ADRIAN Popa was the star of the show as he helped Reading FC's Under 23s secure a thrilling 3-2 victory over Aston Villa last night (Monday).

The Romanian international had a hand in all three goals which included a brace from Josh Barrett either side of one by Ben House.

The Villans were first to strike at Madejski Stadium as Corey Blackett-Taylor sent a teasing ball from Callum O'Hare to race on to before he coolly slotted in at the back post.

But Royals got themselves back in the game almost immediately afterwards.

Popa's delicate turn on the half-way line allowed him to release Barrett on the flank. The academy star calmly dropped his shoulder before slotting past stopper Jed Steer to bring the scores level.

Reading then got their noses in front when Popa raced onto a through-ball on the flank before dancing his way past a defender.

The fleet-footed forward knocked the ball through to 18-year-old House who was able to stab home from inside the area.

And Scott Marshall's Royals could have doubled their lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, but Steer guessed correctly to palm Barrett's spot kick away.

Villa equalised early on in the second-half when Jack Grealish set-up Harry McKirdy to drill the ball beyond the helpless George Legg.

But Barrett made amends from his penalty miss to secure all three points for Reading after more fine work from Popa.

The Romanian international darted along the touchline before teeing up Barrett to lash beyond Steer's stretching dive with 55 minutes on the clock.

Barrett's brace knocked the life out of Villa and Legg remained relatively untested throughout the remainder of the Premier League 2 fixture.

Full-time: Reading U23 3-2 Aston Villa U23 Reading U23: Legg, Holmes, Medford-Smith, Osho, Andresson, East, Sheppard (Howe HT), Holsgrove, Barrett, Popa, House (Frost 33).

Unused subs: Rosario, McIntyre, Rollinson.

Goals: Barrett (9, 55), House (23).

Aston Villa U23: Steer, Clarke, Bedeau, Lyden, Suliman, Finnerty, Blackett-Taylor (Clarke 78), Doyle-Hayes, Grealish (Pastorek 88), O'Hare, McKirdy (Mooney 84).

Unused subs: Johansson, Prosser.

Goals: O'Hare (7), McKirdy (49).