Manchester United secured their place in the semi-finals of the Barclays U21 Premier League after a performance the first team would have been proud of because of the dramatic late winner which was scored moments from the end of the match. United are the current holders of the trophy and could retain their title, which could be another kick for the first team, who only have the FA Community Shield to show for their lacklustre season. James Wilson was that one that put United ahead scoring a spectacular solo goal, which left Reading’s defence playing catch up to thwart the striker from finding the back of the net.
Reading scored twice, putting them ahead, which would have denied United from even making the semi-finals of the competition with Tarique Fosu and Harry Caldwell both scoring. The prompted United to get themselves back into the match with James Weir, who replaced Wilson, scoring his third goal in two matches putting United level. But in injury time, defender Paddy McNair grabbed the winner from the edge of the box, beating Reading’s goalkeeper, who was rather red-faced for the equalising goal by Weir after he put the ball in hit own net, only to do a Roy Carroll and scoop it out.
Wilson got his first shot on target within the first four minutes, but Andreas Pereira, if he was passed the ball could have put United ahead. Another attack saw Saidy Janko shoot wide of the target after being picked out by a Joe Rothwell cross. Rothwell then assisted in the first goal of the match with Wilson breaking through Reading’s defence from the right and firing his shot across Dan Lincoln’s goal. United were in the driving seat. United could have doubled their lead if someone was in the box to receive Reece James’ cross, which would have been a tap-in, which could have also changed the course of the match, with United not being under as much pressure.
Charni Ekangamene stopped Gozie Ugwu from scoring, but he then got the ball and fired it over Ben Amos’ crossbar. Aaron Tshibola had a shot off target and Liam Kelly spurned another, but Martin Kuhl’s side finished the first half as the stronger side. The second half started in similar fashion, Tshibola’s shot was saved by Amos, but Jack Stacey had a shot and should have hit the target too. Reading were getting close to scoring. Fosu equalised just before the hour mark of the match, which was a blow for United, one that meant they had to rely on other teams to find their way into semi-finals.
James had a couple of attempts on goal, he bent on like Beckham at the Reading keeper and had a volley, which went straight to the keeper. Reading, who recently won the Barclays U21 Premier League Cup after beating Manchester City at the weekend, looked like the side that were going to shock United, and they were still piling the pressure on United at 1-1, with Cardwell headed attempt going wide from a Tshibola cross. Moments later, Reading took the lead through Cardwell, who found an empty net. United needed to dig deep in order for them to have a chance to retain their title.
The United players should have been dejected, but they responded quickly with Ben Pearson passing the ball to Weir, who turned sharply and saw his shot beat the keeper, in a rather comical way with Lincoln disbelieving the ball has crossed the line, but the goal was awarded. 2-2 and United were back in it, but the current scoreline would mean they would need to rely on other teams in order for the to qualify, but they didn’t want that, and rightly so. The final minutes of the match was the best United’s U21 side had played this season, the shackles were off.
There were three chances in the final minutes of the match. Both sides missed one with both Cardwell and Janko, but the third one was what made the match. United were on the attack, Janko burst forward, Guillermo Varela maintained his cool at the edge of the box, he passed to McNair on the edge of the box and the defender put his shot past Lincoln to put United ahead 3-2 setting up a play off clash against local rivals Liverpool, just like last season, although the format of the competition changed for this season, as it will again for next. It was a great effort for Warren Joyce’s squad, who have suffered with a number of players being loaned out throughout both halves of the season.
The finale was frenetic and exciting with both teams having chances, Cardwell and Janko missing two of them, until the third and final minute of stoppage time. Janko burst forward and Guillermo Varela kept his cool to find McNair on the edge of the box, with the defender rifling past Lincoln to set up a play-off clash against Liverpool courtesy of finishing third in the division – a truly remarkable effort by Joyce’s squad.
Manchester United: Amos; Varela, McNair, Ekangamene, James; Rowley, Pearson; Janko, Rothwell (Harrop 69), A.Pereira; Wilson (Weir 60) Substitutes Not Used: J.Pereira, Rudge, C.Evans
By Paul Bienkowski
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