Novakovich and Barrett bag braces either side of the breakReading’s Under-23s finished their Premier League Cup group games with a 4-1 win away at Stoke, leaving them five points clear of nearest rivals Sheffield United – who also qualify for the next stage of the competition.
Andrija Novakovich and Josh Barrett notched braces either side of the break at Clayton Wood to give the Royals a commanding lead and ended the Potters’ hopes of reaching the next stage.
17-year-old goalkeeper Liam Driscoll became the 11th player from the U18 group to represent the U23s this campaign, and almost had a debut clean sheet until Jack Devlin managed to squeeze in a consolatory goal in stoppage time.
Deniss Rakels, continuing his return to fitness, was first to go close as Omar Richards steamed forward down the left and cut a low ball back – the Latvian’s effort from 12 yards was deflected past the post.
Julien Ngoy then came close to opening the scoring as he freed himself on the edge of the area – he struck with venom, but Driscoll was well positioned to make the save.
But just before the half-hour, Novakovich timed his run to perfection to break the offside trap, allowing him to latch onto Andy Rinomhota’s slide-rule pass and sliding past Harry Isted to score.
And the American forward has his second five minutes before the break. Richards’ high pressing saw the ball break for the striker 40 yards from goal, who rolled his defender with a deft first touch and sprinted unopposed towards goal before lashing in from close range.
Even before Barrett scored his first of the afternoon, he came close after linking up on the left with 17-year-old midfielder Jordan Holsgrove, but fizzed his effort narrowly wide.
He had his goal before long though – receiving in the centre circle, Barrett played into the feet of Rinomhota and continued his run. His midfield partner returned the favour by threading the ball into his path, allowing Barrett to drive into the box and finish left-footed.
With 15 minutes left, the Royals had their fourth – Gabriel Osho brought the ball out of defence and slid a classy ball through for Barrett, who jinked past the defence and stabbed inside Isted’s near post for his second.
The Royals had a late flurry in search of a fifth, although it was Stoke who managed to grab a consolation as Dan Jarvis picked off a loose pass, squared for sub Devlin, who squeezed the ball home in spite of the defence’s best efforts on the line.
But it mattered little to the result as the Royals ended their group games victoriously – the draw for the next stage follows later this month.
Full-time: Stoke City U23 1-4 Reading U23
Stoke City U23: Isted; L. Edwards (Silva 78), McJannet, Lecygne, Souttar, Banks, Ogle (T.Edwards HT), Dunwoody, Campbell (Devlin 73), Jarvis, Ngoy.
Unused subs: Sorensen, Deczki.
Reading U23: Driscoll, Holmes (Odimayo 86), Dickie, Osho, Richards, Holsgrove, Frost, Rinomhota, Novakovich (Smith 86), Barrett, Rakels (Loader 86).
Unused subs: Southwood, Rollinson.