Manchester United’s Under-21s secured a dramatic 3-2 victory over Reading with a last minute winner to seal their place in the play-offs.
The only change to United’s line up for what was the last match of the national stage of the Barclay’s Under-21 Premier League was in goal as Ben Amos came in as Joel Pereira slotted onto the bench. James Wilson was fit enough to start after picking up a knock in the last match as the Reds took on Reading in the Madejski Stadium.
Within four minutes Wilson had his first shot on target, even though Andreas Pereira was arguably the better option. United were supporting Wilson better than they had been in recent matches. However, there was still the occasional need to defend but Charni Ekangamene got in a well-timed block to deny Jack Stacey, the redeployed midfielder showing fantastic defensive awareness.
It was Rothwell who supplied the assist for the first goal. Ben Pearson won the ball in the air and Rothwell played a lovely through ball into Wilson, who finished off a great run with a clinical left-footed finish.
United had an opportunity to double the lead soon after when Reece James played an inviting ball across the face of goal. Unfortunately, no United player found themselves in a position to tap the ball into the back of the net. It looked as though the Reds would live to regret that missed opportunity as Reading grew into the match, creating a couple of chances which fortunately flew well over the crossbar.
Reading started the second half as they finished the first and should have equalised through Stacey, when Reece James was left in no mans land after an awkward bounce of the ball but his header evaded the goal. However, just before the hour mark Reading leveled the match as Tarique Fosu beat Amos with a low drive.
Wilson made way shortly afterwards and things didn’t look good as United were left without a recognised striker on the pitch. James tried his luck with a wonderfully struck volley which unfortunately was straight at the keeper.
All hope seemed lost when Reading took the lead in the 79th minute. Stacey evaded James’ challenge and shot towards goal. Amos made the block but the ball fell to Harry Cardwell who slotted it into the empty net.
However, two minutes later Pearson’s ball found James Weir who twisted and turned in the box before shooting. The keeper tried to prevent the goal but the ball was correctly judged to have crossed the line. That’s Weir’s third goal in two games, with both appearances coming from the substitutes bench.
The final few minutes were exciting as both teams had opportunities to score. Cardwell and Janko both failed to convert their chances and United entered stoppage time, needing a win to guarantee progression to the next stage of the competition.
Janko broke forward and Guillermo Varela played a lovely ball into the area that Paddy McNair was running into after a surge forward from the heart of defence. He controlled with his left foot before burying it with his right to seal victory in the third minute of stoppage time.
The win sees United finish third in the league and sets-up a repeat of last year’s semi-final as United will have to take on Liverpool for a place in the final.
Manchester United: Amos, Varela, McNair, Ekangamene, R. James(c), Janko, Rowley, Pearson, Rothwell (Harrop 69′), A. Pereira, Wilson (Weir 60′). Unused Substitutes: J. Pereira, Rudge, C. Evans.