Youngsters sign off with a loss against CitizensReading Under-21s’ season ended in defeat at the hands of their Manchester City opponents, who were 3-0 winners under the Madejski Stadium floodlights.
The scoreline looked tough on the Royals, who had kept the margin to a single goal until ten minutes’ from time after Bersant Celina’s just before the break. But quick-fire goals from Brandon Barker and a second from Celina put gloss on the scoreline for the visitors.
Boss Martin Kuhl named a young side to face their counterparts from Man City – Josh Barrett, Gabriel Osho and former Manchester United striker Sam Smith were the three Under-18s in the starting XI, with a further four available from the bench.
Reading had to do a lot of the early defending as the visitors began strongly – defenders Tennai Watson and Gabriel Osho each made important interventions and Manu Garcia had a close-range header turned around the post by goalkeeper Lewis Ward.
The Royals were largely playing on the counter in the opening exchanges and almost carved an opening from a quick free-kick, only for Smith to be blocked off as he tried to attack Shane Griffin’s hanging centre.
City stopper Billy O’Brien’s first save of the evening came from a Barrett free-kick near the edge of the area. The midfielder won the foul as Sinan Bytyqi arrived late into a challenge, but the strike was too close to the goalkeeper who held comfortably.
The visitors were finding Reading’s defensive unit difficult to break down – Zak Jules made another important block inside the area, and any shots which got through were getting fielded comfortably by goalkeeper Ward.
That frustration at Reading’s steadfastness might have been what convinced Bersant Celina to throw himself to the ground outside the Royals area in the hopes of winning a free-kick – the referee saw through it though and dished out the first card of the night for simulation.
Ward was forced into a spectacular save when Garcia pinged a ball into his path on the left – a fierce strike from a narrow angle needed a fingertip save to keep the parity intact. Moments later at the other end, Smith was denied an opening by the offside flag as Cardwell hooked over the City defence.
But Reading’s resistance was finally breached two minutes before the interval as Garcia scooped into the path of Celina in the box, who controlled on his chest before steering a left-footed effort past Ward from close range.
Yet Reading could have been level just two minutes after the restart. Some early sustained pressure resulted in Noor Husin finding space on the right to cross low for Cardwell – in the end the offside flag denied the striker, as did a smart stop from O’Brien.
After full-back Tasende forced another smart stop from Ward, both goalkeepers found themselves untested for a while as goalmouth action dried up. Substitutions and stoppages meant that the rhythm of the game was somewhat disrupted.
One of those injuries was to Reading defender Jules, who took a heavy blow when defending a cross into the Royals box as Man City counterpart Tosin Adarabioyc went in forcefully. After trying manfully to continue, he was eventually withdrawn midway through the half in place of U21 debutant Danny Loader.
Cardwell had an opportunity to level as he got on the end of a Watson delivery from the right, but the contact with his glancing header was too subtle. Then he almost turned provider as right-back Watson slipped him in down the flank, but Barrett steered inches wide from the edge of the area.
And Reading were made to pay twice in quick succession shortly after. Firstly Brandon Barker was released down the inside left and showed pace and trickery to find half a yard to shoot, tucking inside the near post with venom to double the lead. Then Celina had his second and City’s third when his persistence on a hopeful ball forward was rewarded; he hooked past the stranded Ward for the visitors’ third.
Barker came close to completing a brace of his own as City sub Diallo slotted a ball through, only for the far post to deny him.
As the game ticked into added time, a delivery from deep by Barrett was almost converted by Cardwell – but the forward couldn’t quite crane his neck enough to convert a consolatory goal as the visitors claimed the points.
Full-time: Reading U21 0 Man City U21 3
Reading U21: Ward, Watson, Griffin, Osho, Jules (Loader 69), Kuhl, Shaughnessy (Rinomhota 58), Husin (Richards 58), Barrett, Smith, Cardwell.
Unused subs: Southwood, Davis.
Man City U21: O’Brien, Horsfield (Humphreys-Grant 77), Adarabioyc, Bryan, Tasende, Glendon, Celina, Bytyqi, Faupala (Diallo 81), Garcia (Nemane 90), Barker.
Unused subs: Haug, Kongolo.
Goals: Celina (43, 81), Barker (79).