READING FC Under 21s bowed out of the Checkatrade Trophy after an incredible 7-5 defeat at Gillingham last night.

Royals’ destiny was out of their own hands as they were also relying on Southend beating Colchester to make it through to the next round.

But Scott Marshall’s side failed to do what was required themselves after coming up short in a 12-goal thriller at Priestfield.

Reading, of course, have been on the wrong end of an identical scoreline before having lost 7-5 to Arsenal in the League Cup at Madejski Stadium almost exactly five years ago.

On that unforgettable October night in 2012, Royals surrendered a 4-0 lead to Arsene Wenger’s Gunners who went on to win in extra time.

But the boot was on the other foot last night after Gillingham burst into a 3-1 lead before a late Reading fightback came up just short.

Royals travelled with a youthful squad containing six players from the Under 18s, with Danny Loader, Jack Nolan and Jordan Holsgrove all ruled out with international commitments.

The goal-fest began with just 12 seconds on the clock as Gills scored from the kick-off, Greg Cundle converting from a Scott Wagstaff cross.

And the visitors remained all at sea as the hosts rattled in two more in quick succession.

Conor Wilkinson tucked in a rebound to make it 2-0 in the 12th minute after George Legg had saved Wagstaff’s initial effort.

And after Josh Barrett and Tom Holmes had both gone close for Royals, the hosts grabbed their third before the half-hour mark when the assistant referee ruled Wagstaff’s header from Luke O’Neill’s cross had crossed the line before Legg could claw it away.

Royals were now hanging on as Legg denied Wilkinson before Elliot List put the rebound wide.

But Marshall’s men did open their account soon after when Joel Rollinson scored from Popa’s cross after good work from Barrett.


However, it took Gillingham less than a minute to restore their three-goal cushion as O’Neill slammed a low drive past Legg to make it 4-1 at half time.

Royals, though, would not lie down and scored three more times after the break to draw level at 4-4.

Popa grabbed Royals’ second with a slick finish from a Ryan East assist soon after the restart.

Ramarni Medford-Smith then fired past Gills keeper Stuart Nelson after Barrett had teed the full-back up.

And Royals restored parity with a 70th-minute equaliser when Jake Sheppard powered a header past Nelson from Medford-Smith’s accurate centre.

It looked as though it could be Reading’s night when Darren Oldaker blazed a penalty over the crossbar after Gabriel Osho had tripped Wagstaff in the box.

And moments later Royals almost took the lead for the first time in the match when Andre Burley’s header from Popa’s free-kick was cleared off the Gills line by Finn O’Mara.

To compound Reading’s frustration, the hosts punished that miss and got their noses back in front within a minute when Noel Mbo netted from a corner.

Then Oldaker made amends for his earlier penalty miss with a terrific long-range strike to make it 6-4.

Popa did notch his second of the night from Rollinson’s smart pass to pull Reading back to within one goal.

But Oldaker had the final say when he scored again with a stunning free-kick in the final minute to complete a breathtaking victory for the Gills.

Gillingham: Nelson, O’Neill, Ehmer (Tucker 46), O’Mara, Simpson, Oldaker, Chapman, Wagstaff, List (46), Wilkinson (Stevenson 55), Cundle. Subs not used: Arnold, Scarlett, Starkey, Nash.

Reading U21: Legg, Holmes, Medford-Smith, Osho, Burley, East, Rollinson, Sheppard, Popa, Frost, Barrett. Subs not used: Rosario, Howe, Shokunbi, Davis, Green, Buchanan, Odimayo.