The Royals’ journey in the Carabao Cup ended early with a 2-1 defeat against Stevenage at the SCL Stadium.
Saxon Earley gave the visitors the lead in the 10th minute but a first senior goal for Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan in the second half made it level. Stevenage got the winner in the 89th minute through Danny Rose.
The average age of the starting line-up was 21 years, 8 months and three days, and with three debutants in the starting line-up and more coming on from the bench, manager Paul Ince reflected on the learning curve it would have given our youngsters. He spoke to the official club website and Berkshire Live.
Ince on the defeat and the performance of our youngsters
“I thought the team we put out did well – young players need to experience these kinds of matches. It is always disappointing when you are knocked out of a cup competition, although it just shows where we are as a club that we can’t afford our big hitters getting injured with the game against Rotherham in mind.
“But on a positive note, it was a good experience for the boys who played, and I am proud of them.
“You’ve seen the way Stevenage play – it’s men’s football, and they are seasoned pros, and you’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to be brave. And I thought we stood up to them, especially in the second half, and they’ll benefit from that.
“It just shows you where we are as a club at this time – having to play these young men and not being able to risk our big hitters – but they’ve had a great experience of what proper football is like, and that is the positive you get out of it.
“Academies are all about developing players, and with games like this in our circumstances it allows us to look at these players. And you’ve seen Kelvin get his first senior goal – he won’t be able to sleep tonight!
“It also shows that they have a long way to go. You look at the first XI that played against Cardiff and we will need to rely on some of these young boys, and we’ll need them against Rotherham, so getting that experience tonight will enhance that.
“It was great to see Mamadou Loum to get 90 minutes. I thought he was fantastic and looks like he’ll be a really good acquisition for us. He’s not even fit yet, so when he gets fitter, he’ll get better.
“The young lads did some great things out there. Mamadi Camara came on and he was excellent, and set up the goal with a wonderful pass.
“These are people you are now looking at and when you play these games players think: ‘can I take the manager’s eye?’ and think, ‘I’ve got an opportunity here’. There were some players that did that tonight.
“I thought it was important to stay in the game because it can give you a bit of confidence and when we did get into the second half, we kind of knew what they were going to throw at us, and when we started playing football, the confidence grew.
“The goal gave us that – and it’s just a shame we couldn’t have took it to penalties or even won it with that header. But I’m not going to cry over spilt milk. It’s a great experience for the players and hopefully they enjoyed it.”
Ince on Mamadou Loum
“He was good - you can see what type of player he is and he’s not even fully fit yet. He had a couple of games for Porto under-23s and as he goes on you’ll see a better player. The headers he wins offensively and defensively - and he came out of the game unscathed so it’s great he got 90 minutes and he’ll be involved on Saturday.
“He covers the ground - he gallops and covers so much ground. He can pass, sit in the midfield alongside someone else. I’m really pleased he got 90 minutes and came out unscathed. I’m really pleased too I’ve got him available for Saturday.”