Reading team: Collins, Holzman, Ashcroft, Stickland ©, Samuels, Bristow (Purcell 45’), Osorio, Talent-Aryeetey, Camara, Clarke (Okine-Peters 45’), Ehibhatiomhan
Reading under-23s were defeated in the league for the first time this season after two second-half goals handed Nottingham Forest under-23s a hard-fought three points on the road.
Mehmet Ali made two changes to the side that lost to Charlton Athletic in the PL Cup, with goalkeeper Harvey Collins replacing Coniah Boyce-Clarke, and Tyrell Ashcroft replacing Lynford Sackey. The Royals shaped up in what looked like a back three, with forward-thinking wingbacks providing the width. Michael Stickland played a commanding role at centre back; the captain kept the defence organised, occasionally looking up with the ball to knock long passes into the paths of the wide men.
Both sides started the game energetically, seemingly taking it in turns to attack each other’s halves. In the ninth minute, the Royals’ first chance came courtesy of the left flank - Ethan Bristow drove forwards, hitting a ball across that eventually found its way to Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan. The striker couldn’t quite get his effort on target under pressure from the onrushing Forest defence.
Nottingham Forest had chances too; a couple of good crosses luckily came to nothing, and a quick Forest counter in the 33rd minute looked set to become the first clear opportunity of the game - that was until Stickland made a fantastic recovery, just about doing enough to force the ball away from the attacker.
For the rest of the first half, Reading certainly looked the more likely team to score. More dangerous crosses came in from the left side, and Jahmari Clarke (who looked bright throughout the half) had a string of half-chances towards the end of the first 45. Despite the boys’ best efforts in a tightly contested half, we went in to the break goalless.
Half time: Reading U23 0-0 Nottingham Forest U23
As the teams came out for the second half there were two notable absentees. Jahmari Clarke and Ethan Bristow were off - both perhaps being kept fresh in case either are required on Tuesday evening. They were replaced by Benjamin Purcell and Jeremiah Okine-Peters, who came out into what looked to be a slight change in system, with it now appearing more like a flat four at the back.
Forest looked a different side in the second half, and came at Reading much more aggressively. Harvey Collins was forced into action multiple times in quick succession, making some brilliant saves around the hour mark.
The pressure eventually took its toll, and Forest got the breakthrough they wanted in the 68th minute through Julian Larsson. The visitors found space in behind on the right, a driven cross eventually dropping to Larsson who finished on the volley with power and composure.
Reading looked for an immediate equaliser - some nice link-up play fashioned a chance for Okine-Peters; his shot ricocheted to Purcell who lashed one over the bar.
As we approached the last 10 minutes, Forest attacked again, piling players in to the box; in the fray a Forest player was brought down, and the referee pointed to the spot with no hesitation. Up stepped Larsson once again who showed the same composure to get his second of the game, slotting in against Collins who dived the right way.
As the clock ticked on, Reading huffed and puffed but just couldn’t create any clear-cut chances in the final third, with their unbeaten run in the league brought to an end at the final whistle.
Full time - Reading U23 0-2 Nottingham Forest U23
A game of two halves and first-class Claudio
In the first half Reading looked decent; however, once Clarke and Bristow went off at half-time, the Royals looked significantly less likely to score. Clarke’s physicality posed a real threat, and I hope his brief appearance means we can expect to see him in some capacity against Peterborough United on Tuesday. His strength and ability to hold the ball up could be a great help to the first team, if deployed either as a lone striker or alongside George Pușcaș, who can sometimes look a bit isolated up top.
Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan worked hard all game, closing down the Forest defence at every opportunity, but he had very few chances to impact the game when Reading had the ball. There was some lovely build-up play from deep in Reading’s midfield (Claudio Osorio looked very good - more on him below), but there weren’t really any occasions in which this resulted in good, clear-cut chances.
Equally, Reading looked a little weaker at the back in the second half as Forest upped the pressure - overall the defence had a relatively decent game, but were made to pay for a few lapses in concentration. Collins made a number of good saves, but there was very little he could do about either of the two goals.
Despite the result, I do think some praise needs to be given out - I was really impressed by Osorio, whose link-up play and quick one-twos got Reading moving through the midfield. Watching him, and the way he seems to effortlessly glide across the pitch and pop up all over, feels quite reminiscent of a certain John Swift, and he was involved in a number of good passages of play.
Other players also showed glimpses of what they can do - Mamadi Camara was bright throughout the game, and Malachi Talent-Aryeetey had some positive moments too.
The under-23s’ next game will be against Norwich City, once again under the lights at the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Come along at 7pm on Monday September 20 to support the lads!