Reading team: Collins, Abrefa, Ashcroft, Holzman, Stickland © (Abdul-Salam 63’), Purcell, Osorio, Scott, Talent-Aryeetey, Camara, Ehibhatiomhan (Nyarko 85’)
Reading under-23s were forced to settle for a point on Monday night after Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan’s early goal was cancelled out by West Bromwich Albion under-23s.
Mehmet Ali made two changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Derby County in the Premier League Cup last week, as Malachi Talent-Aryeetey and Michael Stickland returned to the starting eleven in place of Jack Senga and Caylan Vickers. It was a welcome surprise to see Stickland back in the side following his recent injury, with the captain having not featured for the academy since a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City under-23s in early October.
Reading set a quick tempo from the off, keen to respond after last week’s defeat. The Royals took the lead after just three minutes through Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, who scored his sixth goal of the season - the striker pounced after a scramble in the box to give the visitors an early advantage.
In the 14th minute, Harvey Collins was called in to action as the Baggies looked for an equaliser. Reyes Cleary lashed an effort towards goal after a pull-back from Fenton Heard, but Collins saved comfortably.
Six minutes later, Stickland came close to extending Reading’s lead, heading wide from a corner.
In the 23rd minute, the home side levelled the score. Cleary was involved again, rolling a Reading defender before firing his shot in to the roof of the net.
The remainder of the half was tightly contested, as both defences stood firm.
Half time – West Bromwich Albion U23 1-1 Reading U23
As the second half began, West Brom looked to assert some dominance – Collins again denied the home side following Toby King’s driven effort, before Josh Shaw fired an effort into the side netting.
In the 73rd minute it was Collins who saved Reading once again, tipping a Jamie Soule effort over the bar following some high Baggies pressing.
West Brom continued to exert pressure, but the Royals defence stood firm. Kelvin Abrefa was dismissed late on for a lunge on Shaw, but the visitors held on for a well-deserved point.
Full time – West Bromwich Albion U23 1-1 Reading U23
A point for the Royals sadly doesn’t do much to help their league position. The boys sit in 13th place on 11 points, above Birmingham City under-23s who are rooted to the bottom of the table on 10 points.
Reading under-23s are next in action on the 29th November, as they return to the familiar turf of the Select Car Leasing Stadium. They’ll be taking on Middlesbrough under-23s, who sit just one point above the Royals in 12th – a home victory would see the Berkshire boys leapfrog them up the table.
A hard-fought point
West Brom went into this game unbeaten in their last eight games, so it was a big ask of the young Royals to come away with anything. But that’s exactly what they did, and they deserve full credit.
Michael Stickland’s return undoubtedly had an impact, with the skipper helping the defence to stay organised and secure until he was replaced by Hamid Abdul-Salam. Kelvin Abrefa’s late red card was an unfortunate sour note on an otherwise dogged and disciplined display from the Royals.
At the other end of the pitch, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan’s sixth goal of the season will hopefully help push the striker on to achieve more. His first three goals came in his first three consecutive appearances; he now has three from his previous three, adding weight to the idea that confidence and form is key when it comes to his scoring return.
The Royals now need to turn these performances in to points; their last victory came against Norwich City under-23s in the Premier League Cup on the 11th October. For their last league victory, we need to go back quite a bit further – this came against Stoke City under-23s on the 29th August, meaning the boys are now without a win in nine league games.
It’s worth noting that the side is missing a number of key players, and whilst Stickland’s return is a very welcome one (it was also his first appearance since signing his first pro contract with the club), Ethan Bristow, Jahmari Clarke, Kian Leavy, Lynford Sackey and Nelson Abbey all still remain absent from the side. On top of that, Reading’s under-23s have often come up against older and more seasoned sides this year, with many of the young Royals fielded by Mehmet Ali experiencing their first season at an under-23 level.
Here’s hoping the boys can return to winning ways again soon – come along to the SCL Stadium on the 29th November to help cheer them on!