The Royals Under-23s claimed three points in an enthralling Premier League 2 encounter at Madejski Stadium against Aston Villa, with the scoreline settling at 3-2 in Reading’s favour.
A game which saw goals of quality, stunning stops, fierce challenges and a whole lot more was ultimately rewarded with a result which sent the Royals ahead of their counterparts from the Midlands.
Josh Barrett had a spot-kicked saved by Jed Steer, but his two goals in open play – either side of one by Ben House – earned the win.
Both sides boasted some experienced heads – Adrian Popa most notably for the Royals, and Jack Grealish for the visitors.
And the Villans were first to strike, as Corey Blackett-Taylor burst down the right flank and put in a teasing ball for Callum O’Hare to dart onto, finishing expertly at the back post.
But the lead didn’t last too long. It was a clever spin on half-way by Romanian international Popa which saw him burst past James Finnerty, before spreading the ball wide to Barrett. The Academy product did the rest – a drop of the shoulder put defender Mitchell Clark on the deck, before slotting inside the far post on his left boot.
Just before the midpoint of the first half, the Royals got their noses in front for the first time. Popa raced onto a through-ball on the flank, jinked inside and out, and played into the path of House who took one touch to control and another to stab in. His celebrations were somewhat muted by a knock, which would eventually result in an early substitution.
The Royals could have been two clear going into the break – Ramarni Medford-Smith continued his run forward from the left-back position to receive a one-two in the area, and in doing so drew a foul from Blackett-Taylor. Barrett stepped up to take the spot-kick – it had power and direction, but Steer guessed correctly and got strong palms to his effort.
And so instead the second half was less than four minutes old when Villa drew the game level again – this time it was their turn to counter. Steer’s early ball to Grealish allowed him to pick out Harry McKirdy on the far side, and a slippery bit of play from the front-man allowed him to find space to fire the Midlands side back on terms soon from a narrow angle.
The best was yet to come – it was a game-worthy winner. An early ball forward from Ryan East found Popa scampering down the right and after more bold dribbling, he teed up Barrett to lash beyond the stretching dive of the goalkeeper. Popa’s third assist, Barrett’s second goal, and another lead for the Royals.
George Legg was kept relatively untroubled in the latter stages – and with the visitors pushing to try and snatch a point, it was Reading who came closest to adding a sixth goal of an entertaining evening. Tyler Frost cut in off the left and rattled the base of the post, Tom Holmes attempted an acrobatic overhead when Jordan Holsgrove’s corner was only half-cleared, and sub Teddy Howe had a curling effort clawed clear as the game entered stoppage time.
There were no shortage of flare-ups in a heartily-contested Premier League 2 game and a few shouts at either ends for penalties, which the officials didn’t entertain. In the end, the ref called time on the outing for a well-earned three points for Scott Marshall’s side.
Full-time: Reading U23 3-2 Aston Villa U23
Reading U23: Legg, Holmes, Medford-Smith, Osho, Andresson, East, Sheppard (Howe HT), Holsgrove, Barrett, Popa, House (Frost 33).
Unused subs: Rosario, McIntyre, Rollinson.
Goals: Barrett (9, 55), House (23).
Aston Villa U23: Steer, Clarke, Bedeau, Lyden, Suliman, Finnerty, Blackett-Taylor (Clarke 78), Doyle-Hayes, Grealish (Pastorek 88), O'Hare, McKirdy (Mooney 84).
Unused subs: Johansson, Prosser.
Goals: O'Hare (7), McKirdy (49).