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Friday 25 April 2014

Barclays U21s: Last-gasp Man United edge into play-offs

Comeback win in five-goal thriller takes champions into play-offs

  • Manchester United's James Wilson scored the opening goal at the Madejski Stadium

  • Tariqe Fosu celebrates Reading's equaliser at the Madejski Stadium

Reading 2-3 Manchester United

Manchester United maintained their hopes of retaining the Barclays Under-21 Premier League title as they booked a place in the end-of-season play-offs with a dramatic comeback win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

James Wilson opened the scoring for the visitors but Reading threatened to end Man United’s season as goals by Tarique Fosu and Harry Cardwell put the Royals 2-1 ahead with 11 minutes to go. The defending champions refused to buckle, however, as Wilson’s replacement James Weir grabbed his third goal in two matches with nine minutes remaining, and, in added time, centre-back Paddy McNair lashed in the winner from the edge of the area.

United’s progress appeared to be in little jeopardy when they took the lead after 17 minutes. Joe Rothwell fed Wilson with a through-ball into the right channel, from where the striker left Dan Lincoln in the Reading goal with no chance.

But Reading drew on the reserves of character that had enabled them to bounce back to beat Manchester City in the Under-21 Premier League Cup final at the same venue at the weekend. Martin Kuhl’s charges came close through Aaron Tshibola, Liam Kelly and Jack Stacey before producing their 59th-minute equaliser.

The man to score it was Tariqe Fosu, one of the goalscoring heroes of Saturday’s final, who held off Louis Rowley before sending an unstoppable drive past goalkeeper Ben Amos. Reading substitute Cardwell headed narrowly wide from a Tshibola cross but soon made amends, following up to score on the rebound after Amos had blocked Stacey’s shot.

With 11 minutes to go, United’s title defence looked to be over, but they responded within two minutes when Ben Pearson found Weir, whose shot on the turn deceived Lincoln and was adjudged to have crept over the line before the goalkeeper reached it.

In a frenetic finale there were chances for both teams, with Cardwell and Saidy Janko each coming close, until, in the third minute of stoppage-time, the latter burst forward to find Guillermo Varela, whose lay-off was sent crashing past Lincoln by McNair.

The victory means United finish the campaign in third and will meet Liverpool in the play-off semi-finals at Anfield next week, in a repeat of last year’s last-four decider. First-placed Chelsea will meet Fulham or Manchester City. Patrick Vieira's side can still leapfrog the Cottagers, who have played all their matches, into fourth with a win over Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Reading report | Man United report

Barclays Under-21 Premier League result

Thursday 24 April
Reading (Fosu, Cardwell) 2-3 Manchester United (Wilson, Weir, McNair)

Barclays Under-21 Premier League fixtures

Friday 25 April, 2014
1pm Newcastle United v Arsenal, NUFC Training Centre

Sunday, 27 April, 2014 
Midday Manchester City v Aston Villa, Etihad Stadium
2pm Tottenham Hotspur v Reading, Stevenage FC

Top of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League table

  P W D L GD Pts
21 13 5 3 23 44
21 13 3 5 25 42
Man Utd
21 11 6 4 16 39
21 11 5 5 8 38
21 11 4 6 7 37
Southampton 21 11 3 7 5 36
Man City
20 11 2 7 20 35
21 10 5 6 7 35

Find out the full Barclays U21 Premier League fixture list here and view the table here.

You can follow developments on Twitter with the Premier League's account @premierleague or via the hashtag #BU21PL

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Key Points

  • Manchester United edge into Barclays Under-21 Premier League play-offs
  • James Wilson, James Weir and Paddy McNair on target in dramatic 3-2 victory
  • United to face Liverpool in play-off semi-finals while Chelsea will face either Fulham or Man City