Reading (3-5-2): Collins; Holzman, Stickland © (Sackey 73’), Samuels; Ashcroft, Osorio, Talent-Aryeetey (Purcell 63’), Camara, Bristow; Clarke, Ehibhatiomhan (Vickers 74’)
A stoppage-time equaliser from Mamadi Camara rescued a point for Reading under-23s in a topsy-turvy game against Norwich City under-23s on Monday evening.
The Royals remained unchanged from their 2-0 loss to Nottingham Forest under-23s last week, with a few alterations made to the bench – Kelvin Abrefa, Lynford Sackey and Caylan Vickers were all added to the list of substitutes, with the latter two coming on in the second half.
It took only four minutes for the big first opportunity of the game, which fell to the visitors; Norwich attacked down Reading’s left, an inviting low cross dropping just out of reach of Canaries forward Abu Kamara. The early chance proved to be a sign of things to come, with the game’s opening goal coming just five minutes later – although it was the boys in blue and white hoops who grabbed it.
In the ninth minute, after Royals striker Jahmari Clarke was adjudged to have been fouled, Reading were awarded a free kick in a useful area. Up stepped Ethan Bristow to float one in to Michael Stickland; the skipper made no mistake, heading home at the near post. 1-0 to the ‘ding!
Norwich looked to respond, and in the 26th minute, Stickland was in the thick of it again. As Norwich winger Tony Springett looked to test Harvey Collins, Stickland showed his desire to defend, the Reading captain bravely throwing himself in the way of the resulting effort from Springett.
Moments later, Springett was at it again; this time he cut the ball back to Kamara, who forced a smart save from Collins.
Despite Norwich’s best efforts, it was the Royals who netted the game’s second goal, and once again a set piece proved pivotal. This time it was a Claudio Osorio delivery that caused Norwich problems, with Malachi Talent-Aryeetey eventually managing to turn the ball in following close range efforts from Stickland and Louie Holzman.
Now 2-0 up, the Royals were looking good as half time approached, but Norwich remained determined to score before the referee could blow the whistle. Their persistence was rewarded when Tom Dickson-Peters pulled one back, reducing the deficit to one just moments before the break.
Half time: Reading U23 2-1 Norwich City U23
As the second half began, Reading came out eager to restore their two-goal lead. As is a common theme for the U23s, Bristow continued to provide a threatening outlet on the left, first driving in a low cross for Clarke, who couldn’t quite prod the ball beyond the Norwich goalkeeper. On the hour mark, Bristow and Stickland looked to combine again, the former’s corner finding the latter’s head in the box – but no goal this time.
Moments later, in the 62nd minute, the Canaries had a corner of their own. As the cross came in, Harvey Collins did well to keep out the initial effort from Jonathan Rowe; unfortunately for the young goalkeeper, Abu Kamara was there to follow up, heading his side level.
With the wind now back in Norwich’s sails, Reading had to try and remain focused. The away side continued to push for a third – and in the 70th minute they got the goal they wanted. Despite Holzman’s best efforts to prevent a Kamara shot, he couldn’t quite stop the ball from falling to Dickson-Peters, who scored his second of the evening to put Norwich ahead for the first time in the match.
Going into the final 15 minutes, Norwich looked to put the game to bed; a good chance for Oscar Thorn fortunately came to nothing, the attacker unable to find the target following some good play from Kamara.
Reading retaliated, desperate to take at least a point from the game. Bristow once again looked to provide, but his cross in for substitute Lynford Sackey couldn’t quite find its intended target.
As we headed in to stoppage time, the Royals looked set for another loss under the lights – but the boys didn’t give up, and they got their reward.
Mamadi Camara proved to be the hero, stepping up to smash home the equaliser in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Agony for the Canaries, but joy for the boys in hoops, who will probably be disappointed they let their two-goal advantage slip in the first place. In the end, points were shared and honours remained even at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
It won’t be long until the two sides face off again, with Norwich returning to Berkshire on October 11 as Reading’s next opponents in the Premier League Cup. For now, the boys can look ahead to next Monday night, when they will travel up to Lancashire to play their next league opponents – Burnley under-23s.
Full time - Reading U23 3-3 Norwich City U23
Pauno assesses the options as the injury curse continues
As the first-team’s injury woes continue, it may be that Veljko Paunović is forced to turn to the academy to push us through the next couple of weeks. One particular area of concern is in the back line – as I’m writing this article, I’ve seen on Twitter that we may go into Saturday’s game against Middlesbrough with 0 (I repeat, ZERO) fit first-team centre backs. Josh Laurent put in a fantastic shift out of position against Fulham last weekend, but we are rapidly running out of options in what is already a makeshift defence.
The academy’s most suitable option is undoubtedly Michael Stickland. The under-23s captain is often a calm yet commanding figure at the back, with an eye for a long pass as well as a strong tackle. But is he ready to be thrown in at the Championship’s deep end against what will likely be a stubborn and dogged Neil Warnock side?
To be honest, we might not have a lot of choice. Depending on the extent of Michael Morrison’s rumoured injury, and how close to fitness new signing Scott Dann is, Paunović doesn’t have any real alternative. Short of moving another player out of position and playing with no recognised centre backs, it’s going to have to be one of the academy boys – and I can’t see anyone getting the nod over Stickland. Pauno was in attendance on Monday night, most likely mulling over how he intends to tactically outclass Warnock this weekend with half of his squad in the treatment room. I’m sure he’ll have been watching the under-23 backline with Saturday lunchtime in mind.
With that being said, there are still a few days to go until the weekend, and our injury curse is relentless… better wrap Stickland up in cotton wool now, and get an exorcist in to Bearwood ASAP!