Our Under-18 squad were eliminated from the FA Youth Cup at the first hurdle, as their Aston Villa counterparts took a dramatic 4-3 win under the floodlights at Madejski Stadium.
It was a gut-wrenching way to get knocked out – occasionally riding their luck, showing grit to get level, but then being sucker-punched in stoppage-time at the end of a gruelling 90 minutes.
It was the Royals who struck first through Nahum Melvin-Lambert, but Carney Chukwuemeka squeezed in an equaliser soon after, before Brad Young completed the turnaround with a penalty before the interval. Young’s second, volleying in from close range, seemingly putting the game beyond recovery.
But Reading didn’t go down without a fight, and went back within one as Jahmari Clarke towered above the rest to head in from a corner. And a matter of minutes later, a break started by Jordan Hamilton-Olise was finished by him too – squaring things up at 3-3.
But Louie Barry’s 93rd minute goal, stealing in at the back post, put the visitors into the fourth round draw.
The Villans threatened first as Louie Barry was released in the area, but Tyrell Ashcroft made a goal-saving block at the final moment. Moments later at the other end, Mamadi Camara threatened to get Reading ahead but his shot cannoned away off the legs of a Villa defender.
But it was Reading who opened the scoring, with their first clear opportunity. Camara’s ball into the feet of Imari Samuels was turned on quickly to Melvin-Lambert, who slotted past the advancing goalkeeper calmly.
Villa’s response was nearly an instant one, but Barry hammered over wildly when the ball was cut back to him inside the box. But they didn’t have to wait too much longer; Aaron Ramsey’s powerful effort was saved by Coniah Boyce-Clarke, but Chukwuemeka collected the scraps, opened an angle and fired in low despite the goalie’s best efforts.
Then Villa went ahead, in rather fortuitous fashion – Barry’s cross struck the arm of Ashcroft from point-blank range, allowing Young a chance to give the visitors a lead from the penalty spot. He duly converted.
Chukwuemeka and Kaine Hayden each had chances to extend the lead before the break from similar areas outside the area – the former’s was tipped wide, the latter half-volleying wayward.
Villa piled on the pressure in the second period, eventually making it pay as Young grabbed his second. A short free-kick routine allowed Barry room to cross, and the forward snuck in behind the defence to beat the goalkeeper to the ball and poke in.
But Reading struck twice in quick succession to suddenly go level – from the brink of elimination, right back into it.
First, up stepped sub Jahmari Clarke. In a clutch of players in the area, it was he who rose highest to head in and get the Royals believing again.
And just seconds later, Hamilton-Olise was composed and decisive – helping to turn a loose pass into the Royals half into a quick counter, which he finished with aplomb from the edge of the area.
It look destined to go the distance… until the 93rd minute, when Villa snatched the victory back.
Sub Ben Chrisene swung over a corner, which evaded all of the targets in the middle and instead fell perfectly for the well-placed Barry to slot in first time – heartbreaking.
A testament to the determination, grit and guile of the Royals to make a match of it when they were staring down the barrel. But congratulations to Villa, who march in to round four.
Full-time: Reading U18 3-4 Aston Villa U18
Reading U18: Boyce-Clarke, Ashcroft, Paul, Talent-Aryeetey, Stickland, Abbey, Camara, Hamilton-Olise, Melvin-Lambert, Ehibhatiomhan, Samuels.Subs: Collins, Sackey, Maudner, Abrefa, Clarke, Purcell, Anderson.
Aston Villa U18: Marschall, Hayden, Bevan, Appiah, Bogarde, Lindley, Raikhy, Chukwuemeka, Young, Ramsey, Barry.
Subs: Swinkels, Zych, Sylla, Chrisene, Rowe, Afoka, Sewell.