley wide.
Chances were at a bit of a premium for the Royals in the second period, though Oli Pendlebury wasn’t too far wide when he was invited to shoot from 25 yards as the rain teemed down.
But then a bit of quality from the Royals brought a chance to go ahead again. Two incisive passes in succession from Pendlebury and McCleary allowed Teddy Howe to scamper into the area, where he was bundled to the ground as he threatened to send in a cross from the byline. The ref pointed to the spot – up stepped skipper Osho, who converted his penalty expertly.
It looked as though that would be enough for the Royals – but in the third of four added minutes, sub Hutchinson finished with the deftest of touches as a cross was flashed in from the left-hand side.
The spoils shared in the first of six group games in the Premier League Cup.
Full-time: Reading U23 2-2 Colchester United U23
Reading U23: Collins, Howe, Medford-Smith, Osho (c), Odimayo, Coleman, Pendlebury, McCleary, Trialist (Azeez 59), Nevers (Lawless 63), Liddle.
Unused subs: Roberts, Beeden.
Goals: Nevers (9), Osho pen (80).
Colchester United U23: Coulter, Scarlett, Kazeem, James, Weaire, Collinge, Fernandes, Dunne (Anderson 90+4), Hinds, Ager (Hutchinson 83), Freitas-Gouveia (Sims 65).
Unused subs: Ige, Hallett.
Goals: Fernandes (18), Hutchinson (90+3).