Reading’s Under-23s drew 3-3 with Aston Villa at Adams Park on Monday evening – a topsy-turvy affair which swung one way and then the other, but ultimately ended in parity.
Villa went ahead twice through Jack Clarke and Cameron Archer, with Danny Loader replying each time, before he completed his hat-trick in the second half to put Reading ahead with his second penalty of the night. But Dimitri Sea struck late for Villa, who took a point back to the Midlands.
In a team which boasted a number of players with professional appearances, defender Tyler Blackett offered the most senior experience in the Royals side. Loader, Michael Olise, Teddy Howe and Tom McIntyre were the other starters with first-team appearances under their belt for Reading.
It was the visiting Villa side who were providing the early threat, but couldn’t quite pick the final pass when the Royals managed to get back in numbers. Their first real opportunity came on the counter when Cameron Archer flew down the right flank and laid into the path of Jacob Ramsey, who side-footed over the bar from the edge of the area.
In reply, Reading earned their first opportunity through a quick attack down their left. Loader and Ben House combined well, and Olise showed tenacity to win the ball back as the defence tried to snuff out the attack. His low effort was saved on the stretch by Viljami Sinisalo.
Loader then went close from a direct attack. Villa’s foray forward had ended with an overhit cross, and Howe was alert to keep the ball in play on the far side and drove quickly upfield and strafed a diagonal to Loader. The forward stepped inside and fired just past the post as the defence swarmed back.
It was Villa who took the lead though. It was a tame one from a Royals perspective as possession was turned over just outside the area, allowing Clarke to slot his shot just inside the post with goalkeeper Myles Roberts exposed.
The Birmingham-based side had a number of chances to double the lead from set pieces as corners and free-kicks came into the area, but the Royals didn’t shy away from aerial challenges. When Villa did manage to find the net from a corner routine, the referee had already whistled for an infringement.
On the half-hour, all square again. Olise’s free-kick from wide on the right caused chaos in the Villa box, and House was caught off the bar. Up stepped Loader to take the spot-kick, and even though the goalkeeper went the right way, the shot was placed right into the corner and out of reach.
Olise came close to quickly turning the game around as the ball broke to him fortuitously on half-way. Driving downfield, he skipped past a number of challenges before seeing his deflected effort loop over the goalkeeper, but agonisingly into the side netting.
Just before the break, the Villans led again as they converted a quick forward foray. It was Archer who was slid in from the left, taking one touch to control and another to fire low into the corner to reestablish a lead.
Soon after the restart, the Royals carved out a good opportunity as Loader darted down the left and crossed low, only for Olise’s effort on the stretch to clear the woodwork. Soon after, Loader’s quick feet drew a foul a yard outside the box, but Olise’s shot struck the wall.
But before long Reading were level again, and once more it was Loader on the scoresheet. His goal owed plenty to the pressure applied by Howe, winning the ball on the right, and allowed House to slide in a square ball for Loader to place in.
House came close to getting Reading in front for the first time as he boldly strode into the area down the right with pace and power, making room to shoot with some quick feet, but ultimately found the goalkeeper in the way of a blistering drive from a tight angle.
But midway through the second half, the turnaround was complete. An early ball forward by Ramarni Medford-Smith allowed Loader to spin into the area, and he was shunted to ground before he had a chance to pull the trigger. The referee pointed to the spot and, like in the first half, Loader was accurate and decisive from 12 yards.
Clarke came close to grabbing his second for Villa as a loose ball fell his way, 20 yards from goal. He went early with his curling effort, narrowly clearing the angle of post and crossbar. And with the minutes ticking away, Villa sub Colin Odutayo was wide with a free-kick as he tried to catch out Roberts on the near side.
Three minutes from time, Villa snatched a leveller. A misplaced pass out of defence allowed the Villans to pounce, and Jacob Ramsey squared for substitute Sea to drill in from close range. In the end, points shared.
Full-time: Reading U23 3-3 Aston Villa U23
Reading U23: Roberts, Nditi, McIntyre (c), Blackett, Howe, Medford-Smith, Pendlebury, Lawless (Nevers 74), Loader, Olise, House.
Unused subs: Trialist, Dorsett, Liddle, Bristow.
Goals: Loader (30 pen, 57, 69 pen).
Aston Villa U23: Sinisalo, Walker (c), Rowe, Suliman, Revan, Guy, Archer, Clarke, Vassilev (Sea 83), Ramsey, Wright (Odutayo 77).
Unused subs: Bridge, Searle, Birch.
Goals: Clarke (18), Archer (45+3), Sea (87).