The Story So Far (in case you haven’t been paying attention)
Reading’s run to tonight’s historic FA Youth Cup semi final has been epic. A good win away at Leeds in the 3rd round (the Youth Cup follows a similar qualifying pattern as the Senior Cup) led to an encounter with Crewe, a side who are much more formidable at this level than their first team. This tie was the first great clash of the cup run. Tied at 2-2 and in extra time Jack Stacey thought he’d scored the winner only for Icelander (all great Reading sides need an Icelander) Sammi Fridjonsson to get a straight red card and Crewe to nab a 120th minute equaliser. The Royals kept their composure though, slotting home all four of their penalties to go through to the next round.
Accrington Stanley proved no match in the next round and were brushed aside 3-0 setting up a quarter final tie against the mighty Liverpool. That game is worthy of an entire article on it’s own. Reading led 2-0 with only 10 minutes left of the game only to see Liverpool peg them back and get an injury time equaliser to force extra time. The Reds then scored twice in the first period to all be settle the tie. Except they didn’t. In the last 3 minutes goals from Taylor-Crossdale and then George McLennan took the game to the most unlikely of penalty shootouts. Once again the Royals put away all their kicks with De’Jaune Taylor-Crossdale getting the decisive one to put Reading in their very first FA Youth Cup semi-final.
Reading 2-2 Fulham, FA Youth Cup semi-final 1st leg
(4-3-3) Ward; Watson, Dickie, Hyam, Owusu (McLennan); Kuhl (c), Kelly, Fridjonsson (Husin); Stacey, Fosu, Cardwell
It’s a slightly odd thing reporting on the game itself because you can’t help but watch it in two different ways. On the one hand you’re cheering the boys on and hoping for a win but on the other you’re keeping an eye out for potential future first team players. This is just the match report but we’ve also given our thoughts on who might be making their full debut in the next few years.
David Dodds named the same side that so dramatically beat Liverpool in the previous round and they instantly asserted themselves against a Fulham side they have lost to twice in the league this season. The fluidity of the Reading formation was immediately evident with Tarique Fosu having a free rein to find whatever space he could. For much of the first half this was linking up with left back Nana Owusu. The home side should have opened the scoring from this channel when first Harry Cardwell and then Jack Stacey couldn’t quite force the ball in. They deservedly got the first goal of the game though when Liam Kelly’s corner perfectly found Rob Dickie to head in with real power.
The Royals were dominating the game and Fulham’s best chance of the half fell to Moussa Dembele who, perhaps feeling the effects of his 80 minutes for the first team on Sunday, couldn’t connect in front of goal. Fulham were made to pay for that miss. Aaron Kuhl produced the pass of the match as he played in a majestic defence splitting ball from the centre circle to send Stacey away. His touch was immaculate and as he took it round the keeper to tap into an empty net, the Fulham goalie Rodak clipped him for a clear penalty. The referee had very little choice but to show him the red card and Fosu confidently stepped up to smack in from the spot.
Suddenly facing 10 men Reading should have put the game to bed there and then. Fosu could have had a hatrick inside 5 minutes as first his shot on the angle was brilliantly turned around the post and then a thundering shot from range had to be palmed over. Fulham were looking their best when Patrick Roberts, another player with first team Premier League experience, was on the ball but after robbing him Reading almost had a bizarre third. Stacey was played through and the substitute goalie read the run of the ball very well to just about get a foot on it. He them composed himself to pass it straight to Kelly whose shot from about 50 yards was agonizingly close to dipping in.
The first half could have quite easily finished 4-0 Reading and their inability to score the killer third would prove decisive. Not that they didn’t have chances second half. Fridjonsson thought he’d got the third but his wonderful turn and shot was ruled out for offside. Then came the really pivotal moment. On the hour Dembele came off and Fulham’s gameplan became very straight forward; put everyone behind the ball bar Roberts and when you win it, give it to him. It was a ploy that worked brilliantly.
As Reading became limited to the odd header at goal and struggled to find any space in the box to get a meaningful shot away, Roberts ran riot. His runs in the first half had mostly been away from goal but now he was driving straight at the defence at every opportunity, often taking several men with him. It wasn’t his pace that set up the first goal though but a quite incredible flick on the edge of the box that totally deceived everyone. Once in the box he was brought down and Hundman pulled the goal back. Roberts was in the mood now though and it was only fitting from a Fulham point of view that it was him who found the back of the net from 6 yards out to rescue a draw.
For the first hour of this game it was simply a question of how many Reading would win by but in the end it was Fulham who went home the happier after being rescued by some individual brilliance. It’s all to play for on Monday at Craven Cottage and Reading are by no means out of this. I’ll be tuning in to ITV4 (not a phrase I think I’ve ever uttered) at 7pm to watch and if the game has as much quality as this one did, I suggest you do the same.