Reading team: Boyce-Clarke, Abrefa (Hammond Chambers-Borgnis 73’), Paul, Holzman, Senga, Leavy (Murray 78’), Epkenyong, Osorio ©, Scott, Camara (Furlong 73’), Clarke
There wasn’t much to love for Reading under-23s after a Valentine’s Day defeat to Derby County under-23s in the Premier League Cup on Monday, despite an early Jahmari Clarke penalty.
Young goalkeeper Coniah Boyce-Clarke returned to the starting line-up for the first time in over three months, having not featured for the Royals since November 8. Boyce-Clarke had been on loan at St Albans. He was joined by Kelvin Abrefa, who started for the under-23s after making his senior debut for Reading at the weekend against Coventry City.
The visitors started brightly, with Louie Sibley driving an effort over the bar from inside Reading’s box within the first five minutes. Moments later, another Sibley strike flew over the bar after the ball was cut back by Tyree Wilson.
But in the 14th minute, it was Reading who took the lead. After a really strong run from Jahmari Clarke he squared the ball to Mamadi Camara, who was fouled in the box. Clarke stepped up to take the resulting penalty, calmly converting to give the home side the lead.
Derby looked for a fast response, winning a free kick in a dangerous area shortly after. Osazee Aghatise’s powerful effort stung the palms of Boyce-Clarke, who parried it away from his goal.
Derby continued to apply pressure, and grabbed an equaliser in the 21st minute via the head of Eiran Cashin. A deep corner wasn’t dealt with by the Reading defence, and Cashin rose highest in the six yard box to level the score.
With the score now at 1-1, it was the Rams who looked the more confident side. A shot from Aghatise was easily saved by Boyce-Clarke in the 35th minute, before Jack Stretton fired an effort wide for the visitors just before half-time.
As the referee blew his whistle for the break, the scores remained level – but Reading were on the ropes.
Half-time – Reading U23 1-1 Derby County U23
Derby looked the start the second half in a similar fashion to the first, as Wilson sliced a volley over early in the second half. Shortly after, in the 57th minute, he went one better.
A high press from Derby forced Boyce-Clarke in to an error, as his pass was intercepted by Sibley; under pressure from Claudio Osorio he cut the ball back to Wilson, who curled a lovely effort beyond a frozen Boyce-Clarke and in to the top corner to give Derby the lead.
Derby then looked to capitalise on a shaken Reading team. A strong save from Boyce-Clarke denied Wilson a second in the 59th minute, and the Royals got the ball clear.
It was then Reading’s turn to apply some pressure. Some good work on the right by Abrefa teed up a chance for Blesk Epkenyong, but his effort was blocked on the line by a Derby defender. Another chance fell to Epkenyong around a minute later, but he was once again denied by a Derby player on the line.
Moments later, Reading had their best chance of the half so far. An Osorio corner wasn’t cleared by Derby, and Rashawn Scott picked the ball up on the left – his low cross skidded through the legs of the Derby goalkeeper and rolled across the front of goal, but agonisingly Clarke couldn’t quite reach the ball to poke it in.
And, despite a strong spell from Reading, Derby added to their lead in the 75th minute. A cross to Reading’s back post found Will Grewal-Pollard unmarked, and the midfielder smashed his effort in to the roof of the Royals’ net.
As the game approached its end there was time for one more Reading attack; Osorio slipped a lovely ball in to the path of Clarke on the edge of the box, but his low effort was saved by the Derby goalkeeper, with the referee calling proceedings to a close just seconds after.
Full-time – Reading U23 1-3 Derby County U23
Reading goal: J. Clarke 14’
Derby County goals: E. Cashin 21’, T. Wilson 56’, W. Grewal-Pollard 75’
Defeat for Reading concludes their Premier League Cup campaign for this season, although in truth we knew the Royals would not be progressing some time ago. They finish as Group C’s fourth-placed team, with one win, five losses, and a goal difference of -12 after six games.
The under-23s are next in action on Monday February 21 when they travel to The City Ground to take on Nottingham Forest under-23s. They’ll be keen to build on a draw in their previous league fixture to try and move off the bottom of the Premier League 2 Division 2 table.
Although Reading had some positive spells throughout the game, they were ultimately outclassed by a Division 1 team in Derby County under-23s. The Rams finished their cup campaign at the top of the Group C table, unbeaten after six games, and you could see throughout the match that these were two teams at polar opposite ends of their group.
Reading’s cup woes come as a result of the damning combination of not scoring enough and conceding too many. Of the 32 teams that qualified for the group stage, only three teams have scored less than Reading (and two of those teams have games left to play), and currently no team has conceded more.
Looking ahead to the under-23s’ league fixtures, and there are similar problems to fix. Heavy defeats in December and January resulted in a damaging run of losses, but the young Royals managed to stop the rot somewhat after drawing against Stoke City under-23s in their previous fixture. It’s important now they try to build on this – their last league win came in November, and hopefully their next will come soon.