This really was an excellent result for Reading's under 18s. Having trailed 1-0 for much of the game, they dug in and completely turned the game around through goals from Tyler Frost, Ryan East and Sam Smith. The youngsters have earned themselves a place in the 5th round of the competition, where they'll play either Wolves or Met Police.
The Royals lined up in what looked like a 4-4-2 formation, with Luke Southwood in goal. Ahead of him, Dan Akinwumni (RB), Axel Andresson, Gabriel Osho (both CB) and Omar Richards (LB) made up the back four. Tyler Frost and Conor Davis were on the wings, with Harrison Bennett and Ryan East in the middle of the park. Sam Smith was the main striker, supported by Josh Barrett.
Confirmation of tonight's teams. pic.twitter.com/MDqJEaHWdK— The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) January 18, 2016
The hosts had the first goal, through Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson. Cutting onto his right foot in the inside left channel from about 25 yards, the Fulham player curled his effort superbly into the far top corner, with Luke Southwood beaten by the sheer quality of the strike. Not long later, it looked like the Whites might make it two after Dennis Adeniran had been brought down in the area, but Southwood pulled off a smart save from the resulting penalty to keep the score at 1-0.
From then on in, although the home side dominated possession, they couldn't find a way past the impressive Osho and Andresson at the back, with most of Fulham's chances coming from range. At the other end, Reading found it hard to get momentum going in the final third, although Sam Smith was unlucky to see his header go just wide of the post.
Having weathered the initial Fulham pressure, the Royals were growing more and more into the game by the end of the half, but were still 1-0 down when the interval came.
Not long after the break, Sam Smith was again unlucky with a header, glancing his effort just wide. Reading had come out strongly, and were moving the ball about well - Bennett and East finding more time to express themselves in the middle of the park, with Frost and Davis more adventurous on the wings. In particular, Josh Barrett was the creative spark for the Royals, popping up across the final third to whip balls into the box from all kinds of angles, and also saw a drive go just over after the ball had dropped kindly from a long throw.
Reading were well on top of the game now, and deservedly got the equaliser through Tyler Frost. A marauding Dan Akinwumni fizzed a low cross over from the right, with Frost arriving in the area to hammer home. Shortly after, in a mirror of first half events, Reading had their own penalty - Sam Smith was brought down in the area whilst challenging 'keeper Ashby-Hammond, with the Fulham goalie sent off for the offence. Josh Barrett stepped up to take the spot kick, but blasted his effort wide of the post.
Late in the game, the Royals finally had their second of the game. The away side's momentum had looked like it was fizzling out, but a deflected Ryan East shot from ~25 yards bamboozled Fulham's substitute goalie. Cue manic celebrations from the u18s, who thoroughly deserved the lead.
There was only time for one more major action at the end of the game, with Sam Smith tapping home at the far post following a Reading counter attack. The full time whistle went, with the score 3-1 to the Royals.
This was a very special win for David Dodds' side. Even at 1-0 down, Reading's heads never dropped, with the youngsters fighting hard for every ball despite being frustrated at the other end. They bossed the second half by moving the ball around effectively, with plenty of width provided by the wingers and full backs.
In particular, the celebrations marked out for me how good the team spirit is here. The sheer jubilation from the players after every goal, and indeed the full time whistle, was something to behold. And that's hardly surprising - they were through to the next round, having beaten a Fulham team that had frustrated Reading youth sides in recent years.
There's a lot of talent in this side, that's for certain. In goal, Luke Southwood kept his team in the game with a smart save from a first half penalty, with centre backs Osho and Andresson marshalling Fulham effectively throughout. Full backs Akinwumni and Richards had similarly good defensive games, but added an adventurous attacking side that Gunter and Taylor should take note of. Elsewhere, the likes of attackers Josh Barrett and Sam Smith stood out for me. Both were industrious off the ball, and efficient on it - Barrett providing creativity and Smith leading the line.