Reading team: Boyce-Clarke, Abrefa, Ashcroft, Holzman, Purcell, Senga, Osorio ©, Scott (Campbell 80’), Camara, Vickers (Clarke 45’), Ehibhatiomhan
Reading under-23s were forced to share the points with Aston Villa under-23s in the Premier League 2 Division 2 on Monday night, after Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan had found the back of the net twice in the first half.
Mehmet Ali made four changes to the team that started against Sunderland under-23s last week, as Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Tyrell Ashcroft, Ben Purcell, and Mamadi Camara came in to start in place of Harvey Collins, Imari Samuels, Felipe Araruna and Malachi Talent Aryeetey.
Reading started the game brightly, and had a flurry of chances in the opening 10 minutes via Ben Purcell. After a few threatening set pieces, the Wales international was able to find Louie Holzman from a corner, but he couldn’t quite direct his header towards goal.
Moments after, Reading grabbed the opener. Mamadi Camara put some pressure on the Villa backline, winning the ball from a defender. As the Villa contingency looked hopefully towards the referee for a foul, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan reacted quickly, running onto the loose ball before calmly chipping over the onrushing keeper. A very well taken goal from the front man, and Reading were in the lead.
In the 21st minute, Ehibhatiomhan and Camara were involved again – and Reading should have had a second. A great run by the former allowed the latter to poke goalwards, before the ball fell to Claudio Osorio, who hit the woodwork.
As we approached the half-an-hour mark, the visitors got one back. A Villa man fell over a dangling leg in the box, allowing Tristan Goodridge to convert from the penalty spot.
In the 40th minute, Ehibhatiomhan came close to his second. A slip from an Aston Villa defender presented Rashawn Scott with space to charge into, before he released Ehibhatiomhan, who fired narrowly wide of the far post.
A few minutes later, a fantastic save by Boyce-Clarke left the score level – a ball across the Reading box fell to Goodridge, whose powerful effort was tipped over the bar by the Royals’ keeper.
And, before the referee could blow the whistle for half time, Ehibhatiomhan did get his second. More good work from Camara gave the Royals a free kick in a promising position; the resulting ball from Purcell caused mayhem in the box, before Ehibhatiomhan reacted to volley home his second of the evening.
A slender, but well-deserved lead for the home side as we went into the break.
Half time – Reading U23 2-1 Aston Villa U23
As the second half got underway, we were greeted by the sight of Jahmari Clarke, who was on for Caylan Vickers. Clarke was looking to replicate the impact he had on Saturday, after he scored his first goals at senior level against Birmingham City.
In the 52nd minute, we almost got a moment to savour courtesy of Holzman. The centre-back cruised past a few challenges before eyeing up the goal, but his effort from the edge of the box was blocked.
Moments later, an energetic counter from the visitors looked dangerous – that was until a crucial tackle from Kelvin Abrefa, which sent the ball out for a corner.
Around the hour mark, Clarke looked to get more involved; as he received the ball from a throw-in, the forward used his body well to roll a Villa defender before firing one in to the side netting.
In the 70th minute, the visitors should have equalised. Goodridge found space behind on the left before mis-hitting a shot wide of the near post. A let-off for the Royals.
10 minutes later, we saw Reading’s second substitution of the game. Ryley Campbell was on for his first taste of under-23s football, replacing Scott, who had been excellent throughout.
And then, in the 85th minute, Villa forced an equaliser. Attacking midfielder Finley Thorndike received the ball from a quick Villa counter before firing past Boyce-Clarke.
A disappointing end to the match from a Reading perspective, but they can certainly take positives from what was a much-improved performance.
Full time – Reading U23 2-2 Aston Villa U23
Reading under-23s return to action next Monday, when they travel to Derby County under-23s for their next Premier League Cup match. The game kicks off at 7pm under the lights of the Loughborough University Stadium.
The Royals’ next league encounter will be away to West Bromwich Albion under-23s, who they’ll take on at The Hawthorns on Monday 22nd November.
A much-improved performance
The display was a marked improvement on recent ones, with the lads showing an intensity and desire that seems to have been missing over the last couple of weeks. This energy was typified by Mamadi Camara’s involvement in the first goal, and the whole midfield generally pressed very well throughout the contest.
Rashawn Scott looked brilliant once again, and I was also impressed by the performance of Kelvin Abrefa. The full-back worked hard all game, both going forward and in defence, and it’s great to see him stepping up in the absence of players such as Lynford Sackey and Ethan Bristow.
From one Kelvin to another, it was also fantastic to see Ehibhatiomhan on the scoresheet once again. He took both of his goals very well (particularly the first), and hopefully that will help him push on in later games.
Overall, it was disappointing not to come away with all three points – but things are definitely improving!