Royals defeat Canaries to reach final!
Reading’s Under-23s will contest the final of the 2016/17 Premier League Cup!
And that’s all because they found a way past Norwich in a fiercely-fought contest at Madejski Stadium – a first-half flurry of goals paved the way for a 3-1 victory a final against either Swansea City or Portsmouth, who meet on Tuesday.
Rob Dickie, Sam Smith and Tyler Frost all scored with a 15-minute period towards the end of the first half, and despite Norwich’s efforts and a second-half strike by Ray Grant, it was the Royals who saw it over the line.
They withstood the Canaries’ pressure and attacking threat, and added a fourth to seal the deal with minutes to spare as Smith added his second.
It gives our boys a chance to contest the final for the second time, after our tournament win in the competition’s maiden year in 2014.
That will be the 10th game of a mammoth campaign which began in October, in which our boys have impressed throughout.
Martin Kuhl’s charges included a handful of players with first-team experience, in the shape of goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola and outfield pair Tennai Watson and Yakou Meite.
Josh Barrett was the first to have a sight at goal – Andy Rinomhota nipped in to win possession in the centre circle to allow his teammate to stride forward, but the attacker’s shot was a few yards wide.
By way of reply, Jaakkola was forced into his first save soon after as Louis Ramsay’s delivery was met by Diallang Jaiyesimi six yards out – but the Finn was well-positioned to save.
The Canaries, with a substantial travelling support giving them backing, were getting into their groove and some well-flighted crosses from the right were causing issues. Yet at the other end, Barrett almost found the breakthrough but lost his footing under the attention of Ramsay after Rinomhota had picked the pass, and Meite saw a venomous effort saved and held.
Just before the half-hour, the breakthrough came. Rinomhota, typically bold in possession, won a free-kick on the edge of the box. That allowed Barrett to thunder an effort at goal which Aston Oxborough could only parry back into play, and Dickie was on hand to finish in the middle as Rinomhota played back across the face.
Reading couldn’t celebrate immediately as the assistant’s flag had cut the jollity short. But after a brief period of consultation between the officials, the goal was deemed valid.
And soon enough the Royals were celebrating a second – and there was no debate about this one. Reading worked the ball through the thirds and Omar Richards delivered a perfectly-placed free-kick which Smith rose to and glanced beyond the dive of the Norwich stopper and nestled inside the side netting.
Two became three shortly before the interval… a low cross was swung in and Michael Efete couldn’t make a true contact on his attempted clearance, which allowed Frost to punish ruthlessly by beating Oxborough to the ball and hammer in from six yards.
That three-goal margin was eaten into within two minutes of the restart. A Canaries free-kick from the right wasn’t cleared cleanly and fell to Grant in the six-yard box – the ball was behind him but he sorted his feet out and stabbed in.
Rinomhota embarked on a mazy run from the edge of his own box to the edge of Norwich’s – he laid off to Barrett, but the low cross was cut out.
The second half entered a bit of a grind as the teams battled away in midfield – Meite in particular was kicked from pillar to post on a number of occasions, and Ramsay, Conor McGrandles and Todd Cantwell all had their names taken by the referee.
Ben House, making his U23 debut, was inches away from marking it with a goal as Frost cut back – he rounded the defence but shot narrowly over.
But that match-sealing goal came two minutes from the end of the 90 – East’s corner was headed back across goal by Dickie, and Smith stooped to head in his second.
The final awaits!
Full-time: Reading U23 4-1 Norwich City U23
Reading U23: Jaakkola, Watson, Richards, Dickie, Osho, East, Rinomhota, Frost, Barrett (Holmes 82), Meite (House 82), Smith.
Unused subs: Southwood, Medford-Smith, Holsgrove.
Goals: Dickie, Smith (2), Frost.
Norwich City U23: Oxborough, Ramsay (Hlynsson 87), Lewis, Grant (Arrons 62), Efete, Crowe, Jaiyesimi, Adams, Ashley-Seal, Cantwell, McGrandles (Higgs 73).
Unused subs: Hallett, Wallis.