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Reading U23 0-3 Sunderland U23: Match Report

Defensive errors prove costly for Reading as the visitors cruise to victory.

Reading v Blackpool - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

Reading team: Collins, Abrefa, Samuels ©, Holzman, Araruna (Purcell 65’), Senga, Vickers (Camara 65’), Osorio, Talent-Aryeetey, Scott, Ehibhatiomhan

Reading under-23s slumped to defeat against Sunderland under-23s in the Premier League 2 Division 2 on Monday night, as costly defensive errors ensured their poor run of results continued.

Likely due to the first team’s upcoming fixture against Millwall on Tuesday, a number of more established academy players were missing from Mehmet Ali’s starting line-up; Tyrell Ashcroft and Jahmari Clarke were both absent from the squad, as Mamadi Camara dropped to the bench. Tom Holmes was also missing after his appearance last week, although Felipe Araruna retained his starting spot as he continues his return from injury.

Araruna was joined in the starting line-up by Rashawn Scott, who made his first start for the young Royals following a bright debut last week against Southampton under-23s. Jack Senga, Cameron Vickers and Kelvin Abrefa were also brought into the starting XI in place of the aforementioned Ashcroft, Camara and Clarke. Key players Michael Stickland, Ethan Bristow, Lynford Sackey, Nelson Abbey and Kian Leavy all remained absent from the squad, most likely due to injury.

At the beginning of the game it was clear to see that these were two teams languishing near the bottom of the table, as the opening exchanges were a cagey affair. After 15 minutes, Sunderland created the first chance of the game, which Benji Kimpioka looped over the bar.

Reading looked to create a chance of their own, and in the 27th minute, some good work from new Royal Rashawn Scott almost came to something – his effort was eventually smothered by visiting goalkeeper Jacob Carney.

In the 31st minute, we got the game’s first goal. Reading were very much the architects of their own downfall, as some sloppy touches at the back allowed the Black Cats to rob them of possession. Tyrese Dyce squared the ball to Kimpioka, who calmly finished past Harvey Collins.

The Royals looked for a quick response through Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, who had the ball in the net four minutes later – but the flag went up for offside.

Sunderland looked for a second, and were denied one brilliantly by Collins in the 42nd minute. A well-worked Sunderland move found Ciaran Dunne in the box, but his effort was palmed away from close range by the Reading goalkeeper.

And that would prove to be the last key action of the first half – Reading down, but not yet out.

Half time – Reading U23 0-1 Sunderland U23

As the second half got underway, Sunderland looked for an opportunity to double their advantage. In the 53rd minute, Kimpioka proved to be the danger man again, driving in to the Reading box and eventually being brought down. It looked a little contentious from where I was sat – although I confess I am entirely biased towards the boys in blue and white, and I’ve not seen any replays! Kimpioka stepped up to take the penalty, and made absolutely no mistake, smashing it into the bottom right corner and sending Collins the wrong way.

A minute later, almost immediately after the restart, Kimpioka was through again. This time, the post came to Reading’s rescue to prevent the visitors from running away with the game.

In the 73rd minute, a neat spin from Tyrese Dyce allowed him to drive through on goal, but his shot was eventually deflected behind by a Reading defender.

A few minutes later, Reading mounted their own attack, as Rashawn Scott found a way through a few challenges before firing a curling shot towards goal. His effort, which was well tipped over by the Black Cats’ keeper, was the closest the home team had come to scoring thus far.

Shortly after, more neat work on the ball by Scott presented Reading with an opportunity. He somehow managed to hold on to the ball through an onslaught of Sunderland challenges before being brought down – the resulting free kick was swung in from a dangerous position, but was ultimately cleared by the Sunderland defence.

As the game neared its end, Kimpioka grabbed his third. More sloppiness at the back presented an opportunity for the visiting striker, who evaded some desperate lunges by the Reading defence before slotting home for his hat-trick.

A disappointing result and performance from the young Royals, who are now without a win in seven league matches.

Full time – Reading U23 0-3 Sunderland U23

Reading under-23s are in action once again at the Select Car Leasing Stadium next Monday, when they welcome 3rd placed Aston Villa under-23s to Berkshire. The game will kick off at 7pm, with parking and entry free again.

Reading now sit second-bottom at 13th in the league table, just two points above bottom-placed Birmingham under-23s.

A night to forget

There’s no getting around it – it was a poor evening for the Royals, who looked blunt in attack and fragile at the back for the majority of the contest. It sums up their recent run of bad form, and is demonstrative of a team of young lads that, currently, look deprived of confidence and bereft of ideas.

You have to go all the way back to August for Reading’s last league victory (a 2-1 victory away against Stoke City under-23s), and in the seven Premier League 2 Division 2 games since, the Royals have amassed just two points, scoring five goals and conceding sixteen.

This run of poor form is epitomised in some ways by Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, who is an example of how important confidence can be. He scored in each of Reading’s first three league games, and definitely has the quality to impact games at this level, but has not scored since.

That’s not me trying to single out Ehibhatiomhan – he has by no means performed any better or worse than the majority of the team, and is a symptom of the under-23s’ struggles, not a cause – but his recent run of performances illustrates my point around form and confidence. He’s struggled to get into games, often completely crowded out by opposing defenders, and he looks like a striker who desperately needs a goal.

But as I said, he is merely an example of a problem affecting the whole group. Low confidence seems to be endemic across a young squad that is stretched quite thin at the moment, with key players such as Stickland and Bristow absent in addition to Sackey, Abbey and Leavy. The ongoing injury setbacks faced by the senior squad have the capacity to trickle down to the academy too, as more young players are needed to fill the bench and provide options to the first team.

At times, this can break up any rhythm these players might establish for the under-23s, and it gives Ali fewer options to rotate and rest players struggling for form. Couple this with the fact that Reading released quite a significant number of youngsters at the start of last season, as well as more over the summer, and you may well have a recipe for negative runs like we are seeing now.

That does however bring me on to one positive, which I mentioned last week – the addition of Rashawn Scott looks to be a bit of shrewd business. He was probably Reading’s best player this evening, and the few bright spots of the game from a Reading perspective all seemed to come through him. His performance, alongside his relatively brief but energetic cameo last week, sets him up well to become a regular in the squad this season.

I can only hope that the lads find some form again soon, and start climbing back up the table. We’ve produced so many fine talents from our youth setup through the years, and the academy can be a true asset to the club when things work out well. And I think with uncertainty over how the senior squad might look in the future, we all really need it to work out well. Come on urzzz!