Reading’s Under-23s saw their Premier League 2 promotion hopes ended in the cruellest circumstances, as Newcastle won a penalty shoot-out in dramatic fashion.
Over two hours of football was needed to divide the sides; the Royals led on the hour thanks to a Teddy Howe header, only for Callum Roberts to strike back and send the game into an additional 30 minutes.
Jordan Holsgrove looked to be the match-winner when he fired in from distance in the second period of extra-time, but with practically the last kick of the game, Roberts won a spot-kick which Kelland Watts converted to make it 2-2 after extra-time.
And from the resulting shoot-out, Magpies goalkeeper Nathan Harker produced three saves to send the Saints to the final in Southampton next week.
The Royals arrived with a score to settle – it was the Magpies who had ended Reading’s Premier League Cup involvement in the knock-out stages when the sides met in Woking back in March.
For Reading, the young side boasted three players with first-team experience: Gabriel Osho and Tom McIntyre the centre-halves, while Omar Richards took up an advanced position on the left flank.
The visitors’ breaking power brought them close on a couple of occasions in the early sparring. Rosaire Longelo was threaded in down the left by Mo Sangare, only for Ramarni Medford-Smith to turn behind expertly on the far side, and the Matthew Longstaff steered a low cross wide from 10 yards after possession was turned over high upfield.
Those early chances helped to put the momentum into Newcastle’s favour, as the Royals laboured to penetrate into opposition territory. Striker Elias Sorensen put the ball in the net for the Magpies midway through the first half, but the flag had long since gone up after Sangare headed forward.
And soon after, Reading suffered a blow when skipper Osho went down injured in the centre circle after a forward foray; Tom Holmes was on hand to step in.
Reading’s first noteworthy chances didn’t come until the final ten minutes of the half; firstly Adam Liddle had a shot blocked after he drove into space, and then when the Royals won a free-kick in the aftermath, Jordan Holsgrove curled narrowly over from just outside the area.
And then soon before the break, Teddy Howe’s energy from the full-back position almost brought a breakthrough as he strode onto a neat reverse by Conor Lawless. In the event, the ball just slipped out of reach and he was booked for what the referee deemed to be a loose challenge and he stretched to meet it.
A brighter start to the second period for the Royals – Lawless burst through the centre but fired over, and then a deep cross by Tyler Frost was just too strong for fellow winger Richards to turn in on the far side; side netting only.
On the hour, the breakthrough finally came. And it was a goal of the highest order, with some exemplary build-up play and a fabulous finish. Richards dug out a cross for full-back Howe to attack – his header back across the face of goal to beat Newcastle stopper Nathan Harker and bulge the net.
Goalkeeper Jokull Andresson had to be called into action to keep the lead; Callum Roberts nearly netted an instant reply, before sub Yannick Toure had a clean run on goal with his first involvement as he tried to make the most of a loose touch, but the Icelander covered his angles.
But that leveller came 15 minutes from time. This time the visiting side punished the Royals for some loose play on the Magpies right; substitute Luke Charman galloped down the line, slotted to Thomas Allan, who pulled back for Roberts to side-foot venomously down the middle. All square again.
The Royals had opportunities to get ahead again, but Holsgrove and Liddle were both wayward with their efforts and Frost’s thumping drive was kept out and pounced upon quickly by Harker.
And within minutes of his introduction, Thierry Nevers went close; Holsgrove’s corner was flicked on and the sub’s effort at the far post was kept out by maroon-shirted bodies on the line.
Chances came and went in the closing minutes as both sides hoped to end it within the regulation 90 minutes. The best of the opportunities came to Newcastle man Charman, but Andresson held the rain-sodden ball confidently.
So 30 more minutes followed; in the first of them Frost found space to pop off a left-footed fizzer, which Harker gathered soundly. But on wet night, chances would begin to dry up. Tired legs meant for misplaced passes as opportunities trickled out, while a few players began to show signs of cramping up.
But Holsgrove was still moving freely as the game ticked by, and he cracked away a delightful strike which had Reading ahead again. More neat build-up play allowed him to collect from Richards and drift in off the right, before lashing past Harker at his near post from outside the area.
Liddle had a chance to open up a cushion almost instantly when Nevers flashed a low centre across the six-yard box, only for some desperate defending to come to the rescue.
There was a late twist when, in the dying embers of the game, Roberts drove into the box and drew a foul – allowing Watts to stick in the equaliser from 12 yards.
Harker was the hero for the Magpies in the resulting shoot-out. Andresson managed to keep out two spot-kicks, but Holsgrove, McIntyre and Holmes were all denied as the visitors took a 3-2 penalty victory.
After extra-time: Reading U23 2-2 Newcastle United U23
Newcastle progress 3-2 on penalties.
Reading U23: Andresson, Howe, Medford-Smith, McIntyre, Osho (c) (Holmes 25), Pendlebury (Nevers 81), Holsgrove, Frost, Lawless (Odimayo 90+2), Richards, Liddle.
Unused subs: Driscoll, Burley.
Goals: Howe (60), Holsgrove (107).
Newcastle United U23: Harker, Sterry, Walters, Longstaff, Bailey (c), Watts, Allan (Cass 109), Sangare, Sorensen (Toure 65), Roberts, Longelo (Charman 72).
Unused subs: Huuhtanen, Gibson.
Goals: Roberts (75), Watts (120+1 pen).
Referee: Mr A Dale