Reading have been after a new centre-forward for a while now, and they’ve finally got one in Dom Ballard. The 18-year-old has joined on a season-long loan from Southampton, reuniting in Berkshire with former Saints staff Ruben Selles, Andrew Sparkes (assistant manager) and Tobias Loveland (first-team technical coaching assistant).
Ballard essentially replaces Andy Carroll, whose contract was terminated via a clause on Thursday. A matter of hours later, it was reported that Ballard was set to sign for Reading, and the deal was eventually announced on Deadline Day evening.
Head of football operations Mark Bowen said:
“Dom is a gifted young striker with a proven eye for goal – he has been prolific at both under-18 and under-21 level and has already taken his first steps in first-team football at Southampton.
“Now, he has a platform to earn valuable experience, develop his own game in a highly competitive environment and simply score more goals at senior team level as a Royal. I’m delighted we have been able to bring him into the young, hungry squad we are building at Reading.”
There’s unlikely to be a longer-term future at Reading for Ballard, who’s very highly rated at Southampton, where he’s been since the age of 8. From their perspective, this loan deal will be for getting him ready to play for their first team. This move also comes on the back of Ballard signing a two-year extension to his contract a couple of months ago, committing him to Southampton until 2026.
However, Reading are getting a big boost to their forward options with Ballard, who’ll provide good competition and cover for Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Caylan Vickers and fellow summer signing Sam Smith. The Royals needed that extra body to lighten the load on the other three, with a physically demanding pressing style and a heavy fixture schedule being quite the taxing combination.
Ballard also fits into Reading’s style really well. That’s not a surprise really, given his experience at Southampton, who have used a 4-2-2-2 pressing system under both Selles and Ralph Hassenhüttl in recent years. Jacob Tanswell of The Athletic wrote the following about Ballard last year:
“Quick, aggressive in his pressing and with a dribbling style that is adept at working in small spaces, Ballard has been schooled on a ball-orientated model. He is a highly effective presser and capable of performing the catalogue of choreographed patterns learned from the playbook.”
This’ll be a first taste of extended senior involvement for Ballard, who’s almost entirely been restricted to academy football thus far. He has however appeared four times for the Saints’ first team, scoring in his only League Cup appearance (a 3-0 win over Cambridge United just over a year ago), as well as playing once in the FA Cup and twice in the Premier League.
His form in front of goal at academy level has however been electric. In 2021/22, Ballard hit 15 goals and 4 assists in 19 for Southampton in the under-18 Premier League, as well as scoring 5 in 8 at Premier League 2 level - one age group up. He built on that in 2022/23 with 13 goals and 4 assists in 16 PL2 games, as well as netting 7 times in 5 FA Youth Cup games.
In short: he’s really good at scoring goals!
Let’s hope he continues that in Berkshire. Welcome to Reading, Dom!