Reading U18s 2-2 Fulham U18sReading U18s 2 (Dickie 24, Fosu pen 34)
Fulham U18s 2 (Hyndman pen 60, Roberts 75)
A remarkable first leg semi-final of the FA Youth Cup finished honours even at Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening.
A vastly dominant first half display put the Royals 2-0 up at the break, as Rob Dickie powered home a header from Liam Kelly's corner, before Tariqe Fosu converted a penalty won by Jack Stacey - that also saw Cottagers keeper Marek Rodak sent off. Some exquisite football was dismantling the opposition at will.
However a talented visiting side fought back admirably despite their numerical disadvantage. Emerson Hyndman converted a penalty cleverly won by the lively Patrick Roberts, before Roberts himself fired home a rebound after a brave Lewis Ward save.
The Royals created numerous chances to score further goals throughout the tie, against eleven men in the first half and then ten in the second, so it sets up a mouth-watering second leg at Craven Cottage next Monday for a nervy finale to this intriguing last four clash.
Reading u18s: Ward, Watson, Owusu (McLennan 89), Hyam, Dickie, Kuhl (c), Fridjonsson (Husin 76), Kelly, Stacey, Fosu, Cardwell.
Subs: Gogic, Shaughnessy, Taylor-Crossdale
Fulham u18s: Rodak; Sheckleford, Donnelly, Burgess, Evans; Hyndman (Smile 89), Sambou; O'Halloran (Norman 34), Roberts, Williams; Dembèlè (McLeod 59)
Subs: Baba, Redford.
Red Card: Rodak
It was a bright start for the Royals - firstly Sammi Fridjonsson's long throw honed in on the back post, but bounced just away from danger - before Harry Cardwell's shot deflected just wide after a good team move. Tariqe Fosu then curled over the bar, with the home side looking confident in the early exchanges.
Nana Owusu then frightened the life out of the Fulham backline as he bounded into the area, but although Cardwell connected well with his cross - it was hacked away off the goalline.
At the other end the Cottagers posed a threat on the counter, with George Williams sending a ball across the six yard box that was inches away from Moussa Dembele's outstretched boot.
Kelly, known for his penchant for the spectacular, then dipped a 25 yard half volley narrowly over Marek Rodak's goal. Reading thoroughly deserved a lead at this stage, as Jack Stacey nodded on a Rob Dickie header - only for Rodak to superbly tip over the bar.
Sometimes in those situations you feel the luck is not going your way, but the opener came - and in emphatic fashion. After more pressure Kelly floated in a corner from the right, allowing Dickie to rise majestically and thump home an unstoppable header. 1-0 Reading.
It was almost two with 25 minutes on the clock. Stacey slotted Tariqe Fosu in on goal, and under pressure the winger got his shot away, only for Rodak to tip inches wide.
Then another game changer. An absolutely superb pass by captain Aaron Kuhl split the Fulham defence in half, Stacey rounded Rodak and was felled. A penalty and a red card to the visiting goalkeeper.
Fosu stepped up, and just like he had in the two previous FA Cup shootouts, converted. Still the Royals went for the jugular, as Fosu cut in from the right before firing across goal, only for a stray boot to deflect his effort off target.
Fulham are officially rated as the best Academy in the country though, and still posed a threat with ten men, as Roberts forced a smart save from Lewis Ward. In a frantic encounter, Kelly then almost caught out substitute goalkeeper Norman out from all of 45 yards after the Fulham goalie cleared a dangerous through ball, only for the Irishman's effort to drop narrowly over.
Fulham came out in determined mood, the consistently threatening Williams gliding in from the left before forcing a decent save from Ward. From the resulting corner, Liam Donnelly headed into the ground and inches over.
There were chances galore for either side, Fridjonsson spun and fired into the net at the other end moments later, only for an offside flag to deny the Icelander a goal. Dickie then attempted a carbon copy of the opener as he headed Kelly's corner in at goal, only for another last gasp hack off the line to save Fulham. Goal threats come from all over this Reading team, full back Owusu has already bagged two Youth Cup goals, both from outside the area - and he was denied by a smart save as fizzled an effort towards goal from 25 yards.
But perhaps the Royals were to be punished for not taking those chances, as Hyam felled Roberts for a penalty to the away side. Emerson Hyndman stepped up, and duly converted. Hyndman almost had a brace five minutes later, but his rasping drive was well stopped by Ward.
David Dodds' men looked to respond, Kelly finding an inch of space on the edge of the box, curling just wide, however was Fulham that grabbed an equaliser though, as Ward initially made a brave save, only for the irrepressible Roberts to lash home the rebound.
Cardwell's header was then tipped over the bar as the Royals looked to edge ahead once more, but with the away side packing men into their own area, the West Londoners saw the game out well to set up a fascinating return fixture next Monday.