Sam Smith's hat-trick ensured the Royals' U23s will take on Aston Villa in the Premier League 2 play-offs, with a 3-1 in over Stoke City at Madejski Stadium.
- Sam Smith fires the Royals ahead on 36 minutes, doubles the lead six minutes later
- Forrester replies for Stoke early in the second half
- Smith completes hat-trick four minutes from time
- Royals qualify for play-off clash against Aston Villa
The Royals were dominant all half against the Potters, but struggled to break down their resolute defence initially.
Tennai Watson came to life on the right, getting past his man on numerous occasions and putting in good crosses for the Royals.
The first clear-cut chance came as Joseph Mendes threaded Smith through on goal, who spun and shot towards the far corner and drew out a top-drawer save from Joseph Bursik in the Stoke goal.
Ryan East then teased a ball into the area from a free-kick, but Gabriel Osho couldn't turn it in with his out-stretched leg.
Soon after, Mendes was the recipient of a cutting through-ball with only goalkeeper Bursik to beat. The stopper was quick off his line, though, and slid clear on the edge of his area.
Scott Marshall's side then took a deserved lead after 36 minutes. Tyler Frost, playing in an unfamiliar wing-back role, broke forward with pace and hung up an enticing ball for Smith.
He wrapped his left foot around the shot first time to tuck it in at the near post and give the Royals the lead.
The advantage was soon doubled, with Smith latching onto a long ball, rounding the goalkeeper and coolly finishing into the empty net to give Scott Marshall's side a two-goal cushion at the break.
Half time | Reading U23 2-0 Stoke City U23
The visitors came out with hope of getting back into the game at the start of teh second half - forcing two good saves from Liam Driscoll.
First, a Berahino strike was met well by the Royals' goalkeeper, before he turned over a long drive from Shenton.
However, Shenton would provide hope for the Potters as he put in a free-kick, with William Forrester putting in a simple header from close range to bring the game back within reach.
Reading had to work for their opportunities, but Smith, on a hat-trick, was fed by Loader and through on goal. He struck it sweetly, but the woodwork denied him as it rebounded off the post.
Ben House was introduced and almost notched the Royals' third, chasing another Loader through-ball that he challenged Bursik for, but the goalkeeper made it first and claimed.
Former West Brom striker Berahino had a chance from a free-kick 25 yards out, but he couldn't keep his effort down and it cleared the bar.
With four minutes left on the clock, though, the hat-trick was complete and the Royals sealed their place in the play-offs.
A perfectly-timed ball from Loader left Smith clean through on goal having beaten the offside trap. He rounded Bursik and tucked into the bottom corner to put the result beyond doubt.
The semi-final against Villa will take place away from home, between Friday April 27th and Monday April 30th.
Full time | Reading U23 3-1 Stoke City U23
Reading U23: Driscoll, Odimayo, Osho (c), McIntyre (Burley 61), Frost, East, Watson, Rinomhota, Mendes (House 61), Loader (Medford-Smith 88), Smith.
Subs: Desbois, Howe.
Goals: Smith 36, 42, 86
Yellow: Rinomhota, Burley
Stoke City U23: Bursik, Edwards (Niakate 61), McJannet, Sorenson (Greenidge 61), Forrester, Collins, Toure (Pemberton 77), Shenton, Berahino, Twyford, Jarvis.
Subs: Allen, Ayoola.
Goals: Forrester 56