Royals still unbeaten and lead Group HTwo goals in the final three minutes – including a point-saving free-kick from distance by Josh Barrett – earned the Royals’ Under-23s a 3-3 draw in their Premier League Cup group when they visited Sheffield United on Saturday.
It looked like a young Royals squad might suffer their first defeat in the competition this season, only for some late drama at Bramall Lane which saw the spoils shared.
The Royals were inaugural winners of the competition back in 2014, when the tournament was a straight knock-out from the first round. This year, however, teams are playing home and away in groups of four before heading into a knock-out phase.
And a point earned in South Yorkshire extends the Royals’ lead at the top of Group H, putting our boys in a healthy position midway in the group stage.
The Blades were ahead initially though – Joe Cummings lofted a cross into the area, and Harvey Gilmour made a clean connection with his volley to put the hosts ahead.
Shortly after the midpoint of the first half, the lead was doubled – Jamal Balogun, on as an early sub, upended Jake Wright in the box and Jordan Hallam lashed his penalty beyond the dive of goalkeeper Luke Southwood.
The Royals could have pegged back before the break – Barrett’s inswinging corner was inadvertently turned against his own bar by Callum Semple, but bounced clear. And after the break, Sam Smith had an opportunity to level from the spot after Andy Rinomhota drew a foul in the box – only for Hugo Warhurst to make the save.
But Smith did make amends when he grabbed an important goal with less than 20 minutes left on the clock, as Danny Loader carved out a chance for the striker to finish.
The hosts’ two-goal advantage was restored though when Semple headed against the bar and Wright was quickest to react to bundle in United’s third.
The Royals were handed a lifeline when defender Balogun, making his debut at U23 level, side-footed an effort in from inside the box, setting up a nervy finish for the hosts.
And in the penultimate minute of the 90, up stepped Barrett, after Loader had been fouled 25 yards from goal – the attacker crashed in a cracking free-kick to level the scores and earn Reading a point on the road.
Full-time: Sheffield United U23 3-3 Reading U23
Sheffield United U23: Warhurst, Cummings, Kelly, Gilmour, Graham, Semple, Trani, Slater, Wright, Hallam, Crofts.
Subs: Charlesworth, Perryman, Gordon, Smith, Mallon.
Reading U23: Southwood, Sheppard, Richards, Vancooten, Keown, East, Rinomhota, Bennett, Barrett, Smith, Novakovich.
Subs: Tupper, Balogun, Shokunbi, Wallace, Loader.