Royals exit International Cup with defeat to BasquesAn early brace from Yakou Meite wasn’t enough to earn the Royals anything from their Premier League International Cup encounter with Athletic Bilbao at Adams Park, as the Basques completed a 3-2 turnaround in the second half.
The Frenchman’s brace – two well-taken goals within six minutes of kick-off – had Reading in cruise control. But Luke Southwood helped maintain the advantage midway through the first half by saving Inigo Cordoba’s penalty, after the Basque winger had drawn a foul in the box.
But an own-goal shortly before the break gave the Basques a route back into the match, and captain Unai Bilbao put the finishing touch on a free-kick routine to level things up on the hour. Forward Asier Villalibre was the one to complete a turnaround for the visitors, as an effort deflected beyond Southwood as they countered quickly.
The result means that the Royals can no longer progress out of the group stage, but they will host Hertha Berlin at Madejski Stadium next month in the final fixture.
The Royals had wasted little time in getting their noses in front – by the time the first goal was scored, three minutes in, Omar Richards and Andrija Novakovich had each already gone close.
But it was Meite that was first to hit the net – the Frenchman was the one to profit as a high press resulted in the Royals winning the ball in Bilbao’s territory. The former PSG man finished decisively.
Meite had his and Reading’s second with barely five minutes on the clock. This time, it was worked through the thirds at pace down the left flank – and when it was squared by Zak Jules, Meite’s first-time effort from the edge of the area gave stopper Unai Etxeberria no chance.
With a two-goal advantage, the Royals were occasionally guilty of conceding needless chances – on more than one occasion the Basque side picked off passes – Inigo Cordoba forced Southwood into his first save with a low drive from wide.
Josh Barrett helped to continue the assault on the Athletic goal and forced a smart stop from Etxeberria as he struck from 25 yards out.
With quarter of an hour played, Bilbao had an opportunity to get themselves back to within a goal as Andy Rinomhota felled Cordoba as he entered the box. The winger dusted himself down, stepped up to take the resulting penalty… but in characteristic fashion Southwood got down to his left to push the effort onto the post.
Centre-half Jake Cooper came within the woodwork’s width from extending Reading’s lead – the defender smashed a volley against the woodwork from close range when a cross was fired over from the left.
Midfielder Sandro Wieser was next to go close, curling a left-footed effort past the post. Gorka Iturraspe showed good footwork in a tight area down the other end before firing high over Southwood’s goal.
Meite almost completed a first-half hat-trick as he latched onto Barrett’s raking ball, but could only poke past the post as the goalkeeper rushed out. Instead, Bilbao got back within a goal before the interval – an inswinging corner from the right was inadvertently knocked past Southwood via a Reading defender to cut the visitors’ deficit.
Bilbao came out strongly after the break and a number of crosses from the right needed dealing with. Even so, it was the Royals that came closest in the early stages as a deflected cross by Omar Richards was just out of reach of Andrija Novakovich.
Southwood was forced into smart stops in quick succession to retain the advantage – the second was a fierce volley which needed good handling. And then a close-range header was parried away – the youngster demonstrating his agility with great effect.
But two goals in quick succession turned the game on its head. The first came through captain Unai Bilbao, as the skipper got an all-important toe onto a low free-kick to poke past Southwood.
And then Villalibre struck soon after to give the visitors the lead for the first time, as he strike deflected beyond the goalkeeper after some swift play from the visitors.
With the clock counting down, the woodwork denied Reading for a second time on the night as Barrett’s free-kick bounced clear – inches away from the leveller.
Unfortunately, it never came – the result seeing the Royals youngsters exiting the competition in the group stage.
Full-time: Reading U23 2-3 Athletic Bilbao B
Reading U23: Southwood, Watson, Jules, Cooper, Gravenberch (Keown 19), Wieser (Frost HT), Rinomhota, Richards, Barrett, Meite (Mendes HT), Novakovich.
Unused subs: Tupper, Sheppard, Andresson, East.
Athletic Club Bilbao B: Etxeberria, Sillero, Lopez, Bilbao, Undabarrena, Gurzeta, Iturraspe, Villalibre (Morcillo 83), Salado, Cordoba.
Unused subs: Oleaga, Bernaola, Cortazar, Zarraga, Hernandez.