Royals seal dramatic Youth Cup winReading 3 (Owusu 16, Kelly 74, Stacey 106)
Crewe Alexandra 3 (Saunders 63, 89, Murdoch 120)
Reading win 4-2 on penalties
Reading's youngsters came through a dramatic Fourth Round tie victorious, winning 4-2 on penalties after Crewe came from behind three times during an entertaining encounter at Madejski Stadium.
Nana Owusu scored a stunning opener and were well worthy of their first half lead, but Callum Saunders scrambled home to level just after the hour.
Liam Kelly looked to have earned the under-18s a place in the Fifth Round when he hammered home another wonderful effort after great work from Jack Stacey on the right, but in the 89th minute Alexandra took it to extra time when Ward saved from Jones only for it to fall for Saunders who converted from close range.
Stacey put Reading into an extra time lead only a minute into the second 15 minute period, coolly sliding a third into the bottom left corner but Sammi Fridjonsson was shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident with five minutes remaining and Fraser Murdoch headed home in the dying embers of extra time to take the game to penalties.
But Reading didn't miss from the spot, scoring all four of their spotkicks to allow Lewis Ward the match-winning save, pushing Louis Johnson's low strike wide of the right post. The Royals will now host either Accrington Stanley or Bristol City in the next round of the FA Youth Cup after an enthralling night at Madejski Stadium.
Reading's first real chance fell to Liam Kelly after ten minutes. A good deep cross from Nana Owusu found Sami Fridjonsson at the far post and his knock down fell kindly for Kelly just inside the area. The Irish international struck it first time and hit it sweetly but it sailed over the crossbar and failed to trouble Robbie Johnson in the Alex goal.
Moments later, Tariqe Fosu brilliantly squeezed his way between two defenders and into the box and struck a fine right-footed effort that Johnson did well to parry to safety at his near post.
On the quarter hour mark, the hosts' pressure paid off and Nana Owusu broke the deadlock with a rasping right-footed effort. The left-back cut in from the left flank, skipped past his man, and lashed a stunning right-footed effort past the Crewe stopper and inside the right post.
Liam Kelly arced an effort just wide of the same upright moments later, while Lewis Ward had to deal with a couple of long range efforts from Callum Saunders and Fraser Murdoch, but did so competently.
Bogdan Vastsuk tried a speculative lob from 30 yards out after a mistake at the back from the visitors, but his strike didn't have enough loft and Johnson gathered it with ease in the Alex goalmouth. On the half hour mark he got another glimpse of goal, heading just over from a Sammi Fridjonsson cross from deep.
Kelly almost unlocked the Crewe defence when he slid a lovely ball into Stacey down the Royals' right. He put a low centre into the box and Fridjonsson at full stretch just couldn't get a toe to it to turn it home.
Reading pressed relentlessly for a second before the break and a Kelly corner was headed down towards the bottom right corner only for it to be nodded off the line by the last Crewe defender. Then Vastsuk's powerful effort from distance had to be well saved by Johnson.
Crewe's best chance came in the final minute of the half though, Cooper's cross dropping to Allcock in the middle and Reading somehow scrambling clear before the Crewe midfielder could hook it home.
The first sight of goal fell Crewe's way after the break, George Cooper arrowing an effort goalwards and the ball took a wicked deflection off the leg of Aaron Kuhl, looped over the helpless Ward and thankfully onto the roof of the net.
But Liam Kelly then skewed a half-chance over the crossbar, latching onto a cross into the box from Fridjonsson but hooking a mishit volley over.
Just after the hour mark, Crewe drew level. An inswinging corner from the right was headed down towards the bottom right corner, Kelly cleared it off the line, but Callum Saunders - Crewe's hero in the Third Round - scrapped the ball over the line from yards out to equalise.
The visitors were testing the home side, but Reading regained the lead with another fantastic finish. Jack Stacey skipped past the left-back and into space down the right. He calmly waiting for support and picked out a cut back to find Kelly, who smashed a first time effort past Johnson to make it 2-1 with a stunning strike.
Rob Dickie's far post header was directed straight at the Crewe keeper as the minutes passed, but an under hit back pass at the other end almost allowed Saunders in with five minutes left on the clock but Ward raced off his line to narrow the angle and got a touch to the striker's shot to allow Owusu to clear.
But just as the tie looked to be in the bag, Alexandra drew level in the last minute of normal time. James Jones drove a low effort from distance and Ward did well to save low to his right. But the ball ricocheted perfectly into the feet of Saunders who scrambled it over the line to equalise!
Tired legs meant the tempo dropped a little as extra time kicked off, but Reading were the team looking the more likely throughout the first half.
Nana Owusu's cross picked out the head of Germaine Ofori who couldn't keep his effort down to force Johnson into a save.
Then Stacey floated a delightful ball forward that Fridjonsson brought down with his chest and he looked to be in. But the ball skidded off the surface and Johnson came off his line to force the Icelander wide, and the ball eventually ran out of play for a goal kick.
Stacey was the driving force for the home side and he sailed into the box from the right but his left-footed effort lacked the punch to trouble the Crewe keeper as half-time in extra time approached. A Sammi Fridjonsson long throw worried the Crewe defence at the end of the half, but neither a combination of Ofori and Fosu couldn't direct the header on target.
In the first minute after the restart, Reading took the lead for a third time! Dickie met the goalkeeper's kick with a powerful header and Stacey latched onto it and raced into the box. A calm finish saw him slide the ball into the bottom left corner and the Royals had the advantage once more.
Germaine Ofori had the chance to seal it moments later, racing into acres of space on the break but sliding his effort just wide of the bottom left corner.
Cooper volleyed harmlessly wide but Crewe were running out of steam, until a straight red card was shown to Fridjonsson for an off the ball incident five minutes from time, giving the visitors a glimmer.
And a glimmer was all they needed, Alex were allowed to cross into the box from the left and Murdoch directed a downward header past Ward and into the bottom right corner to make it 3-3 and take the game to penalties.
RFC: Fosu SCORES 1-0
CAFC: Cooper SCORES 1-1
RFC: Kuhl SCORES 2-1
CAFC: Baillie SCORES 2-2
RFC: Stacey SCORES 3-2
CAFC: Jones MISSES 3-2
RFC: Husin SCORES 4-2
CAFC: Johnson SAVED 4-2.
The Royals didn't miss from the spot though and earned a place in the Fifth Round in a triumphant shootout. Lewis Ward was mobbed by his teammates as he saved Louis Johnson's low spotkick to finally put an entertaining tie to bed.
Tonight's game was broadcast live on the club's official YouTube channel with co-commentary from former Academy stars Jake Taylor and Michael Hector. Highlights are available at Reading FC Player.