Angel Gomes's second-half penalty was just enough to give United’s Under-23s a hard-fought victory in an extremely watchable contest against Reading.
Going into the game at the Madejski Stadium, this could certainly have been described as a top-of-the-table clash with the Royals in second spot and United just two points and a couple of places below the hosts.
Both teams have enjoyed impressive form this season and have been proficient in the goalscoring department so it promised to be an interesting and entertaining pre-Christmas treat for the supporters in attendance.
It gave the Royals an early boost to their confidence, but it wasn’t long before United were giving the home defence a few nervous moments. The visitors could have taken the lead in the sixth minute when Tahith Chong’s well-struck drive looked to be heading for the desired destination until Reading's 15-year-old Academy keeper Coniah Boyce-Clarke dived to make a brilliant save.
As time wore on, the Reds started to command slightly more of the possession and, as a result, openings became more frequent. Gomes was instrumental as Ricky Sbragia's side took the game to the home side and with a little good fortune, the deadlock might have been successfully broken.
Both keepers were kept busy throughout the first half and it was difficult to choose between the two of them in terms of performance, because both were equally impressive. Having said that, on the stroke of half-time, United’s Kovar may have just edged it after making an incredible point-blank save from Ben House’s fierce header.
Reds skipper Regan Poole did well to clear a dangerous cross as Reading pressed and then Joshua Bohui was unlucky with a glancing header from Tyrell Warren’s cross. Without question, this was anybody’s game and both sides continued to look for the vital opening.
Then, in the 63rd minute, referee Sam Purkiss pointed to the penalty spot after appearing to consult one of his assistants, when Nishan Burkart – who only five minutes earlier had come off the bench to replace Zak Dearnley – was clumsily wrestled to the ground by Reading’s Andre Burley.
A moment later, Gomes picked up the ball, placed it on the spot and, with little hesitation, converted the award into a lead for his side.
Reading, who claimed a point from a 1-1 draw when the teams met at Old Trafford earlier in the season, pushed forward in the closing stages in an attempt to salvage something from the afternoon, but United’s defence stood firm to preserve the narrow lead.
United: Kovar; O’Connor, Poole, R. Williams, Warren (Tanner 57); Whelan, Gomes (Barlow 82), Hamilton; Chong, Dearnley (Burkart 59), Bohui.
Substitutes not used: Woolston, Sang.
Scorer: Gomes 64 pen.
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