Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, the most linguistically challenging name in the Reading squad, burst onto the scene in the last week with a cameo against Cardiff City and his first professional goal against Stevenage. His finish was crisp: an instinctual and cultured stroke into the far corner from a gorgeous Mamadi Camara through ball. The run in my opinion is even more encouraging. Overall: it’s a lovely goal.
Full steam ahead then, with developing our talented youngster into a Championship-ready poacher then right?
Well… not so fast. I don’t think we can be totally confident right now that the club will give us that much more to get excited about from Ehibhatiomhan this season. Developing youngsters is a tough task. Look no further for a reminder of that than Reading having their academy status downgraded a few weeks ago. Still, it’s disappointing that for a club with such a proud record of bringing through homegrown talent, Reading have struggled to successfully bring through a striker into the first team.
Danny Loader may be the first player to jump to mind when contesting that point. With Reading from age 12, Loader looked destined for the first team when he broke through but faltered under huge expectations, and scored only one league goal (admittedly a lovely one) in his time at Reading.
In every transfer window, Loader remained on the radar of Premier League clubs, so it was still somewhat of a shock that when he did leave, it was to join Porto’s B Team. It’s fantastic to see him now breaking through slowly into their first team, but it’s still hard to say he’s reached the full potential we expected from him.
Loader’s time at the club was likely soured by Reading’s off-field mismanagement during his crucial late teenage years, but it’s a shame that Reading didn’t get the best out of him.
More recently, Jahmari Clarke provided Royals fans with one of the most memorable moments of 2021/22, scoring a brace against Birmingham City on the road to turn the game on its head. Then, he played just 23 more minutes in the Championship all season. Inches of fan columns were written on the potential impact that Clarke could have had on our struggling 21/22 season. His eagerness was exciting. Pauno didn’t seem interested though, and it’s unclear if Ince knows he has two Clarkes in his eligible player list.
The fan expectations that Loader struggled under weren’t as intense for Clarke. Instead, he simply struggled to get back on the pitch. In fact, through all of Pauno and Ince’s reigns so far, youth players have been mostly starved for minutes. We’re not on the training ground, and perhaps no academy graduates have been deemed ready in recent times for good reason. However, in a period when Reading have suffered through numerous injury crises, it always feels like not making the best of the club’s resources when promising youngsters are left on the bench.
For Ehibhatiomham's development, and for Clarke’s as that’s not yet a finished story, I’d like to see the club take more chances and provide more minutes in the first team. With Shane Long 35, Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite injury prone, and difficult circumstances present when trying to acquire other forwards, what do we have to lose?
Last year in a PL2 season fragmented by injury, Kelvin kept a good goalscoring record both before and after his layoff. He picked up eight goals in 15 starts, nicely around the one-in-two mark that any good striker aspires to match. Moreover, when he scored, the team tended to do well. In the seven games in which he scored, Reading lost just once.
That’s an encouraging season from the youngster, especially considering it was a relatively poor year in terms of results for the academy teams. His goals-per-game rate was higher than teammate Jahmari Clarke’s, who couldn’t match Ehibhatiomham for starts or goals.
Especially now with Femi Azeez injured again, there should be an opportunity presented to Kelvin to show he can contribute this season before the transfer window closes. The first-team minutes which Azeez' contract renewal suggested he was due to get are now going spare. They could be Ehibhatiomham's.
So here’s the game plan Paul. Play Ehibhatiomham. He’s a real football player with two feet and a pair of eyes. Let’s see what he can do on the field, not the bench.
I’d like to see 10 appearances for Ehibhatiomham this season, for a total of at least 150 minutes. That seems like a modest ask, but it would give us a real chance to see if he can affect games from off the bench. It’s too soon to start the kid, but it’s not too soon to let him show us if he has something. That finish against Stevenage suggested we’ve got something there. Why don’t we actually follow through and see what we’ve got this year?