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U21s Close In On Promotion

A curling free kick from Liam Kelly was the only goal of the match when Reading U21s took on their Aston Villa counterparts at the Madejski Stadium.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Reading: Lincoln; Long, Keown, Sweeney, Griffin; Kuhl, Shaughnessy; Owusu, Sammi (Cardwell), L. Kelly; Novakovich

The win lifts the Royals into second place in Division 2 of the Barclays U21 Premier League, leapfrogging Derby County into the automatic promotion spots.

The Royals kept the same formation that they used against Stoke, with the only change being the introduction of Conor Shaughnessy for Tariqe Fosu. The winger’s absence led to speculation that he would be involved in the first team’s match the next day. With Jack Stacey now a regular substitute for the senior side, this left Nana Owusu and Liam Kelly to play on the wings, with Sammi Fridjonsson taking Kelly’s place behind Andrija Novakovich.

It was quickly clear that Villa were much stronger opposition than Stoke. They pressed with vigour, particularly focusing on squeezing skipper Aaron Kuhl out of the match. Sure enough, they had the better of the opening few minutes. They created two good opportunities. The first caused Dan Lincoln no trouble; he kept the second out with an excellent reaction save, sticking out his right arm and then smothering the loose ball.

Owusu made himself known to Reading fans as a goalscoring full back in their run to the FA Youth Cup semi-final. Today he looked every bit the winger, running at Riccardo Calder with both speed and skill. He was the focus of most of Reading’s attacks, and the target of most of Lincoln’s kicks. A delightful flick header from one of them sent Sean Long scampering in behind the Villa defence. His cross was overhit, but fell fortuitously for Kelly on the far side. After bringing the ball down, he tried an audacious lob from the byline, but it was acrobatically turned over the bar.

From then on, the Royals were largely dominant, with the midfield trio beating Villa to most loose balls. Niall Keown and Pierce Sweeney both had chances from set pieces, and Owusu hit a shot wide. Villa were content to allow Reading possession, but focused on hassling Owusu and Kuhl, to good effect. Next to the skipper, Shaughnessy looked composed and assured, spreading play well. Kelly struggled to get involved in the match from the left wing, but his contributions always caused Villa problems. Some excellent link up play with Novakovich drew a cynical foul on the edge of the area. Kelly and Kuhl stood over the free kick, and it was Kelly who struck it, curling a peach of a shot over the wall and wheeling away towards the empty East Stand.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="und" dir="ltr">1-0 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/readingfc?src=hash">#readingfc</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/URZZ?src=hash">#URZZ</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/U21?src=hash">#U21</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/L_Kelly95">@L_Kelly95</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Aaron_Kuhl">@Aaron_Kuhl</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Sharonkuhl">@Sharonkuhl</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Martinkuhl3">@Martinkuhl3</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/martinkeown5">@martinkeown5</a> <a href="http://t.co/AvuotDeeDS">pic.twitter.com/AvuotDeeDS</a></p>&mdash; Tom Wisniewski (@hitfour6) <a href="https://twitter.com/hitfour6/status/594210540009979904">May 1, 2015</a></blockquote>

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Minutes later, Lincoln went down injured after colliding with a Villa player when punching away a corner. Lewis Ward was sent to warm up, but a visibly shaken Lincoln carried on, even limping back out for the second half.

The second half was more of the same. Reading kept Villa at bay and carved out a few chances of their own. A delightful backheel from Sammi fell to Kuhl, who sent Kelly through on goal. Another curling shot from the diminutive midfielder went just over. When Owusu was freed down the right minutes later, his drag back was just behind Novakovich, who span and shot wide. Kelly hit a fierce volley after an excellent cross from Owusu, but he couldn’t keep it down. A few perplexing foul decisions from referee Ian Cooper frustrated Sammi, who was rightly cautioned for dissent and quickly substituted, with Harry Cardwell’s introduction prompting a switch to 4-4-2.

The former Hull City striker wasn’t as bright as against Stoke, but his pace and power made him a threat. He and Novakovich clearly had a good understanding, each setting up the other but neither quite scoring.

Villa came into the match more in the final 20 minutes, although both Sweeney and Keown made excellent interventions at times and they couldn’t threaten Lincoln. The game became more physical at the death. Both sides had several free kicks, although nobody connected with two excellent driven free kicks from Kuhl, and Villa were lucky not to receive more cautions.

Reading’s seventh successive victory continues them on a promotion course. Two points from their last two matches will guarantee them promotion, although they could be promoted on Tuesday if Derby fail to win in their final match against fourth-placed West Brom.