Congratulations to Reading’s under-23 side who, on Tuesday night, sealed a place in the final of the Berks and Bucks Cup final after a dramatic victory over Maidenhead United at York Road.
We had to do it the hard way, beating the Magpies on penalties after normal time ended 1-1. The hosts had dominated much of proceedings - thanks in no small part to an early red card for Reading ‘keeper Myles Roberts - and took a deserved first-half lead.
However, substitute Teddy Howe levelled things up on 82 minutes with a fine finish, before fellow sub Coniah Boyce-Clarke made a save in the subsequent penalty shoot-out. Josh Barrett’s penalty made it 4-3 from five efforts each.
Below, we’ve had a look at a few conclusions to take from the game - what we learned about both the under-23 side in general, and specific players.
First up, the team itself
Reading went with a 3-5-2 on the night - before going down to ten men, picking three players who have appeared for the first team (in bold).
Roberts (GK), Balogun (RWB), Odimayo, Holmes, McIntyre (CB), Green (LWB), Pendlebury, Omolabi, Coleman (CM), Frost, Barrett (ST)
Subs: Boyce-Clarke, Howe, Medford-Smith, Nditi, Nevers.
Coniah Boyce-Clarke played most of the game in goal after the red card, while Teddy Howe and Ramarni Medford-Smith also appeared off the bench in the second half - on the right wing and at left back respectively.
Great character shown
Winning a competitive tie against a fifth-tier side is no mean feat for Reading’s under-23s. Maidenhead had a level of experience and physical presence that our youngsters won’t come across often in youth football, and those factors made the game at York Road tough for the Royals.
Combine that with the first-half red card, which meant Reading played for around 75 minutes with ten men, and the odds were very much stacked against us. The general order of business wasn’t for the Royals to control possession and create chances - as they would have liked, I’m sure - but to absorb constant pressure and stay in the contest.
These players are certainly gifted technically, but they’ll learn so much from going toe-to-toe with experienced opposition and getting a positive result.
A great chance of silverware
If getting to the final of a cup competition is encouraging enough, then actually winning the thing will of course be even better. They’ll play one of Marlow Town or Slough Town on May 6 - neither team is quite as good as Maidenhead United, at least on paper, so our under-23s will be full of confidence that they can get over the line.
Putting a concrete achievement on their CVs would be a big confidence boost for Reading’s youngsters. It’s one thing to go up against youth sides from other clubs week in week out, but winning a cup outright is a great endorsement of their ability, and should push them on to further success in the future.
Josh Barrett is a very rough diamond
Reading struggled to create much against Maidenhead United but, when they did, it was typically thanks to Josh Barrett, who played off Tyler Frost in the Royals’ 3-5-2 (which became more of a 3-4-2 when we went down to ten men).
What impressed me about Barrett was his single-minded arrogance. On a number of occasions he showed the confidence and belief in his own ability to take defenders on and try to make things happen, even if those chances didn’t come off.
One attack in the first half summed that quality up particularly well. The move looked like petering out, only for Barrett to drive on his own at the Maidenhead defence across goal before cutting his shot back wide of the far post. It wasn’t close to troubling the Magpies’ goalie, but was an eye-catching moment from Barrett nonetheless.
It’s exactly that kind of attitude which you need in a playmaker - at any age. Barrett may not have fully transitioned from the academy to first team, but I’m sure he’ll get another opportunity at some point in the future. If he approaches that with the same confidence he showed at York Road, Jose Gomes will take to him.
Coniah Boyce-Clarke shows his class
Boy do Reading have a talented ‘keeper on their hands. Coniah Boyce-Clarke only recently turned 16, but has been a regular feature for the under-23s of late. He wasn’t meant to be playing against Maidenhead in fact, but Myles Roberts’ sending off forced him into unlikely action.
Although he let in the opening goal, he was remarkably commanding and confident for a very young chap playing in tough circumstances. The home support made it even harder for him, giving him plenty of stick in an attempt at undermining his confidence, but there was little sign of that working during the match - bar some slightly wayward long kicks that are perfectly forgivable.
He even stepped up in the shoot-out, saving Maidenhead’s third kick, thereby allowing Tom Holmes to equalise. Again, it’s that bit of resolve that’s really encouraging for me. Clarke-Boyce is not just a talented ‘keeper, but also one with a bit of backbone.
He’ll go far.
Who else impressed?
Tom Holmes was, for me, a rock at the back. He was composed on the ball, also reading and dealing with danger effectively. Tom McIntyre did a good job bringing the ball out from the back with a few confident driving runs up the pitch, while Cameron Green also caught the eye in attacking from his left wing-back spot.
Ethan Coleman looked good on the ball in the middle, Tyler Frost linked the play well - more effectively in a deeper role than as a striker, and Teddy Howe caused Maidenhead plenty of problems when he came off the bench. Not least in getting a crucial equaliser!