Colchester United stood toe to toe with Championship opposition on Tuesday night, only for a late goal in extra time to break their resolve.
Reading had started much the brighter and, after twenty minutes, it looked like the U’s may spend much of the evening seeking possession.
But they came out far stronger after the half time whistle and had the better of the second period as they took the game to a side full of international players.
Even in extra time, there was the smallest of margins between the two sides, and if it had been the U’s that had found the winning goal, few in the crowd would have complained.
As it was, it was Chris Gunter that showed the composure to win the game for the U’s past Elliott Parish, after Sam Walker had been taken off on a stretcher in the second half.
In the early stages of the game, Reading saw plenty of the ball, and it was a good stop from Walker to deny Blackman after three minutes.
Next, the ball was crossed in from the Royals left and Blackman slashed at his volley, sending it high wide and handsome past Walker’s upright.
The U’s keeper came to the rescue again on the half hour mark, pulling off a fine full length save to deny a clever William effort with the outside of his boot.
The U’s first chance of the game did not arrive until just before half time and it was Brindley who had it, striking in a low shot that was well saved by Ali Al-Habsi.
In the second half, the U’s started brightly, but they had the worry of an injury to Walker, who appeared to twist his knee as he saved the first of two shots in quick succession.
It quickly became clear he was in trouble and he was substituted by Parish, who returned after making his U’s debut at the weekend.
The injury didn’t knock the U’s out of their stride though, as they pressed high up the pitch and sought a path to goal.
They were almost presented with that opportunity on 65 minutes as a cross from the right was dropped by Al-Habsi and just beyond the reach of Bonne before it was cleared.
Four minutes later, a Gilbey free kick found Massey on the edge of the box and his lashed effort fizzed over the crossbar.
The U’s were retaining their shape well and pushing their opponents back, but both defences were determined to give no quarter as the game wound to a close over ninety minutes.
Into extra time, and Brindley and Wynter showed real determination to prevent Reading making any progress into their box.
They could do little about Reading hitting the bar ten minutes into extra time, as Wynter’s outstretched boot diverted it onto the woodwork before it was cleared.
Just before the interval, the U’s had a chance of their own as Bonne flicked on for Szmodics, who was crowded out and then Wright’s effort was put behind.
The two Academy products combined well early in the second period as Szmodics bullied his man off the ball, only to overhit his cross and miss the awaiting Bonne.
And the Royals made them pay, as Gunter sprung the offside trap to secure victory deep into extra time.
Heartbreaking for the U’s, but they must now bounce back at Peterborough on Saturday.