Reading have announced another new contract! After Mark Bowen agreed to extend his stay at the Madejski Stadium last Friday through a deal that runs until the summer of 2021, young goalkeeper Luke Southwood has put pen to paper on a deal of the same length. He was due to become a free agent in a few months.
Southwood’s also returned north of the border on loan until the end of the season. He’d spent the first half of this campaign at Scottish side Hamilton Academical, and that’s where he’ll be off to now. It took him a while to be given an opportunity in the first team, with opportunities hard to come by, but when he got them he impressed - so hopefully he can pick up where he left off.
At the moment, game time is exactly what he needs, and he should be able to get that at a decent level with Hamilton in the Scottish Premiership. They’re currently in 11th, one place above bottom club Hearts. If they’re there at the end of the season, they’ll take on the Scottish Championship playoff winners for the right to stay in the top tier.
Although Southwood is yet to make his first-team debut for Reading, he wasn’t far off a few weeks ago. When Mark Bowen rung the changes for the FA Cup visit of League One side Blackpool to the Madejski Stadium, Southwood was named on the bench while Sam Walker started - giving the youngster an involvement in a senior Reading matchday squad for the first team.
Hopefully that’s only the start of his team in the Royals’ first team as Southwood is a talented goalkeeper. That’s shown not only by his time on loan in the lower leagues - via promising spells at Bath City and Eastleigh - but also on the international stage, where he was part of the England under-20 squad that won the World Cup in 2017.
You’d imagine that Southwood would have only agreed to a new deal if there were a real pathway to the first team. At the moment, Rafael Cabral is firmly installed at the top of the pecking order, with Sam Walker and Vito Mannone the next in line - although Mannone will surely be let go this month to give him a new start and cut down the wage bill.
I’d expect to see Reading try to do the same with Walker in the summer. He’s good enough at the moment as a short-term backup for Rafael - and put in a fine performance at Bloomfield Road in the cup replay against Blackpool - but there are various young ‘keepers coming through the club’s academy with the talent to eventually challenge and then hopefully succeed Rafael.
Besides Southwood, that list also includes Coniah Boyce-Clarke, a very highly rated goalie that was linked with Manchester United (among other teams) before agreeing to his first professional contract at Reading last summer. He’s only 16 at the moment, so that deal with come into effect when he turns 17 in March of this year.