As we've heard the first team started their pre-season tour with a 1-1 draw and we'd love to send people out to cover the lads on tour in Portugal, the budget here at the Tilehurst End doesn't quite cover the costs of such frolics.
However there's not just one Reading FC team playing this summer, as Chris Cummins' development side are still taking on a host of non-league sides back home, with Basingstoke the latest stop on this summer's tour.
Despite a 5-0 defeat, yesterday's game gave Reading fans a rare chance to see some of our Academy players, some of whom will likely be playing games in the Football League this year and maybe even one or two who could well be in and around the first team in years to come.
The Camrose was the venue for the game, with Basingstoke's stadium located about ten minutes drive outside of the town centre. It cost £12 to get in and the ground itself looked fairly typical for a team in the sixth tier with one main stand capable of seating a few hundred, and a couple of covered terraces for fans to stand under. I'd estimate there were around 250-300 or so in the ground with plenty of blue and white hoops and new yellow away kits on display.
Two other interested viewers in the grand stand were Reading's Director of Football Nick Hammond and former England defender Martin Keown, who was here to support son Niall who played the second half at right-back. Credit to Keown who was happy to sign autographs for fans and posed for a few pictures at the end of the game as well.
The home side fielded pretty much a full strength team, with the Dragons coming off a season where they'd finished in the play-off places in the Conference South. Meanwhile despite 28 players going to Portugal, the visitors still fielded a side who had a fair sprinkling of league experience under their belt.
Both centre-halves, Michael Hector and Angus MacDonald played in League Two last season, while captain for the day Jake Taylor and Lawson D'Ath both spent time in League 1 and have appeared in the Reading first team. Brett Williams and Karl Sheppard led the line and it was the first chance I'd had to see either in a Reading shirt so I was quite looking forward to seeing how they'd get on, especially Sheppard who is still a relatively new signing.
The only odd thing was the fact that the side were playing in the red away kit rather than the new yellow one. If it's available to buy for the fans surely you can afford to give it to the youngsters?
Reading lined up in a standard 4-4-2 formation and early on seemed relatively comfortable on the ball, with Shane Griffin and Nick Arnold as full-backs either side of Hector and MacDonald. In the midfield Taylor was on the right, D'Ath and Ryan Edwards in the centre and Craig Tanner played out on the left, with Sheppard and Williams up front.
It didn't take long for Basingstoke to put pressure on the defence and after just ten minutes the home side took the lead when a ball in from the right found Tim Sills, whose looping header left young goalkeeper Grant Smith stranded.
Despite the early setback Reading slowly got themselves more into the game, with the visitors spurning a good chance from a free-kick just outside and box and Karl Sheppard finding space to get a header in on goal on the 25 minute mark that hit the side netting.
it was against the run of play that Town scored their second of the day, as Jordace Holder-Spooner raced onto a through ball and tussled with Hector, before shrugging off the former Barnet loanee and slotting easily past Smith. It was a rare poor moment for Hector who generally had a good game, but his inability to get the better of Holder-Spooner was disappointing and it showed that he's still got a bit to do before he's in the first team picture. The key thing at this stage for any of these guys is looking at the technical side of their game and there wasn't too much I could fault in that department from Big Hec.
Sadly the second goal seemed to open the floodgates as Reading suddenly struggled to hold onto possession and all too often were playing hopeful balls up to the strikers rather than getting the ball down on what looked a pristine playing surface.
They didn't completely cave though and right-back Arnold was getting up and down the right well carving out a couple of good opportunities to get Reading back into the game. The first saw a shot deflected over for a corner and another run led to a good save by Basingstoke 'keeper Ashley Bayes. Jake Taylor and Craig Tanner were also working hard out wide but both were left frustrated by some solid defending from the home side.
