Stacey levels to earn a draw from Staplewood visitDespite playing almost the entirety of their fixture at a numerical disadvantage, the 10 men of Reading Under-21s came from behind to take a 1-1 draw from their visit to their Southampton counterparts.
Shane Griffin was shown a straight red as early as the seventh minute – his mistimed tackle just beyond the half-way line was deemed to be denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity by the referee.
It looked like the game was going to get away from Reading when Saints skipper Dom Gape pounced on a rebound early in the second period, but the Royals made chances throughout and finally managed to take one when Jack Stacey finished calmly after controlling a cross at the far post – earning a point in the process.
The red card incident came before either goalkeeper had been tested – Saints striker Sam Gallagher pounced on loose pass and drew a foul from Griffin. Despite being more than 50 yards from goal, the referee deemed the centre-half’s challenge to have denied the Southampton man a clear chance to open the scoring and sent the defender for an early bath.
Even so, Reading were still on the front-foot for a good spell of the first period – goalkeeper Stuart Moore first had to make an acrobatic save to deny Jake Vokins’ free-kick, but then Tariqe Fosu had a shot deflected wide, and Conor Shaughnessy’s header from an Aaron Kuhl corner needed clearing off the line by Richard Bakary.
Slowly but surely a youthful Saints squad started to impose themselves – Moore had to be alert to deny Gallagher’s header and Gape’s long-range effort, before Armani Little drilled just wide as the teams headed into the break deadlocked.
Three minutes after the restart, Southampton netted the opener – Jake Hesketh’s effort wasn’t held by Moore, which allowed Gape to steal in and slot firmly under the goalkeeper to put the hosts in front. The lead could have been extended before the hour when Josh Sims’ run wasn’t adequately tracked, allowing him to pull back towards Olufela Olomola, but goalkeeper Moore got down bravely to smother the ball.
Royals captain Kuhl came within the width of the upright from levelling with 15 minutes remaining; he struck a sweet volley from 20 yards as the ball fell his way, which had stopper Harry Lewis well beaten, but the woodwork came to the Saints’ rescue.
But Reading’s breakthrough finally came with 12 minutes remaining – Sean Long’s delivery from the left was allowed through to Stacey on the far side, who hammered a shot into the ground to bounce one past Lewis and into the far corner.
Shaughnessy wasn’t far from completing a turnaround four minutes later, glancing Sammi Fridjonsson’s long throw towards goal and forcing the Saints stopper to turn over his crossbar. At the other end, stand-in centre-back Shaughnessy made an even more telling contribution with a perfectly-timed tackle under the crossbar to hack clear from Olomola as a ball was played into his path.
Fridjonsson had a half-chance late on, as Lewis came a long way to punch but didn’t get a clean connection, but the shot on the half-volley was rushed and wayward. And so it ended in parity after a well-contested fixture in Hampshire.
Full-time: Southampton U21 1 Reading U21 1
Reading U21: Moore, Watson, Long, Jules, Griffin, Shaughnessy, Kuhl, Stacey, Fosu, Cardwell, Liburd.
Subs: Ward, Husin, Fridjonsson, Rinomhota, Novakovich.