Friday 11 April 2014
Manchester City staged a dramatic comeback to edge the first leg of the Under-21 Premier League Cup final against Reading in a five-goal thriller the hosts' manager Patrick Vieira described as "a crazy game".
Vieira's team found themselves two goals behind to Reading within the opening half-hour as Gozie Ugwu and Craig Tanner beat Ian Lawlor in the visitors' goal. But, much as they did against Newcastle United in the quarter-final, City clawed their way back, thanks to goals by Devante Cole and a Marcos Lopes penalty, before Cole struck a last-minute winner.
"They showed character, and when you think about experience and development last night they learned a lot about themselves"
"It was a crazy game," Vieira told the Manchester Evening News. "Reading were well organised, and we conceded goals when we were really open.
"It showed how much this team wants to do well. They showed character, and when you think about experience and development, it's about learning about yourself and, hopefully, last night they learned a lot about themselves."
With the entire City first team, and former goalkeeper Shay Given, among the 4,873 fans in attendance at Etihad Stadium, Vieira made two changes to the side who lost 4-3 in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League at Arsenal on Monday night. Greg Leigh and Cole, the son of former City and Manchester United striker Andrew Cole, came in for Angelino and Seko Fofana.
The hosts had to dig deep, however, after being caught out by two clinical Reading counter-attacks, the first of which produced the opening goal on 12 minutes, as the imposing Ugwu appeared unmarked to head in a left-wing cross.
City responded well, creating openings for Lopes, Jordy Hiwula and Jason Denayer but after losing possession in midfield in the 29th minute , the Royals broke at pace to outnumber the visitors’ rearguard and tee up Tanner to slide the ball past Lawlor.
But for an outstanding save by Lawlor from Ugwu Reading would have been 3-0 up, but instead City turned defence into attack. Lopes’s clever pass with the outside of his boot picked out Cole to bury the ball beyond Dan Lincoln’s outstretched hand and halve the defecit with seven minutes of the first half remaining.
After the break, Lincoln had to be at his best to deny substitute Fofana a trademark goal from distance on the hour, but three minutes later City were level. Lopes was denied a goal by the hand of Jake Cooper, who was dismissed by Barclays Premier League referee Lee Mason for the offence. Lopes, the Citizens’ captain, kept his cool to score from the spot.
With their tails up and a player to the good, City lay siege to the Reading goal, but appeared destined to go to Berkshire with a draw after Fofana, Olivier Ntcham and Sinan Bytyqi had all passed up presentable opportunities for a winner, with Lincoln performing heroics between the posts. That was until Cole settled matters in the dying seconds by pouncing on a rebound to score from close range.
Despite the last-gasp defeat Reading coach Martin Kuhl insisted his side can still turn the tie around in the return leg at the Madejski Stadium on 19 April.
“There are lot of positives we can take from it, but lot of things to work on – which is good," he told Reading FC Player. "We've come here, we've put on a performance and certainly haven't let ourselves or the club down.
"If we were a bit more clinical it could have been more. We were very solid. We didn't come here to play counter-attacking football, we came here to dominate the ball. We're still very proud. We were a bit disappointed in the manner of two of the goals, but it was a very good game."
The second leg of the final takes place at 3pm on Saturday 19 April.
VIDEO: To see Man City's highlights click here
Man City: Lawlor, Drury, Facey, Denayer, Leigh (sub: Angelino 70min), Glendon (sub: Fofana 54), Ntcham, Lopes (C), Bytyqi, Cole, Hiwula. Unused substitutes: O'Brien, Plummer, Bossaerts. Booked: Glendon.
Reading: Lincoln, Keown, Griffin, Cooper, Sweeney, Kuhl (C), Tshibola, Stacey, Fosu, Ugwu, Tanner. Unused substitutes: Ward, Long, Murombedzi, Kelly, Cardwell. Booking: Fossu. Sent off: Cooper.
Referee: Lee Mason.