Reading's Under-18s produced a battling performance to beat Everton in extra time, as they earned a place in the U18 Premier League Cup semi-final at Bearwood on Saturday lunchtime.
After coming from behind to lead, the young Royals were taken to an extra 30 minutes with an Everton equaliser early in the second half.
Having netted an early brace, Nahum Melvin-Lambert struck his and Reading's third goal in the second half of extra time to seal a place in the last four and earn the match ball on the day.
It was a frantic start at Bearwood as a cup semi-final was on the line between the young Royals and Toffees. Both teams put flying tackles in during the opening exchanges, and Everton started the quicker of the teams.
Sean McCallister broke into the Reading box and had his shot blocked, but the Toffees took the lead with just four minutes on the clock. Lewis Dobbin found space on the right and crossed low into the box, with Tom Cannon applying the crucial touch as he shot into the roof of the net from eight yards.
Reading were uncowed by falling behind, however, and immediately sought about levelling proceedings at the club’s new state-of-the-art training ground.
Oliver Pendlebury went close moments after the Royals went behind, getting on to Jordan Hamilton’s centre and clearing the crossbar.
Conor Lawless then showed fleet footwork to get past his markers in midfield, jinking his way into a shooting position 20 yards out. His low cutter had goalkeeper Zan Leban beaten, but his effort would trickle wide of the post.
Two minutes later, though, Reading had their equaliser. A Pendlebury free-kick from the right flank found a dangerous area in the box, and Melvin-Lambert was there to meet it. His initial strike got caught under his feet, but he quickly turned and shot left-footed into the bottom corner and the young Royals were level.
Shortly afterwards, Michael Donaldson and Mikele Leigertwood’s side found themselves in front. A Hamilton centre found its way to Melvin-Lambert once again, who finished emphatically from close range to give Reading a deserved lead.
The young striker had a chance to wrap up his hat-trick on the half-hour mark, when Lawless swung in a corner. Melvin-Lambert got his head to it first, but the ball went wide of the mark on this occasion.
A piece of excellent defending up the other end allowed the Royals to hold onto their advantage close to the interval, when full-back Lynford Sackey showed tenacity to chase down Dobbin, who was clean through on goal. A vital intervention from Sackey saw him steal possession in the box – a certain penalty if he mistimed it.
Hamilton was then quick to steal possession for the Royals in midfield, allowing him to surge forward and tee up Lawless on the edge of the area. The playmaker cut back onto his right foot to shoot, but Leban was able to hold on and the Royals took a one-goal lead into the break.
Half-time | Reading U18 2-1 Everton U18
Only three minutes had passed in the second period before the visitors levelled again. Dobbin accelerated on the right flank and drove on towards the area, with his low centre finding Sean McCallister, who made no mistake in heading past Harvey Collins a few yards out.
Once again, though, Reading forced their way back onto the offensive straight away in search of taking the lead once more. Augustus McGiff went close when his shot in the box was tipped over by Leban, before an angled drive from outside the box from Sackey forced a good low save from the Everton stopper.
Melvin-Lambert continued his search for his hat-trick when the Royals kept up their attacking onslaught, breaking quickly and a low cross finding the striker in the box. He shot under pressure, and cleared the bar in a good opportunity to take the lead once more.
Reading were more than holding their own against the Toffees, whose Under-18s sit behind only Liverpool and Manchester City in the U18 Premier League North standings.
Substitute, Alfie Anderson went close next for the Royals as a well-worked move across the face of goal saw him in space to shoot, with Leban equal to his low strike.
Claudio Osorio went close for the young Royals too as he drove into the box from midfield, but a last-ditch tackle prevented him from getting a shot away.
Up the other end, Harvey Collins had a crucial part to play of his own before the end of the game, when a quick counter-attack saw a lapse of concentration in the Royals’ defence and Dobbin capitalised to go straight through on goal. The Reading goalkeeper stood up well, narrowed the angle and made a vital save when one-on-one with the attacker.
Despite the young Royals dominating play towards the final whistle, a 2-2 draw saw the sides go to extra time at Bearwood.
The first period of 30 added minutes saw the visitors get on the front foot as they looked to retake the lead they lost in the first half of an intriguing cup tie at Bearwood.
A free-kick from the right threatened to disturb the Reading defence in the area, with Ryan Astley going down in the box and the referee swiftly waving away his penalty appeals.
Just before the break in extra time, Dobbin was played through on goal for the visitors, having time to set himself up to strike – but he dragged wide of Collins’ post.
Both halves of extra time saw several players treating themselves for cramp, with the physical demands of the game showing in this nip-and-tuck cup tie.
However, with nine minutes to go, the Royals got themselves back in front again. A good spell of possession on the edge of the Everton box saw play spread to the left of the area. The cross came in towards the far post, with Melvin-Lambert beating his marker to the ball, heading back across goal and rounding off a deserved hat trick.
Reading weren’t content with that advantage, though, and kept up their attacks when Pendlebury’s shot from outside the box went narrowly wide, before Anderson struck from 20 yards and forced a high-flying save from Leban towards his top left-hand corner.
However, the extra goal wasn’t needed in the end and Reading’s Under-18s held on to a fantastic win, booking their place in the last four of the U18 Premier League Cup.
Full-time | Reading U18 3-2 Everton U18 (AET)
Reading U18: Collins, Sackey (Neves 66), Stickland (Trialist 53), Abbey, Samuels, Osorio (c), Pendlebury, Lawless, Hamilton (Anderson 53), McGiff, Melvin-Lambert.
Subs: Holden, Turkson.
Goals: Melvin-Lambert (14, 21, 111)
Everton U18: Leban, Hosie, Lowey (Thompson HT), Hogan, Astley, Hughes (c), Higgins, Onuango, Cannon, McCallister (Whitaker 86), Dobbin.
Subs: MacIntyre, Anderson, Kristenson.
Goals: Cannon (4), McCallister (48)