As a Salisbury based Royal it seemed ridiculous to not attend the game at St Mary's in the week, regardless of what the competition was. If I get a chance to watch Reading, I will, like many of you!
To kick things off, it's definitely worth noting that although the midweek match between Southampton and Reading was 'only' an U23's contest - and the second round of a competition (the Checkatrade Trophy) many a football fan are disregarding already this season. Value for money was definite and it turned out to be a really entertaining evening.
Reading were against a side in Southampton, who are regarded to have one of the most prestigious footballing academies in the country; having consistently produced brilliant players on what seems like a never ending conveyor belt - ala Garath Bale, Theo Walcott, Alan Shearer, Luke Shaw, etc. It was no mean feat by all means and it wouldn't be out of line to say Reading were by far the better team on the night. in several areas as well. Superior in stature, pace, creativity and desire.
Initially, the most notable difference between the sides was the physical presence of Reading's side compared to a rather smaller Saints team. As we all know, Jake Cooper is taller than many a Championship player at senior level, so won the competition of being the biggest player on the pitch hands down. However, Barrett, Weiser, Meite and a number of others all stood quite substantially against their opponent on the night, which eventually played dividends as we bullied Saints, particularly in the second half.
Jaap Stam's influence on the squad this season is spreading vastly and it was clear for all to see that even the U23's have too adopted a similar playing style boasting 63% possession against the Saints. Possession aside, the build up play, calculated passing and precision was also all part and parcel of what Jaap has brought into the club this season. So the man deserves a lot of credit for what he is doing for this club, because some of the football has been simply gorgeous at times.
Back to the contest between Reading and Southampton, and Meite deserves a huge amount of credit for his performance on the night. He was the best player on the pitch by a clear mile. The word 'raw' keeps being thrown around when fans discuss him, and in all fairness it's probably appt. However, that's almost what separates him from everyone else. In Meite, we have got such an exciting player that I quite genuinely believe could become a star, providing he remains committed and dedicates his life to the sport.
Defensively it's hard to comment in all fairness as at the best of times it felt as if we were literally attacking with 10 men; spending huge portions of the match pressing very highly, and I mean, VERY highly. Which we paid for soon into the match as Saints were set up from the off to play on the counter, which handed Isgrove his goal, (which was a cracker by the way). Keown shown a lot of promise and took his goal well, Watson was as calm as ever and both players look as if they will go on to become key players for Reading at senior level in the future. It stood out to me that while Jaakola is a wonderful shot stopper (watch his two penalty saves), he isn't very comfortable with the ball at his feet and probably wouldn't suit our current style in the senior team. Something I believe we probably all already know.
Midfield & Forwards
In midfield, Barrett looked extremely promising and almost craved the ball; yet wasn't selfish with it and always looked to use it positively and was very unlucky to not have a goal to his name - hitting the bar in the 85th minute with a curling effort. The only disappointment for me, was Sandro Wieser who I was really looking forward to watching. I don't recall him participating hugely and my only thought was it was quite obvious why he's not featured for the senior team as of yet. In attack, Sam Smith didn't really have a clear cut chance, but ran, worked ridiculously hard and looked very fast.
As someone who hasn't attended a Reading U23/U21 game before, I have to say that I was very happy with what I saw - so much so that I intend to go to Yeovil in the last 16. The money the club are investing into our academy, and all of the hard work Eamonn Dolan did over the course of his service at Reading Football Club is a blessing and the boys who play deserve all the support they get and I only hope they are continuing to receive the wonderful guidance they did under Eamonn.
Value for money: 9/10
Man of the match: Yakou Meite
Key players: Keown, Watson, Barrett, Meite
Thanks to Robin for giving us his thoughts and if you’ve been at an Academy game and want to share you own views, they're always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org