Reading team: Collins, Samuels, Ashcroft, Holzman, Holmes © (Abrefa 45’), Araruna (Senga 55’), Osorio, Talent-Aryeetey (Scott 73’), Camara, Ehibhatiomhan, Clarke
Reading under-23s’ winless run in the Premier League 2 Division 2 grew to six games on Monday night, following a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton under-23s.
There was plenty of excitement before the game when the team news was announced; Tom Holmes was given the armband as he continued his return from injury, and he was joined by none other than Felipe Araruna, who was set to make his first start to a Reading game in over a year.
Alongside Holmes and Araruna, a number of well-established under-23 players returned to the side after being rotated out for the trip to Fulham, as Tyrell Ashcroft, Claudio Osorio, Malachi Talent-Aryeetey, Mamadi Camara and Jahmari Clarke all regained their places in the starting eleven. There was also space on the bench for new signing Rashawn Scott, who would later make his Royals debut.
After an opening 14 minutes of few chances, Araruna was crowded out in the midfield, which allowed the Saints to counter and use Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo to exploit a gap on Reading’s left. As he charged in on goal, he struck his effort well, but couldn’t beat Royals goalkeeper Harvey Collins. The visitors fashioned a chance from a similar area a moment later, but a dangerous looking ball in couldn’t find an attacker.
In the 20th minute, Southampton came at the Reading defence again - Otseh-Taiwo was involved once more as he played a ball across to Kazeem Olaigbe, whose curling effort went just wide of the post, leaving Collins rooted to the spot.
Five minutes later, it was Reading’s turn to apply some pressure; some quick reactions by Mamadi Camara allowed him to pounce on a loose ball, before he poked it through to Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan. The striker just about managed to get a shot away, which was eventually deflected over for a corner.
Moments later, a break in play allowed both teams to regroup as Talent-Aryeetey received some treatment after a crunching tackle. The young midfielder was fine to continue as we passed the half-hour mark.
In the 40th minute, the Saints came knocking via a corner, which was eventually gathered by Collins. A moment later, Southampton again looked to exploit Reading’s left, before an effort was curled over the Royals’ crossbar.
The next five minutes ended a fairly innocuous first half in which neither side really found their rhythm, although the visitors did look more likely to score. Most of their threat was carried down Reading’s left – something to be addressed during the break perhaps.
Half time – Reading U23 0-0 Southampton U23
As the teams came back out for the second half, Reading made their first change. Tom Holmes’ evening had come to an end, as he was replaced by Kelvin Abrefa.
Around five minutes into the second half, some good play from Imari Samuels nearly fashioned an opening for Jahmari Clarke, whose return pass was a little wayward. As Southampton picked up the loose ball and countered, they caused some chaos in the Reading box, generating two rather hopeful penalty shouts in the process. Both were waved away by the referee.
If Reading thought they had weathered the storm after that, they were wrong. Southampton scored the breakthrough moments later, as Dom Ballard raced towards the Reading box in the 54th minute. His powerful effort was well struck, beating Collins on its way in to the Reading net.
Shortly after, Mehmet Ali made his second change of the evening. Jack Senga was on in place of Felipe Araruna, as the Brazilian got some much-needed match fitness under his belt. Araruna had an understandably mixed game, but it was fantastic to see him back in a Reading shirt regardless.
Over the course of the next ten minutes or so, it was all Southampton – a succession of strong saves from Collins kept the score at 1-0, including one particularly good save to parry away a powerful half volley, before the linesman’s flag was raised for an offside in the build-up.
Just after the hour mark, the ball was well worked down the left by Jack Senga, before he whipped a ball in towards the feet of Jahmari Clarke. The striker couldn’t quite shape his body around the trajectory of the ball, and his effort was scuffed wide.
In the 67th minute, we came as close as we’d been to a Reading goal – some determined work by Talent-Aryeetey resulted in the ball being deflected in to the side netting, leading to raucous cheers by some young fans who thought the ball had hit the back of the net. This was, sadly, not the case.
As we approached the final twenty minutes, Collins again came to the rescue, denying Southampton after a quick counter by the visitors.
The Royals made their third and final change in the 73rd minute, as new signing Rashawn Scott made his debut, replacing Talent-Aryeetey.
Scott looked bright, and soon after coming on almost put Ehibhatiomhan clean through on goal, only for the striker to be thwarted by the offside flag. It looked extremely tight from where I was sat, but demonstrated good vision and passing from the new signing nonetheless.
As we went into the final 10 minutes, Southampton ramped up the pressure in their hunt for a second goal. Again, Harvey Collins made a string of fantastic saves, one of which involved the young goalkeeper brilliantly saving a one-on-one after a quick Saints counter in the 88th minute.
Ehibhatiomhan fought bravely to try and find an opening in the Saints’ box near the end, but was eventually crowded out for a corner. The resulting set piece didn’t come to anything, and in the end Southampton held on for a well-deserved three points.
Full time – Reading U23 0-1 Southampton U23
The boys are next in action when they take on Sunderland under-23s at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, with kick off at 7pm on Monday November 1. The young Royals currently sit 12th in the 14-team table, level on points with Sunderland going into next week’s fixture.
An evening of ups and downs
You’d be forgiven for not believing that Southampton under-23s went into this game bottom of the table, as for the vast majority of the contest, they looked like the only team that wanted to score. Reading could never establish a foothold in the game, and a reluctance to shoot (or poorly executed final balls) let them down once again in the final third.
There is no denying that this team has some very gifted players on the ball, and the likes of Talent-Aryeetey, Camara and Osorio are all very capable dribbling and linking things up in the midfield – but a recurring theme this season for the under-23s is turning this into good chances for the forwards in and around the opposition team’s box.
On an evening that would otherwise be quite forgettable performance wise, it was a huge positive to see familiar faces in Holmes and Araruna on the teamsheet, as well as a new face in Rashawn Scott. Holmes looked strong, calm, and composed, and Scott looked very bright during his 15 minutes or so of action. Araruna was incredibly eager to get on the ball, but did look a little rusty – though this is completely understandable considering the length of time he’s been injured.
In terms of the regulars, Harvey Collins once again showed his class. I’ve been really impressed with Collins whenever I’ve watched him this season, and it looks like he has a bright future ahead of him. Reading are blessed with an abundance of goalkeepers coming through the ranks at the moment, as Harvey Collins joins Jökull Andrésson and Coniah Boyce-Clarke on a list of promising young goalkeepers hoping to push for a first-team spot in the future. This is particularly helpful considering Rafael is out of contract in the summer, as Southwood looks to have established himself as number one for the time being at least.
It will be interesting to see what role Scott takes up in the team as the weeks progress – if he can help to add some extra creativity in the final third, it could make a huge difference to the lads’ success. In Clarke and Ehibhatiomhan, you have two very capable finishers; they just need the chances to put away.
Next Monday’s game will be the second in a string of three consecutive home games for the lads, so consider getting down to the SCL to back the boys!