Reading team: Rowley, Campbell, Abrefa, Bristow (Daniel-Spray 83’), Osorio ©, Scott, Kanu, Camara, Vickers (Holzman 65’), Nyarko, P. Ehibhatiomhan (Purcell 65’)
A dominant display by visiting side Charlton Athletic under-23s doomed Reading under-23s to another defeat in the Premier League Cup, after the Royals conceded five goals for the second consecutive game.
Five changes were made to the side that lost to Norwich City under-23s a week ago as Michael Stickland, Louie Holzman, Ben Purcell, Jack Senga and Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan dropped out of the starting XI. In their places we saw starts for Ryley Campbell, Abraham Kanu, Caylan Vickers, David Nyarko and Princewill Ehibhatiomhan. Princewill, the younger brother of under-23s regular Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, opened the scoring for the Royals in Thursday’s under-18s cup win against Bromley as part of a side featuring many familiar faces from the under-23s squad.
The visitors got off to a strong start, coming close to opening the scoring on a number of occasions within the first 20 minutes. Addicks striker Dylan Gavin came closest, heading two good chances off target to the relief of the home side.
Reading then fashioned some chances of their own; a Rashawn Scott effort flew narrowly wide in the 23rd minute before Caylan Vickers got on the end of an Ethan Bristow cross, but he couldn’t test the goalkeeper. Matt Rowley sprung to Reading’s rescue in the 35th minute, flying to his left to deny Aaron Henry after a well taken free-kick.
The scores were level as the referee blew the whistle for half-time, although it looked like Charlton would be the more likely side to score.
Half-time – Reading U23 0-0 Charlton Athletic U23
Eight minutes in to the second half, we got the first goal of the afternoon. Gavin atoned for his earlier misses by getting his header on target from a Charles Clayden corner, giving the visitors the lead.
Scott looked to respond for the Royals, cutting in nicely before curling an effort narrowly over the Addicks’ bar.
In the 64th minute, Charlton scored their second. Another cross from Clayden found Richard Chin unmarked, and the Charlton man was able to smash an effort in to the Reading net.
In the 76th minute, Clayden completed a hat-trick of assists after his delivery was turned in on the half-volley by Gavin, his second of the game and Charlton’s third.
The visitors were not done there – Rowley did well to deny Charlton another goal in the 79th minute, but just three minutes later Ryan Viggars netted for the Addicks. Goalscorer-turned-provider Chin played it in to Viggars who was able to prod home for the away side’s fourth.
And Reading conceded a fifth goal for the second match running as a Euan Williams strike capped off a dismal afternoon for the Royals, making it 5-0 to the visitors with five minutes of normal time to go.
Full-time – Reading U23 0-5 Charlton Athletic U23
Defeat to Charlton leaves Reading in a sticky situation in the Premier League Cup. The Royals sit third in the table on three points, behind Charlton (seven points) and Derby County (seven points), and above Norwich City (two points) – although it must be noted that at the time of writing, Derby and Norwich have each played one game less (they are in action against each other on Friday evening).
While it is still mathematically possible to progress, Reading would need to win both of their remaining PL Cup fixtures, and even then would still be relying on other results to go their way. And considering they need to play the reverse fixture against Derby, who are unbeaten in the cup so far, that is a very tall order indeed.
Instead, Reading must now focus their attention on their league campaign – their next league fixture kicks off at 7pm this Friday, away to Birmingham City under-23s. After a Christmas break this will then be followed by a Tyne and Wear-themed week in January, when the boys travel to Sunderland under-23s on the 10th January before hosting Newcastle United under-23s at the Select Car Leasing Stadium on the 14th.
Defensive woes and Ali’s departure
For the second game in a row, Reading’s opponents ran rampant. That’s 10 goals conceded in the Royals’ last two games – one more than the nine conceded from the five fixtures across the entirety of November. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies for Reading defensively at the moment, and very soon it won’t be Mehmet Ali’s problem to fix.
As has been reported online, Ali is expected to leave his position as under-23s manager on the 17th December, the day of the under-23s’ last fixture of the calendar year. It is believed Ali will be joining the youth setup at Arsenal, although to my knowledge this has not yet been officially confirmed by either club.
It will now be up to Reading to find a suitable candidate to replace Ali at a time when the academy’s success could be pivotal to the long term success and stability of the club. Quite who could do this remains to be seen, but it would be great to see someone who knows the club well brought in to help prepare Reading’s next generation.
Graeme Murty is one name that has been mentioned, following his recent departure from Rangers. In his five years at Ibrox, Murty played a pivotal role in the development of Rangers’ academy as Head of Elite Academy Development, whilst also taking over first-team responsibilities when required. Murty is held in very high regard in Berkshire and the former Reading captain would have a wealth of experience to hand down to young Royals from his decade with the club.
Whether Murty would want the role or not is another question – he may instead be looking for more senior management roles in first team football after his experience with the SPL champions.
It will be interesting to see what decision Reading make and the impact this may have on the under-23s’ season. After the 17th December the lads will get a few weeks off, which will allow the club to make the change and (hopefully) help with the returns of a number of injured players.