Who is Luke Southwood?
Luke Southwood is Reading’s 22-year-old goalkeeper, whom many have tipped to play a big role at the club for years to come.
His name first started doing the rounds during his loan spell with non-league side Eastleigh. The young keeper put in a number of impressive performances that drew significant attention on social media, particularly during Eastleigh’s televised play-off game away to Salford, in which Luke made multiple game-defining saves.
The season prior, Southwood had won March’s National League South player of the month award with Bath City, as well as being called up to the England Under-20 side that won the 2017 World Cup in South Korea. Eastleigh swiftly made their move for the youngster, securing his services for the latter half of the 2018/19 season.
The 22 year-old’s impressive performances with the Spitfires led to serious attention from various other clubs including Championship side Hull City, who were said to have been scouting him. The Daily Mail also reported that the Reading’s rivals Swindon Town and Oxford United both had him on their radar, as well as MK Dons.
FT: Salford 1-1 Eastleigh— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 5, 2019
We're going to extra-time in the play-off semi-finals and the Spitfires have their keeper to thank. pic.twitter.com/akmzkts31P
Southwood won multiple man of the match awards with Eastleigh and even won their player of the month award once, keeping seven clean sheets and helping guide the National League side into the play-offs - a cruel penalty shoot-out being the only thing that cut short their Wembley dreams.
How’s he done this season?
The England youth international would return to Reading for the 2019/20 season, with many fans suggesting that he was ready to be integrated into the squad following his brilliant loan spell.
The possibility of this was becoming increasingly likely with every day that passed; the Royals were under a ‘soft transfer embargo’ meaning they were unable to bring in any new faces due to financial restraints. As a result, the club were left short of keepers, with Vito Mannone on loan at Minnesota and Sam Walker deemed not good enough for regular first-team football.
However, Jose Gomes made it very clear who he wanted and who he didn't want, as we learnt when Garath McCleary and Chris Gunter were exiled and made to train with the U23s. Luke Southwood was not part of Gomes’ plans and didn't travel with the squad for pre-season. Instead, Gomes opted to take young Icelandic keeper, Jökull Andrésson.
At the end of July, Southwood joined Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Academical on loan, with the promise of regular first-team football at a professional level.
On matchweek 14, the 22-year-old made his first league start in an Accies shirt, in a 3-1 loss to Stephen Gerrard’s Rangers. Southwood kept his place between the sticks and went on to get his first clean sheet the following game.
Hamilton made no hesitation in extending his loan to the end of the season, but not before Reading tied him down for another 18 months, leading to whispers that the Oxford-born keeper will play a role in Reading’s 2020/21 season.
Southwood has appeared 18 times for the Scottish side so far, including keeping a clean sheet at Ibrox in a famous 1-0 win for Hamilton, against a Rangers team fresh from progression to the Europa League round of 16.
♂️ The top goalkeeper in Gameweek 2⃣8⃣ was Accies stopper Luke Southwood, who grabbed 4⃣4⃣ points for his clean sheet in a famous win at Ibrox!— SPFL (@spfl) March 6, 2020
Play here https://t.co/zUf2YDh4ir#FantasySPFL | @acciesfc pic.twitter.com/N8N2LY8V6s
What does the boss think?
Luke Southwood returned to Reading at the beginning of the January transfer window following the completion of his initial stint at Hamilton. At the time it was unclear whether or not the keeper would go back out on loan elsewhere, return to Hamilton or have some involvement with the Royals, with Joao Virginia having left and returned to parent club Everton.
After some consideration and successful contract talks, Southwood re-joined Hamilton on loan for the remainder of the season. Manager Mark Bowen spoke about Luke’s future at Reading and what he felt was best for the player now.
“Luke’s staying for the time being. He came to me [earlier this month] and said ‘I need to play - I’ve had a taste of it and emotionally it would be tough to come back and stay with Reading because up there I’ve got a focus on a Saturday.”
Bowen also described Southwood as “a good, young goalkeeper” and suggested that he didn't want to disrupt the youngster’s season and that he needs to go out and get some further game time before he is in contention at Reading.
“So with that in mind he had my blessing to go. He obviously signed a new contract before he went which was important for us but we think we’ve got a good, young goalkeeper on our hands and so perhaps he needs to go out and play as well.”
How highly do Hamilton rate him?
I spoke with Lewis Hamilton, a Hamilton Academical fan who travels home and away, about the importance of Luke Southwood and how he has changed the Accies for the better this season.
Here is what Lewis had to say:
“Luke has been a crucial part in our team this season and our fans were keen for him to return in January after impressing with his shot stopping ability.
“He’s small in stature yet he commands his box very well and I can see him challenging for that No.1 jersey at Reading next season.
“In his last three games against Motherwell (H), Rangers (A) and Kilmarnock (H) he has kept 3 clean sheets which has led to us being undefeated within this period.”
Lewis has watched every one of Southwood’s Hamilton appearances thus far, and has been wholly impressed by him, even suggesting he is worthy of being the man between the sticks for Reading next season.
“I can see him challenging for that No.1 jersey at Reading next season.”
Fellow Accies fan, Mark Gaughan, also claimed that Soutwood has been “a saviour” for the Scottish side, stating that it has been “an absolute pleasure” to have a player of Southwood’s calibre playing for the club, and it will be very painful to see him return to the Mad Stad in the summer of 2020.
Luke Southwood is a man on the rise at the moment and given his impressive form of late it will be hard for Reading to convince him to go back to sitting on the bench or playing with the U23s. The young keeper has a big decision ahead and Mark Bowen will have to re-assess in the summer to determine whether or not he thinks he is ready to make the step up to English professional football.
Given Rafael’s recent heroics, it will be hard for the 22-year-old to force his way into Bowen’s ever-improving Reading side, but that certainly won’t stop him trying...