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Valiant U18s cruelly beaten

7 April 2014

Fulham 3-2 Reading

FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg

Fulham 3 (Dembele (pen) 38, 63, 90)
Reading 2 (Fosu (pen) 51, Stacey 57)

Fulham win 5-4 on aggregate.

A truly brave effort from our under-18s did not reap its rewards, as the ten-man Royals were beaten 3-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate, thanks to a hugely fortutious goal at the death.

It was still a night to be very proud of for our youngsters, as they began their climb over a huge mountain after defender Dominic Hyam was sent off for last man, with Moussa Dembele scoring the ensuing penalty just before half time.

After the break, David Dodds' men came out fighting and were awarded a spot-kick of their own when Liam Kelly was felled in the box, and Tariqe Fosu converted his fourth penalty of the tournament to draw level.

Then came a moment of sheer magic five minutes later as Royals winger Jack Stacey raced forwards and smashed home into the top corner to give Reading a 2-1 lead on the night.

Dembele then got his second of the night when he headed into the net after the ball hit the crossbar, though there a hint of offside as Patrick Roberts interfered with play in front of Ward.

Though the Royals looked to have forced extra-time, Dembele couldn't believe his luck when our centre- back Rob Dickie produced a good moment of defending but cleared the ball onto the highly-rated Frenchman and the ball bounced into the net for his hat-trick.

However, it was another night to be immensely proud of being associated with the Royals, as they gave it everything in the final moments of a memorable FA Youth Cup effort.

Royals: Ward; Watson, Owusu (McLennan 74), Dickie Hyam; Kuhl (C), Fridjonsson, Stacey, Fosu, Kelly; Cardwell.

Subs: Gogic, McLennan, Shaughnessy, Husin, Taylor-Crossdale.

Fulham: Rodak; Sheckleford, Donnelly, Burgess, Evans; Smile, Sambou, Hyndman, Williams; Roberts; Dembélé

Subs: Norman, Baba, O'Halloran, Leacock-McLeo, Redford.

Referee: J. Linington

First Half

For the second leg, David Dodds named an unchanged side from the first encounter with the Cottagers just six days previously at Madejski Stadium, where the two sides played out an entertaining 2-2 draw.

In a lively opening few minutes, Royals right back Tennai Watson did well to head away a Joshua Smile cross from the right, before winger Jack Stacey threatened at the other end as he raced forwards, but Fulham cleared - before Harry Cardwell had the first attempt of the match as he headed wide.

It was then a heart in mouths moment for the visitors, as the highly-rated Patrick Roberts drove forwards down the right and stabbed an effort towards goal which was somewhat saved by Lewis Ward, and although Moussa Dembélé was about to follow up and tap home the opener, our goalkeeper dived on the ball at the death.

A group of Reading youth players from younger age groups were chanting and cheering the Royals on, and they were almost on their feet as the pact Tariqe Fosu crossed in for Cardwell, but his stumbled effort dropped wide as the offside flag rose.

Dembele header a far cross from just inside the touchline well over the bar, before their skipper Liam Donnelly almost scuffed a clearance into his own net - with Dominic Hyam flicking an effort around the post from the resulting corner. Left-back Nana Owusu then saw his shot fly high and wide.

It was Owusu again who then strived to cause more problems, and he was fouled just outside of the area. Liam Kelly then teed up Aaron Kuhl to strike from the free-kick, and his piledriver was deflected just wide.

Emerson Hyndman then had a strike rise over the bar before Fosu had a tame effort easily saved by Marek Rodak. Sammi Fridjonsson was then presented with an opportunity from a corner, but he glanced wide with his head.

But then the Royals were dealt a huge blow, and a huge mountain to win the tie suddenly appeared in front of us. Centre back Dom Hyam was shown a straight red card as he apparently showed too much strength on the skilful Roberts tearing through on goal. Dembele confidently stroked home the spot kick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

The versatile Fridjonsson filled in at the back as Reading remained positive. Fosu tried his luck from range and almost fooled Rodak before Cardwell crashed a difficult effort wide shortly before the half time whistle blew.

Second Half

But the Royals came out of the tunnel with resurgence, and after seven minutes in, were level. Reading were screaming for a penalty when Fosu's strike came off a Fulham hand but from the rebound, Kelly was brought down and the referee pointed to the spot.

And it was Fosu who stepped up, and just as he did in two previous shoot-outs in this season's competition as well as the first leg of this extraordinary semi-final, found the back of the net comfortably.

And five minutes later, a moment of sheer magic had the Royal ahead. Stacey drove forward at will, dancing towards Fulham's box before unleashing a superb left-footed effort into the top corner - sparking wild knee-sliding celebrations close to the younger Royals cheering them on.

But back Fulham came, forcing Ward into a number of smart saves from Dembele and Roberts, before the two would cruelly combine to level the score at 2-2.

A strike from the edge of the area cannoned back off the crossbar, and Demebele had the easy task of heading the ball into a partially empty net - though there was a huge hint of offside as Roberts attempted to interfere with play in front of the goalkeeper.

The explosive second half refused to fizzle. Great work from Stacey, driving in diagonally, eventually created a chance for right back Tennai Watson - who stung the arms of Rodak.

Inevitably, Fulham came at us again and again. Dembele tried his luck with an acrobatic attempt before Reading were thankful that George Williams struck wide after bounding into the box from the left.

Of course, the Royals had to deal with an abundance of pressure from the Cottagers, but that didn't stop substitute left back George McLennan, on for the injured Owusu, from bombing forward and forcing the hosts to deal with some Reading danger.

Fulham almost found a crucial third, but England youth goalkeeper Ward pulled off a terrific fingertips save to deny Dembele before preventing the ensuing corner.

And it the cruelest, unluckiest way possible, Reading were 3-2 behind. Fulham typically marched forward, and although Dickie produced a great bit of defending, his clearance cannoned back off Demeble and flukily bounced into the net past Ward.

The lucky goal completing a hat-trick for Dembele, just as the striker, who has played in the Barclays Premier League for the West Londoners, did in the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League Final against Reading.

Heartbreak for Dodds' men, but still they refused to give in. Forcing a corner, Reading had everyone in the box including the goalkeeper, but Fulham survived.

And so their remarkable, memorable run in the tournament came to an end. But not without pride, as our next generation of stars were given a huge roar and standing ovation by everyone connected with Reading inside Craven Cottage.

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