10-men Charlton shared a 2-2 draw with Reading in their final Premier League Cup Group A match on Monday, securing top spot and home advantage in the last 16 of the competition.
The hosts went ahead in the 12th minute thanks to Junior Quitirna, but soon found themselves down to 10 men following James Vennings’ dismissal.
What followed was a gutsy performance for 75 minutes from Jason Euell’s side. Despite the Royals drawing level before the break and then going ahead in the second period, Albie Morgan’s penalty was enough to gain the point that was needed.
The Addicks gained the first sight of goal in difficult conditions on a heavy Princes Park pitch with six minutes played - Hady Ghandour cutting back for Brendan Wiredu whose effort only just cleared the crossbar from just inside the box.
Moments later, the visitors came even closer as defender Nelson Abbey crashed a header off the crossbar from a corner but, in a frantic couple of minutes, it was the home side who took a 12th-minute lead.
After Josh Davison did well to keep the ball alive in the box following a promising attack, the ball finally fell into the path of Quitirna who smashed his finish into the bottom right-hand corner.
Just three minutes, however, Charlton would find themselves at a disadvantage following a coming together between James Vennings and Augustus McGiff. After the Royals striker kicked out at Vennings, the Addicks’ midfielder reacted by raising his hands to his opponents, giving the referee no choice but to produce a straight red card and reduce the hosts to 10 men.
With the man advantage, Reading began to take control and the trialist goalkeeper was called into action on 22 minutes to brilliantly keep out first-teamer Sone Aluko’s powerful effort. But there was nothing he could do about the Royals’ equaliser four minutes later.
A cross from the right was aimed towards McGiff, who was lucky to still be on the pitch following his part in the Vennings sending off, and the striker met it with an impressive overhead kick which ended up in the back of the net, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to it.
There was another moment of controversy on the half-hour mark when it looked as if Reading goalkeeper Jokul Andresson had caught the ball outside of his box, but the referee missed what would certainly have been another dismissal, and instead booked Albie Morgan for his complaints.
As expected, the 11 men of Reading continued on the front foot after the break. An outstanding block from Toby Stevenson prevented Aluko from slotting into an empty net following an initial save from the goalkeeper, and the trialist stopper made another stop from Imari Samuels not long after.
The Addicks were defending heroically and still looked dangerous on the break. Indeed, they had the ball in the net on 66 minutes when Lucas Ness headed home a corner, but the linesman adjudged that Albie Morgan’s delivery had swung out of play before being met by the defender.
But with 18 minutes left, the Royals went ahead, finally breaching the hosts’ hardy defence. A low cross from the right was met by substitute Joseph Ajose, who tapped home from close range.
Euell’s men would not lie down, however. With 14 minutes left to play, a Reading defender handled the ball in the box, giving the Addicks the opportunity to draw level. Morgan stepped up and made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way to make it 2-2.
From there on in, Charlton managed the game brilliantly, keeping the visitors at arms’ length. There was still time for the trialist keeper to keep out Samuels again, this time with his foot in injury-time, but the Addicks saw the game out to earn their point which secures top spot in Group A and a home tie with either Fulham or Plymouth Argyle in the last 16.
Charlton U23s: Trialist, Yao, Ness, Stevenson, Vennings, Powell, Quitirna, Morgan, Wiredu (Vega 89), Ghandour, Davison (Odoh 80).
Subs (not used): Harness, Williams.
Goals: Quitirna 12, Morgan 76 (pen)
Booked: Morgan 30 (dissent)
Sent off: Vennings 15 (violent conduct)
(Photos: Kyle Andrews and Tom West)