Reading team: Collins, Abdel-Salam (Purcell 14’), Beacroft, Kanu, Paul, Senga, Osorio ©, Furlong, Scott (Leavy 57’), Okine-Peters, Epkenyong (Greaver 79’)
A fatigued Reading under-23s side suffered a fifth consecutive defeat on Monday after being beaten 3-1 by Norwich City under-23s in the Premier League Cup, ending any hopes they had of progressing in the tournament.
Michael Morrison was absent from the side after playing 45 minutes against Newcastle United under-23s on Friday, possibly hinting at him having some involvement with the first team against Luton Town on Wednesday. There were starts for Harvey Collins, Jack Senga and Jeremiah Okine-Peters, who all returned to the 11 having not featured against the Magpies.
There was a good tempo to the game in the opening stages: an early shot was saved comfortably by Norwich goalkeeper Archie Mair before Jack Senga released Rashawn Scott, but the midfielder was quickly closed down by a Norwich defender. Harrison Furlong came close shortly after, but more stubborn defending by the home side denied him.
The Canaries then looked to attack. Harvey Collins did well to palm away an effort from Jon Rowe, before Rowe fired over an attempt that came from Norwich intercepting a pass out from the back.
In the 24th minute, Norwich grabbed the opener. A quick counter attack following a Reading corner gave Rowe the opportunity to drive in to the Royals’ box, and this time he did find the back of the net, his curling effort hitting the post on its way past Collins.
But the home side didn’t have the lead for long, as just five minutes later Jeremiah Okine-Peters levelled the score. Okine-Peters’ strike capped off a good team move that included some neat build-up play from Ben Purcell, Harrison Furlong and Boyd Beacroft.
There wasn’t much else to report from the first half as both sides seemingly cancelled each other out – a good first 45 for the boys in blue and white hoops.
Half-time – Norwich City U23 1-1 Reading U23
The first 10 minutes or so of the second half mirrored that of the first half’s end, as the two sides were well balanced.
The 57th minute saw a hugely positive moment from a Reading perspective as Kian Leavy replaced Rashawn Scott. It marked Leavy’s first appearance in a Reading shirt since late August, after what has been a lengthy injury layoff for the young midfielder.
In the 65th minute we got the first real action of the half, as Lewis Shipley headed wide from a Norwich corner. Moments later Collins was called in to action again, and a strong save from the Royals’ goalkeeper kept out Shae Hutchinson’s effort.
In the 69th minute, the hosts regained the lead. A threaded pass found Flynn Clarke in a dangerous area who fired past Collins to put Norwich ahead.
Having scored their second the Canaries looked comfortable in possession, as an increasingly fatigued Reading side tried to close their opponents down. Norwich moved the ball quickly and with purpose, denying the Royals an extended spell on the ball for much of the remainder of the second half.
In the 88th minute, Norwich grabbed a third. Clarke was the man of the moment for a second time as once again he fired past Collins from inside the Royals’ box.
Despite Reading’s best efforts the hosts saw the game out to condemn the Royals to a fifth consecutive defeat, sending the boys out of the Premier League Cup for this season at least.
Full-time – Norwich City U23 3-1 Reading U23
Norwich City goals: J. Rowe 24’; F. Clarke 69’, 88’
Reading goals: J. Okine-Peters 29’
The under-23s’ current run of defeats actually started in Norfolk, after Norwich put five past the Royals in December. Reading have conceded another 12 in the four games that have followed since, finding the net themselves only twice.
Defeat now mathematically confirms Reading’s elimination from the Premier League Cup, with the Royals rooted to the bottom of the group C table after five games with just three points. They have one cup fixture left to fulfil, with a difficult home game scheduled for February 14 – there might not be much to love on Valentine’s Day for Reading when they come up against a Derby County under-23s side that are unbeaten from their first five Premier League Cup fixtures.
The attention will now turn back to the Royals’ league campaign, as they travel to the West Midlands to face Aston Villa under-23s on January 24.
It was another disappointing result tonight for a young Reading side that have been playing a lot of football recently. This was a third game in seven days for some of these Reading players, and there was definitely an element of fatigue that crept into the Royals’ play as the game progressed.
Reading held their own well in the first half with both sides cancelling each other out for much of it. Okine-Peters’ goal was a fine finish that capped a clever team move, and it was good to see him on the score sheet.
As the second half ticked by, and especially once Norwich had regained the lead, the Royals found it increasingly difficult to win back and then keep possession for any sustained period. The Canaries let the ball do the work, stroking it around quickly and effectively, leaving an already tired Reading side to spend much of the second half closing down and chasing shadows.
A big positive to take was the return of Kian Leavy. Reading’s 68th academy graduate has missed most of the season for the under-23s after picking an injury up in August, a month that also saw him make his first senior appearance for the Royals.
Hopefully once the schedule gets a bit quieter and more players return from injuries and/or Covid absences, the lads can look to start picking some points up – it would be a welcome boost at a time when the mood feels very low around our club.