By Adam Clark
A thunderous strike from Jay Thomas with the final kick of the
game earned Arsenal a point and put Reading's title
celebrations back on ice.
A Joe O'Cearuill own goal and a close-range strike from
Victor Illugason looked to have earned the visitors the victory
they needed to be crowned Reserve League South champions. But the
young Gunners showed a never-say-die attitude to snatch an unlikely
Jay Simpson's second Reserve goal of the season injected
interest back into the tie on 68 minutes but Thomas' last gasp
effort from the edge of the box was pure drama.
Reserve team coach Neil Banfield made just two changes from the
side that lost to West Ham United on Monday. On paper the addition
of Matthew Connolly strengthened a backline that dealt so
efficiently with the Hammers while Giorgos Efrem had earned his
starting place with a tireless substitute appearance two nights
Kick off was preceded by an impeccably observed minute's
silence for Arsenal and England hero Alan Ball who died on Tuesday
Despite Reading's title aspirations it was Arsenal whose
desire burned brightest early on. Simpson fired an early warning
shot with a testing cross which ex-Gunner John Halls powered
The visitors mustered their first clear chance on 10 minutes but
Andre Bikey, whose loan move to the Royals was made permanent this
week, failed to mark his £1 million transfer with a goal.
Yet Reading had to wait just two more minutes. James Henry,
tormentor of the Gunners the last time these two sides met,
whipped in a cross from the right and O'Cearuill sent
a diving header past keeper Vito Mannone.
Arsenal could have fallen further behind almost immediately but
striker Shane Long lifted his shot over the bar from six yards. The
let-off served as a boost, highlighted by James Dunne's
persistence in outmuscling the burly Cameroonian international
Abu Ogogo's pursuit of Julian Kelly after the left back had
sold him a dummy ended with an expertly timed sliding challenge
from the Arsenal youngster. It was further evidence of how
Banfield's charges have grown both physically and mentally in
the final weeks of this campaign.
But Reading are the champions elect for a reason and
continued to work Arsenal's teenagers. As half time approached
Long three times went close while the agile Mannone palmed away a
point-blank header from Bikey.
A swirling shot from Kelly crashed off the angle within seconds
of the restart as the visitors began the second half the
way they had finished the first. In response Banfield pushed
Simpson in to a more advanced role. The 18-year-old striker
immediately set about hassling the Reading back line but found
himself marshalled by the imposing Halls.
On 55 minutes Efrem's corner came too quickly to Connolly
but Randall had Australian keeper Adam Federici scrambling with an
angled daisy-cutter soon after. Further chances fell for Efrem and
substitute Thomas but the Royals were defending in numbers.
Arsenal looked brighter than at any stage and yet on
the hour mark Reading pulled away. Mannone produced another
marvellous reaction save from Alan Bennett but could do little to
prevent Illugason's rebound.
The deficit was soon cut however. Simpson looked to have passed
up the chance to score but recovered to lash into the top corner.
So much so that it got stuck there.
The comeback was on. Dunne, Thomas and Randall all saw chances
of an equaliser go begging. And when the latter had a second
opportunity only to poke wide the game looked lost.
Fortunately a second chance for Thomas brought no such
Referee: A Halliday
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