READING FC Under 23s have been denied a Premier League 2 Division Two play-off final spot after a cruel 4-3 defeat at Aston Villa.

Scott Marshall’s men were seconds away from forcing extra time when Rushian Hepburn-Murphy grabbed a 95th minute winner for the hosts, who will now meet Brighton in the final.

It was certainly a game of two halves with all seven goals coming in the last 30 minutes on a nailbiting Tuesday night at Villa Park.

Neither side could break the deadlock in the first half, though Ben House, Tom McIntyre and Andy Rinomhota all went close for the Royals.

At the other end Luke Southwood, making his first U23s appearance this season after a loan spell with Bath City, made a fine, point-blank save to deny Callum O’Hare.

Royals also saw a penalty claim turned away when Danny Loader went down in the Villa box before the young striker’s shot was blocked by Jacob Bedeau.

Further chances came for Royals with Frost firing narrowly wide and Loader seeing a shot blocked.

But Villa were first to threaten after the break when Jack Clarke tested Southwood.

And then came an avalanche of goals after skipper Gabriel Osho had poked Royals ahead on the hour from Frost’s free-kick after Loader had been clattered by Villa keeper Matija Sarkic just outside the box.

Villa, though, quickly hit back to go 2-1 in front.

They equalised 90 seconds after Osho’s opener through substitute Hepburn-Murphy when he capitalised on a lucky deflection before slotting past Southwood.

And moments later Villa scored again, captain Easeh Suliman looping a header over Southwood from a Jake Doyle-Hayes free-kick.

Reading grabbed a leveller with 15 minutes to play when Tom McIntyre rose highest to nod home an East corner.

Villa replied by going 3-2 up when Corey Blackett-Taylor tucked in a Hepburn-Murphy cross.

But Marshall’s men dug deep and pulled it back to 3-3 as the clock ticked down, Teddy Howe’s shot going in off the post after ping-pong in the Villa box.

However, Royals almost regained the lead deep in stoppage time when Osho danced into the box, only for Sarkic to beat away his powerful drive.

It proved a vital moment in the game as Villa snatched the winner with seconds to go when Hepburn-Murphy burst into the box and slotted past Southwood to seal their place in the final.

Aston Villa U23: Sarkic, Bree, Clark, Suliman (c), Bedeau, Clarke, O’Hare, Doyle-Hayes, Davis (Blackett-Taylor 55), Prosser, Green (Hepburn-Murphy 55). Subs not used: Johansson, Mooney, Borg.

Reading U23: Southwood, Holmes, Osho (c), McIntyre (90+5), Medford-Smith, East, Watson (Howe 66), Rinomhota, House, Frost, Loader. Subs not used: Driscoll, Rollinson, Burley.