Youth sides share seven goalsThe unbeaten run at the start of the new season for Reading’s Under-21s finally came to an end at the hands of their Southampton counterparts, who were 5-2 victors at Adams Park.
Rowan Liburd netted his sixth goal in just five games since his summer arrival, and strike-partner Andrija Novakovich forced Saints midfielder Harrison Reed to turn into his own net with a dangerous cross, but ultimately it was the visitors that outscored the Royals to go top of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League table.
A captivating game was merely six minutes old when the visitors who went in front – and it was a quick counter-attack that resulted in the opening goal. Capitalising on a loose pass in the centre of the field, the ball was fed to Harrison Reed, who struck across goal and found the net via the inside of the far post.
That lead was short-lived though as Conor Shaughnessy hooked the ball into the six-yard box after a corner wasn’t cleared, allowing Liburd to keep up his excellent scoring run with a fine close-range header which hit the underside of the bar before crossing the line.
Lewis Ward did well to deny the Saints on a couple of occasions but he was finally beaten again as the Saints made a succession of corners count. An inswinger from the left was only cleared into the path of Sam McQueen, who smashed in from 12 yards as Southampton retook the advantage.
Ryan Seagar extended the lead soon after – he applied a fine glancing header to a free-kick from the visitors, leaving Ward with little chance as he picked out the top corner.
The pendulum continued to swing as Novakovich rolled Bevis Mugabi on the left flank, showed terrific feet and pulled a cross back from the byline which Saints midfielder Reed inadvertently fired into his own net.
Goalkeeper Ward saw off a number of attempts at his goal in the remainder of the half, while Fosu drew a smart stop from Isted with a fizzing shot before captain Pierce Sweeney had his header saved.
Half-time came as something of a respite after a breathless first period – but not even a minute into the restart there was another goal, as Jake Hesketh stabbed in from close range after Josh Sims put in a dangerous low cross from the left byline.
Liburd used his pace and power to create a chance of his own making on the hour as he rolled his man, stormed towards goal, but turned a powerful shot high and wide under pressure as the Saints held onto their two-goal cushion.
And that margin was opened to three midway through the second period as Hesketh was played in, rode a tackle, and placed a firm strike beyond the reach of Ward and into the corner. With a commanding scoreline, the Saints were able to tighten up and make life difficult – Novakovich came close however as Sean Long delivered a dangerous cross from the right.
As the game ticked into stoppage time, Dominic Hyam rose well to meet Liam Kelly's corner from the right, but he could only nod it wide of the far post.
That would prove to be as close to getting a third that Reading would come, as the Saints held on to their win at the end of an entertaining affair.
Full-time: Reading U21 2 Southampton U21 5
Reading U21: Ward, Long, Griffin, Hyam, Sweeney, Shaughnessy, Kelly, Semedo (Rinomhota 68), Fosu, Novakovich, Liburd.
Unused subs: Southwood, Owusu, Fridjonsson, Husin.
Goals: Liburd (8), Reed o.g. (27).
Southampton U21: Isted, Mugabi, Bertrand (Debayo HT), Gape, McCarthy, Wood, McQueen (Isgrove 89), Reed, Seagar (Olomola 87), Hesketh, Sims.
Unused subs: Lewis, Little.
Goals: Reed (6), McQueen (21), Seagar (24), Hesketh (46, 68).
Reading Under 21's Manager Martin Kuhl:
"The game was very open and end to end, both attacking sides seemed to be on top but they were a bit more ruthless than us.
"We caused them problems and played some wonderful stuff but so did they, we were both sharp but it was at the vital points that probably cost us the game, those vital points of the game are the ones that will get you wins. We’ll take a good look at some of the mistakes we’ve made and we’ll learn from it.
"We’ve been quite solid defensively up until tonight and when we were not quite at it, or a yard off them they punished us so it’s a good learning curb.
"It will be a tough game on Friday away at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are a decent side but it will be good to see how this group do because they always seem to come back strongly, whenever we have a disappointment they bounce back."