Twelve goal thriller played out at Priestfield!
On a remarkable night at MEMS Priestfield Stadium Gillingham finally got the better of Reading’s U21 side with an end-to-end 7-5 victory.
Darren Oldaker (2), Conor Wilkinson, Greg Cundle, Noel Mbo, Scott Wagstaff and Luke O’Neill got the goals on an incredible evening in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Steve Lovell made a host of changes for the tie with Stuart Nelson starting the game in goal and wearing the captain’s armband. Finn O’Mara, Aaron Simpson, Oldaker, Cundle and Ben Chapman all started the game with Miquel Scarlett and Mbo on the bench.
Gillingham took the lead after just 15 seconds. Wagstaff had time and space on the right hand side; with the Reading defence trying to stop the cross Cundle held his run and the midfielder spotted him. The pass was inch perfect and the forward buried the effort into the bottom corner.
It was the perfect start for the hosts and it was made even better on 12 minutes when Wagstaff again was involved, his shot from 25 yards was spilled by George Legg and Wilkinson ensured he made no mistake with the rebound, smashing the loose ball into the empty net.
Reading threatened on a couple of occasions but crosses were either dealt with by Stuart Nelson or headed away by the Gills defence.
Scott Wagstaff made it three on 29 minutes. A cross from the right found the midfielder in space at the far post; his header was scooped away by Legg but the ball had already crossed the line. The visitors were persistent in their efforts to break Gills down and eight minutes later they found a way through to pull one back.
Adrian Popa produced a decent cross from the left and Joel Rollinson was the first man to it inside the area who managed to beat Nelson and reduce the deficit to two.
However, any thoughts of a comeback would be short lived, for now, as Gills bagged a fourth immediately following the restart. O’Neill had space to drive into and with no-one closing him down the full-back decided to shoot from 25 yards on his weaker foot and drilled an excellent effort beyond Legg.
Within a period of 12 second-half minutes Reading had clawed the score back to 4-3. Firstly Adrian Popa showed calmness and composure under pressure to beat Nelson inside the box and then on 59 minutes Ramarni Medford-Smith took advantage of the space he had on the left hand side of the penalty area and drilled an effort beyond Nelson.
Within this time Gills had made all three substitutions – Tucker and Mbo coming on at the break for Ehmer and List with Conor Wilkinson replaced due to injury prior to Reading’s third goal. Bradley Stevenson was the man to replace him.
With the visitors just a goal behind their confidence naturally began to build and Gills had to defend for a short period to weather the storm, however the Royals got their equaliser on 68 minutes. Sheppard was unmarked inside the box and following an accurate cross from the left he simply had to guide his header into the bottom corner with Nelson given no chance.
Gills were given an opportunity on 74 minutes to restore their lead when Wagstaff was brought down by Tom Holmes inside the area. Darren Oldaker stepped up but put the spot-kick over the top.
Just when it looked like the game may have entered a quieter spell Gills went 5-4 up. A corner, taken by Wagstaff, took a touch around the six yard box and it was then a 50/50 between Mbo and goalkeeper Legg. The stopper couldn’t hold it and the forward did just enough to prod it home to score his first goal on his professional debut.
On 82 minutes the game looked dead and buried once and for all when Oldaker decided to have a go from 25 yards. He put everything he had behind it and the ball swerved right in front of Legg before hitting the net.
However, Reading came back once again and made it 6-5 just a couple of minutes later. A through pass split the Gills defence, Tucker did everything he could to put Popa off but the forward did well to beat the oncoming Nelson and find the net for a second time.
There was time for one more goal though. Oldaker’s free-kick from 25 yards deceived Legg who reacted too late and was unable to prevent the ball going past him.
With just injury time remaining both teams declared at 12 goals for the night on a memorable evening at Priestfield.
Gills: Nelson, O’Neill, Ehmer (Tucker 46), O’Mara, Simpson, Chapman, Wagstaff, List (Mbo 46), Oldaker, Wilkinson, Cundle.
Unused subs: Arnold, Scarlett, Stevenson, Starkey, Nash.
Reading: Legg, Popa, Barrett, East, Medford-Smith, Osho, Frost, Rollinson, Sheppard, Holmes, Burley.
Unused subs: Rosario, Howe, Shokunbi, Davies, Green, Buchanan, Odimayo.
Referee: Mr C Hicks