The Reds came from behind to snatch victory in stoppage time and book a place in the knockout stages of the Under-21 league in a dramatic game at the Madejski Stadium.
Though chances in the early stages of the game were few and far between, United took the lead in the seventeenth minute from a predictable source: a through-ball beat the Reading defence and Wilson, with only the keeper to beat, scored his eighth goal in eleven appearances for the Under-21s this season. Such is the coolness of the young forward in such positions, there was very little doubt of the outcome as soon as he received the ball. The goal reflected United’s slight dominance in the early periods, although there was a scare when Ugwu blasted over the bar when he found himself free in the box on the half hour mark.
Otherwise, United’s defenders coped comfortably with the infrequent threats posed by the home side in the first half. However, Reading came out with renewed purpose in the second and soon equalised, a long distance shot from Fosu sneaking inside Amos’ left post. United responded, with a finely struck volley failing to beat Lincoln in the Reading goal, but Cardwell came even closer to extending the home side’s lead when his close range header just fell wide of the post.
It wasn’t long before the Reading substitute got his name on the scoresheet, however. Stacey’s effort was parried by Amos but, when the ball fell to Cardwell, this time he made no mistake. At that stage, United were facing elimination from the competition but, staring defeat in the face, they got a fortuitous equaliser when James Weir turned and hit his shot straight at Lincoln, who fumbled and allowed the ball to cross the line.
With the game in the final minute of stoppage time, it looked as if United had blown their chance of qualification, especially as the ball was in their own half. However, the Reds broke and Varela, who’d found himself in possession on the edge of the box, played a simple square ball to McNair, who struck the ball sweetly past Lincoln. It was an unlikely goal from an unlikely source and it sends United into a semi-final against Liverpool.