Despite sporadic pressure Reading couldn't quite find their way through and Basingstoke managed to end any hopes the visitors had of getting a result when Holder-Spooner scored twice in the space of three minutes just before half-time to complete his hat-trick. Both goals were remarkably similar, with diagonal balls from right to left finding Spooner in space to the left of goal and the Basingstoke forward bettering Arnold and Smith to find the back of the net. Neither Arnold nor Smith will be overly happy with their part in the goals, with Smith's positioning fairly woeful for the fourth and Arnold beaten a little too easily for the third.
4-0 at the break at Basingstoke fielded almost an entirely different XI for the second half, with Reading making plenty of changes themselves, notably introducing Aaron Tishbola, Niall Keown and Dominic Samuel. There was also a place for recent signing Pierce Sweeney, who came on at centre back in place of former Basingstoke loanee Angus MacDonald.
The second half was a pretty quiet affair, with both teams struggling for rhythm and neither being overly adventurous. Craig Tanner was probably the best of Reading's performers in the second period, while Samuel was full of running and the defence coped a lot easier without Holder-Spooner to deal with.
Sheppard again had the best of Reading's chances, breaking clear to the right of the goal and taking an early shot that once again could only find the side netting.
Basingstoke completed the day's scoring 13 minutes from time through Sam Yorke who again shrugged off a defender too easily to give the Dragons a 5-0 win.
Overall it was a disappointing result for a team that seemed to be missing a spark in the final third and could have done with a bit more experience in the back line. Grant Smith is at best a fifth choice goalkeeper and at such a young age I'm not going to be too harsh on him but he won't look back on this day overly fondly.
Shane Griffin at left-back had a decent 45 minutes without doing that much wrong, although perhaps could have shut down the 'Stoke right winger a bit quicker for the third and fourth goals. As mentioned Arnold wasn't at his best defensively or in the crossing department but made some good runs into the box and looked to make things happen.
MacDonald and Hector were both OK, with Hector playing some good passes but both struggled to cope with Holder-Spooner's power. Pierce Sweeney had relatively little to do in his 45 minutes on the pitch but did the basics well.
Both Edwards and D'Ath were full of energy and made some good tackles but failed to make what little possession they had count and generally struggled to influence a game that was predominantly made up of long balls. Up front and sadly neither Williams nor Sheppard did much to convince me they are the next Doyle or Long, sadly looking more the next Mooney or Bignall. In fairness neither man had all that much service but Sheppard wasted our two best chances and struggled to win much in the air. The Irishman did have one or two moments of good linkup play but you can understand why he's back home rather than in Portugal. Williams meanwhile barely touched the ball and I'd be surprised if he ends up anywhere near a Championship team, yet alone a Premier League side in the near future.
Subs wise and I was looking forward to seeing Dominic Samuel before the game given his performances last year for the Academy side. Today wasn't really a good day to make any real conclusions as he struggled to get any service and was forced to drift out wide to get anywhere near the ball. Tishbola looked composed in the middle but was guilty of giving away possession a bit too easily at times, while Niall Keown had relatively little to do at full-back. We also saw a triallist come on towards the closing stages but I couldn't tell who it was and he didn't do anything of particular note.
I don't think it's right to write off anyone based on one game, especially when it comes during pre-season but on the evidence of that game Reading have certainly taken the right people to Portugal. The main difference between the two sides seemed to be power, strength and just a generally more clinical front-line for the Dragons. Those are differences you expect to see when you're got a semi-pro first team against group who are all in their late teens or early twenties so again, nothing to get too worried about.
If I was making a guess I'd imagine that MacDonald, Hector, D'Ath, Taylor and Sheppard will likely leave on loan again and each could do a job at League 1 level, though don't think any of them are quite ready for the Championship yet. Tanner was also one of the few bright spots and it'll be interesting to see if he gets any league experience this year, or perhaps at a spell at a non-league side such as Basingstoke.
Despite it not looking pretty, the result didn't matter a great deal and it was still a good day out getting to visit a new ground and getting a glimpse at one or two we could be seeing in a few years time. The next stop for the development side is a trip to Boreham Wood on Tuesday, before a game at Salisbury on Saturday. So if you've got a free afternoon why not go along and give them your support and perhaps catch a glimpse into Reading's future.