Reading's young first team suffered a tough finale on Saturday, and an even younger rotation side went one further for emotional turmoil on Tuesday night. Losing late on at Exeter City was one thing, but being dumped out of the League Cup on penalties - after a late goal of our own - was a bitter pill to swallow.
Ultimately the evening boiled down to four spot-kicks from four Reading players. The experienced one, Harvey Knibbs, converted his, but the high-pressure moment was too much for rookies Charlie Savage, Caylan Vickers and Ben Elliott. The first hit the target but could only draw a save, while the latter two blazed their efforts into the empty Dolan Stand behind the goal.
The visitors on the other hand held their nerve, with one exception. Former Royal Sone Aluko, who got exactly the reception you'd have expected him to get from the home crowd ("what a waste of money!"), was denied by Coniah Boyce-Clarke. As it happens, both have been involved in shootouts for Reading before. Aluko scored in an FA Cup win at Cardiff City in 2020 while Boyce-Clarke failed to make a save in last season's defeat at Marlow in the Berks and Bucks Cup.
Still, the visitors' experience ultimately bore out against another much-changed, youthful Reading side. This wasn't the same XI that won at Millwall, with six changes made, but Ruben Selles again opted to trust the talents nurtured for him by Noel Hunt in the under-21s side. Whereas Tyler Bindon, Matty Carson and others had got their opportunity at Millwall, against Ipswich Kelvin Abrefa and Jay Senga were among those who got the nod.
Millwall XI: Boyce-Clarke; Mbengue, Bindon, Abbey, Carson; Rushesha, Wing; Camara, Knibbs; Ehibhatiomhan, Vickers
Ipswich XI: Boyce-Clarke; Abrefa, Mbengue, McIntyre, Carson; Craig, Senga; Rushesha, Elliott; Tuma, Vickers
Reading got off to a near-identical start to the one at The Den. While Ehibhatiomhan had put the Royals in front early on in the first round, this time it was the turn of Manchester United loanee Brandon Williams, who netted an own goal from Carson's cross while under pressure from Vickers.
Accordingly, the first half largely continued to follow the pattern. Reading saw little of the ball, looking to contain their Championship opposition before breaking, although few of those opportunities arose. When they did, they tended to come from the talented Ben Elliott, playing on the left of midfield, or striker Vickers, whose positivity and composure in possession shone through once more.
But while Millwall had hardly known how to hurt Reading, Ipswich were much sharper and more purposeful in their attacks. That was particularly true down their right, through loanee and former Reading target Omari Hutchinson, who beat Carson shortly before half-time before putting a low cross in for 1-1.
It was a gutting end to a defiant half, but a pretty inevitable one all the same. Reading hadn't been able to disrupt the visitors' flow well enough, particularly with a more aggressive press high up the pitch - or cause Ipswich many problems in their third.
If Reading wanted to really take the initiative from the off after the break, they probably needed to be more aggressive with their subs. Basil Tuma, Jay Senga and Tivonge Rushesha had all looked pretty anonymous and unable to really stamp authority on the game. While all would eventually come off, at first it was just Carson who made way, for Andy Yiadom, who slotted in at left-back.
That helped shore things up, but Ipswich took the lead nonetheless. Reading lost the ball in midfield, were too open, and a pass through for Freddie Ladapo found the striker in far too much space. He gobbled up that one-on-one chance.
For a while after that it looked like Ipswich could well grab another goal or two. They were at least keeping pretty comfortable control over the contest, with Reading looking tired and too openly defensively.
Selles turned to his bench to affect the game, bringing Savage, Knibbs, Dorsett and Ehibhatiomhan into play at differing points. The arrival of the last of those was the most keenly anticipated - no surprise, given his performances and form in front of goal this season, and Ehibhatiomhan continued that streak to draw Reading level.
It pays to have a goalkeeper with proactive distribution. Boyce-Clarke bowled a powerful throw down the left which didn't quite find Ehibhatiomhan, but he won the ball off the Ipswich defender nonetheless with some dogged pressure. It gave him a clear run at goal from the left flank, and he did just that before slotting home past the 'keeper from a tight(ish) angle.
Reading were in the ascendancy at that point, with the crowd right behind them, and you wouldn't have bet against a home winner. But the Royals didn't quite have enough to unlock Ipswich's defence, leading to the dreaded lottery of the penalty shootout.
All in all, an underwhelming showing, but caveated heavily with the inexperience of our side and the quality of the visitors. Unlike Millwall in the previous round, Ipswich largely performed with the quality of a Championship side going up against a third-tier one. Reading were second best to Ipswich on the night and, although the visitors had also made plenty of changes, their advantages on experience and being that bit further along in their development as a team (Kieran McKenna joined as manager in 2021) were evident.
There were positives though, absolutely. Reading's determination to stay in the game - whether in holding the visitors off for a while at 1-0 or with sticking in there at 1-2 before claiming the equaliser - was encouraging. One player in particular also made a case for game time in the league: Michael Craig, who excelled in midfield and looks to be a worthy understudy for Sam Hutchinson.
Going out of this competition could also be a blessing. Reading were set for a busy autumn anyway, even before considering a rearranged match against Bristol Rovers, so one less cup tie is probably a good thing. Instead we can focus on the league and our march to Wembley via the Papa John’s Trophy.