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Thoughts from Eastleigh

Eastleigh vs Reading

My friends and I have a saying when going to watch Reading play away, "don’t let the football ruin the day" and it’s a maxim that we try our best to stick to whatever happens. Sometimes this can be bloomin’ hard but Saturday at the Silverlake Stadium was a rare exception. Instead it was the football that saved a day that was almost ruined by an ill-advised trip into Southampton after the game.

Anyway, rather than focusing on how horrible a city can be after a six week strike by the binmen and being stuck in Winchester for over an hour after the M3 was closed, I will instead focus on what was an unusually good friendly.

For a full match report I strongly recommend SamRFC's excellent summary of the game but I can’t resist the opportunity to share my own thoughts on what was my first glance of most of these youngsters.

Many people will I’m sure look at the result and draw their own conclusions about the players on show but it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Whilst it’s true that the more experienced players didn’t really do themselves any favours, there were several performances that leave room for optimism in what as a fairly evenly matched contest.

Being a Reading fan I’ll start with what comes naturally: having a bit of a moan. To my mind there were a few players who should have been looking at the game as an opportunity to really press their case for a place in the first team. Those players, pretty much to a man, did not deliver.

Sean Morrison

Let’s start with Sean Morrison. Of all the players on show he was the one that I was most intrigued to see given that on paper he is first choice for the coming season with Alex Pearce. He started well enough, winning a few headers but as the half progressed some cracks began to show. He gave away a really needless and clumsy foul on the edge of the area that brought about Eastleigh’s first goal. If that wasn’t bad enough I was also perturbed by his completely over the top and foul mouthed shouting at the referee after the free kick was given. Not what I want to see from Reading players and certainly not in a friendly. To make matters worse, later on in the half he was caught out of position and was then done for pace and strength by Jamie Slabber to make it 3-1. I appreciate that I only had his first 45 minutes of pre-season to judge him but going purely on first impressions, it’s fair to say wasn’t blown away.

Also playing in that first half was Michail Antonio, a player who tailed off massively at the end of last season and who carried that form into this game. Twice he ran the ball out of play on the sideline and also miscontrolled a simple enough crossfield ball out for a throw in. Added to that he struggled to beat his full back throughout and never really looked threatening. When you compare his performance to that of Ryan Edwards and Jake Taylor in the second half, he looked like a man who was bereft of confidence and expecting to leave the club in the near future.

The same can also be said of Marcus Williams in the second half. The Eastleigh trialist on the wing caused him problems but his low point came when he managed to trip over the ball despite having nobody close to him. Ian Harte need not worry about a challenge from the former Scunthorpe man based on this showing.

I'm going to have to disagree with McDermott on the next point but another who may well be on his way out of the club is Nicholas Bignall who in my opinion looked fairly disinterested for most of the second half. There were some token runs but there was no evidence of the devastating pace that we know he possesses and Eastleigh skipper Tom Jordan (son of Gattuso baiting Joe) was never really troubled by him. If you’re being generous you could say that it’s still early in pre-season but Gozie Ugwu didn’t seem to suffer in the same way playing alongside him.

Johnny Goddard

They are my moans anyway so let’s get on to some positives. Of the first half team there were two standouts for me. The first was the lad who I think could prove to be a real find for the club. Rumour has it that Harry Redknapp turned up at Jordan Obita’s house to try and persuade him to sign pro forms with Spurs and not Reading. That may or may not be true but one thing that is not in doubt is this kid’s talent. His touch is so natural and easy that he seemed to operate completely at his own pace and on several occasions put in some wonderful reverse passes for the ever energetic Jacob Walcott. There may be arguments that he needs to beef up a bit but Reading have to be careful how to nurture this talent.

The second player to impress was one who I have to admit I hadn’t heard of before the game and embarrassingly I had to ask Johnny Fordham who he was! I’ve been told that Johnny Goddard is a central midfielder by trade but you wouldn’t believe it during this game. He slotted in at right back and looked very comfortable both on and off the ball. His first instinct was to look forward and was always available for a pass. Could be one to watch.

Of the rest of the first half lot I was a little disappointed by Brett Williams who struggled to make an impact and by Lawson D’Ath who showed some good touches but too often chose the wrong option and gave the ball away. Eastleigh were very busy and did a very good job closing down the ball, giving Reading no time in possession. Because of this D’Ath and Losasso struggled a bit to impose themselves but both can be fairly pleased how they responded to the physical test.

The second half side had a very unfamiliar look to it and whilst people have raved about Jake Taylor and Ryan Edwards on the flanks, it was the older Australian that caught my eye. Playing in the centre of the midfield Cameron Edwards looked a bit like a taller, skinnier version of Tim Cahill. Like Obita he has a very good touch and seems to exude a kind of calmness when he has the ball. He struck up a good partnership with Albertan Ethan Gage who also impressed breaking up the play and playing the easy ball.

The two wingers were full of energy but I did think they could have used the ball a little better. Edwards Jnr looked quick and bright but a few times ran into cul-de-sacs whilst Taylor was more comfortable on the right. That said it was a fantastic run on the left by the Welsh under 21 international that set up Ugwu’s goal and credit should also be given to the lanky striker who did well to find the space to score.

Brian McDermott said after the game he was a bit disappointed with the performance and he may well have a point. Eastleigh’s side were packed full of trialists (incredibly they only have seven players on the books) and had come off games against powerhouses Winchester FC and the Falkland Islands. There weren’t really enough chances created and it was three sloppy goals conceded, two things I’m sure they will be trying to correct tonight against Swindon Supermarine. However, this was a day for positives and whilst we lost and I had to endure the smell of rotting rubbish in Southampton, I can console myself with the fact that I’ve ticked off a new ground, enjoyed a decent game in the sunshine and most importantly that there are some talented looking youngster in the ranks.