Royals U21s 1 - 0 Stoke U21s
Reading 1 (Cooper 85)
A late goal from Jake Cooper clinched an important win over Stoke City at Hogwood Park to cement our position at the top of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League group two.
Reading's youngsters were the better side throughout, with goalkeeper Alex McCarthy scarcely called in to action, and thoroughly deserved to notch their fifth win in seven games - repeating the 1-0 victory over Stoke in Staffordshire two weeks ago.
McCarthy wore the gloves and the captain's armband as he took another step closer on his return to the first team, alongside a familiarly youthful side which saw right back Nick Arnold given a fresh berth on the wing.
The first 15 minutes totally belonged to the Royals as the visitors desperately blocked a number of strikes. Arnold and Gozie Ugwu were among those who fired over, while left back Josh Webb perhaps had the best chance of the half, but struck it straight at Potters 'keeper Dale Eve from close range.
After Stoke managed to survive the Royals' early onslaught, the game turned into a scrappy, physical affair - though Reading continued to look the more comfortable out of the two sides as the half drew to a close.
Arnold had the first serious chance after the interval; the youngster gambled on a mistake by the Stoke defence and found himself one on one with Eve - but the Potters goalkeeper superbly got a hand to it and denied Arnold from the rebound.
The visitors did look more dangerous in the second 45 - McCarthy had to be on his guard straight after Arnold's chance, before Jordan Richardson hit the bar from a curling free kick.
But with five minutes remaining, the Royals managed to notch the goal they deserved. From a corner, the ball bounced loosely in the box and into the path of Cooper, who calmly slotted into the net to clinch the vital breakthrough.
Chris Cummins' side were disciplined in the final moments of the game and, apart from a long range strike from Stoke's Jordan Keane, saw out the game comfortably to remain at the summit of group two.
It's now five wins from seven for the under-21s, who take on second-placed Norwich next Monday in Norfolk. Click here to view the table and here for the under-21s fixtures and results.
Royals: McCarthy; Keown, Webb, Sweeney, Cooper; Arnold, Partridge, Edwards (Ikpeazu 75), Fosu (Tanner 60), Tshibola; Ugwu.
Subs not used: Henly, Kuhl, Kelly.