A YOUNG Watford team fell to a large defeat away to Reading in the last-16 of the Under-21 Premier League Cup this afternoon (Friday).
Three late goals manipulated a scoreline that was otherwise reflective of the battling performance from both teams.
Good news at the Royals’ Hogwood Park training complex was a return to action for Tommie Hoban after a lengthy injury and a first glimpse of new signing Mathias Ranégie.
The Swedish international was almost presented with the first chance of the game as Chris Dillon crossed from the right wing, but he couldn’t get a clean connection on the header and the ball bounced clear.
Moments later, he was in again but clipped his opportunity inches wide of the far post as the driving rain started to affect the pitch.
At the other end, Gary Woods did well to hold on to Craig Tanner’s snapshot and then watched Liam Kelly’s long-range effort sail wide.
The 23-year-old goalkeeper had no chance with the opener after 36 minutes, Tanner smashed one in from the edge of the box. The midfielder brought the ball through a crowd of players before unleashing a quick shot that stunned the young Hornets.
Despite this setback the back three combined well to contain the deficit to one at half-time. Hoban stopped the most obvious chance minutes before the break, bravely poking a low cross wide.
Reece Brown was replaced at half-time by youth captain Jorell Johnson, continuing his return from injury, and Bernard Mensah replaced Ranégie shortly afterwards.
Reading started the second period brightly. Tariqe Fosu-Henry tapped in their second goal when Tanner pulled the ball back across a packed penalty area.
The third came 10 minutes later when Gozie Ugwu’s low cross found Tanner unmarked at the back post.
Watford scrambled back into gear and notched their goal after a swift team move from back to front. Quick interchange passes between Ryan Hope and Dillon in the centre allowed Jazzi Barnum-Bobb to break down the right. His cross was deflected goalwards by a combination of Mensah and defender Shane Griffin, wrong-footing the goalkeeper at his near post.
The remaining goals came thick and fast in the last few minutes of the game. Tanner drove in his hat-trick with a free-kick from the edge of the box, a deflection taking it away from Woods who couldn’t hold on to the ball.
Then Ugwu scored two to put the match beyond doubt, the first a curling shot from the edge of the box and the second a diving header on the end of Sean Long’s cross.
Reading go on to face Wolves in the next round but the Hornets can take pride in a run that saw them overcome Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Swansea City.
ROYALS U21: Moore (GK); Long, Keown, Sweeney, Griffin; Kelly, Kuhl (C); Stacey, Tanner, Fosu-Henry (Fidjonsson 89); Ugwu
Subs not used: Lincoln (GK), Hyam, Shaughnessy, Murombedzi
HORNETS U21: Woods (GK); Hoban (Martin 66), Brown (Johnson 45), O’Nien (C); Barnum-Bobb, Hope, Byers, Dillon, Kyprianou; Jakubiak, Ranégie (Mensah 52)
Subs not used: Doherty, Rosenthal
Ref: David Woolford