Penalties were needed to decide which team would progress to the Fourth Round of the Carabao Cup when Reading travelled to Wolverhampton Wanderers. On the night, it was Wolves who took the spot-kick win – a gutting conclusion to a hugely encouraging display from the Royals against their top-tier hosts.
What looked to be the game’s only goal came midway through the first half as Bruno Jordao fired in from range. Reading were well on top for the entirety of the second half and came oh-so-close on so many occasions – until Lucas Boyé headed in a leveller in the ninth minute of added time, forcing the shoot-out.
But John Ruddy’s save from John Swift and a missed kick by Boyé in the shoot-out – and flawless conversions from the hosts – saw Wolves progress.
Royals boss José Gomes made several changes to the side which played on Saturday – most notably a return to action for Matt Miazga after his recent injury, who joined Tyler Blackett in the starting XI after his return from the bench at the weekend.
Yakou Méïté – who scored twice in the previous round against Plymouth – was handed the captain’s armband.
As soon as the game had started, it was brought to a halt. A hefty clearance by Tom McIntyre struck teammate Andy Rinomhota square in the face – the referee eventually allowed the Royals’ medical staff to attend to the midfielder’s wellbeing.
When the game restarted, the Royals showed attacking intent and forced the first save of the match. Charlie Adam threaded into the feet of Josh Barrett, who strafed a ball forward to Lucas Boyé – cutting in off the left byline, a fierce low drive was saved instinctively by goalkeeper John Ruddy.
The same combo, in reverse, created the next chance. Ever-willing down the left flank, Boyé cut back to Barrett – the youngster stepped cleverly past his marker but pulled his left-footed effort wide of target from a central area.
In similar fashion, the Premier League outfit created their first real opportunity. It was a direct ball forward to Patrick Cutrone which flummoxed the Royals’ rearguard; João Virginia produced a fine one-handed stop to deny the Italian.
After a lively start by Reading, the hosts began to see more possession and set the tempo. And the home support were baying for a penalty when Pedro Neto went down in the area with Omar Richards nearby – the referee, unimpressed, signalled the other way and booked the Wolves man for simulation.
It had been a solid start from the Royals – but the hosts led before the half-hour mark. Cutrone gave his marker the slip as he received a throw-in; the forward squared for Jordao, whose fizzing shot evaded João Virginia’s grasp and into the net.
Boyé’s industry was looking the likeliest source of a Royals goal. After a series of link-ups with Barrett on the left to pull the home defence around, the Argentine squared for Adam – a firm drive, only just wide.
Goalscorer Jordao was subbed just before half-time – the Royals almost took advantage while he was lying prostrate as skipper Méïté drove down the right channel. Ultimately Barrett could only curl over the frame of goal as the gold shirts flooded back in defence.
Half-time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 Reading
Reading’s first changes came 10 minutes after the restart. Ovie Ejaria and John Swift added fresh legs and creativity to the midfield, replacing Adam and McIntyre.
Neither team had really threatened until that point; Méïté had stabbed an effort wide of the near post after rounding a challenge, and Morgan Gibbs-White had sent in a low cross which Virginia had saved bravely.
The change allowed Reading to control the ball in the centre of the park. With one goal in it, the Molineux crowd weren't sitting too easily in their seats - but that killer pass wouldn't quite connect for the Royals.
One of Swift's first contributions was in defence, picking up a booking for a scything tackle on Neto to break up a counter.
George Pușcaș was introduced as the Royals' final sub midway through the second half. Teddy Howe was withdrawn - an attacking switch to chase the deficit.
The Royals were showing guile and craft - Barrett swung over a cross from wide on the left, and Méïté's towering header was cleared agonisingly off the line by Ryan Bennett.
Wolves were absorbing the pressure well and, for the most part, were limiting the Royals to half-chances. Barrett's scooped pass was only just too strong for the run of Méïté, and similarly Boyé was just beaten to the ball by the goalkeeper as his first touch on a low cross just slipped away.
Wolves had been sitting deep, leaving few holes unplugged. As a consequence, countering opportunities were seldom - but when Ejaria won the ball back and Boyé steamed downfield, things opened up for Pușcaș. The Romanian's effort had power but not the required accuracy, flashing wide from 25 yards.
The hosts would finish the game a man light. Substitute Meritan Shabani, making his Wolves debut, went down innocuously as he tried to pressure the Reading defence; he departed the field on a stretcher.
That stoppage prompted nine minutes of added time - fresh hope of a leveller for the travelling Royals. And when Swift threaded to Pușcaș, a venomous first-time strike was kept out miraculously by Ruddy.
Ejaria had a shot deflected just wide in the seventh added minute - it looked like it just wasn't to be for the Royals.
But then, incredibly, a 99th-minute equaliser. A wonderfully crafted goal and one which took the Royals to a well-deserved shoot-out. Barrett's cross-field ball found Rinomhota - Swift received on the run and dinked to Boyé, who headed in via the underside of the crossbar. The campaign would last a little longer, if only for the duration of a penalty shoot-out.
After 90 minutes: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Reading
Taken at the end of the field where the Royals fans were gathered, Pușcaș slotted in first. Wolves skipper Ruben Neves replied in kind, also picking out the bottom corner.
Wolves were the first to have the advantage, as Ruddy got down to Swift's effort. Defender Jesus Vallejo, on loan from Real Madrid, tucked in to give the hosts a lead after two kicks apiece.
Boyé, the hero in normal time, was wayward with his penalty, and Bennett slotted in for Wolves. Matt Miazga needed to convert his to keep the tie alive - and he did, placing calmly into the corner.
But Ruben Vinagre converted from 12 yards, sending the Premier League side marching into the next round. Reading's cup campaign ended.
Wolves win 4-2 on penalties
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ruddy, Doherty, Vallejo, Bennett, Jordao (Perry 42), Neto (Cundle 83), Neves (c), Cutrone, Gibbs-White (Shabani 73), Vinagre, Kilman.
Unused subs: Patricio, Coady, Sanderson, Moutinho.
Goal: Jordao (27).
Yellow: Neto, Perry.
Reading: Virgínia, Howe (Pușcaș 66), Miazga, McIntyre (Ejaria 56), Blackett, Richards, Rinomhota, Adam (Swift 56), Barrett, Boyé, Méïté (c).
Unused subs: Walker, Baldock, Olise, Osho.
Goal: Boyé (90+9).
Referee: Mr P Bankes