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Five Academy Players Who Could Shine For Reading This Season

Young Royals have been getting a great opportunity in the first team this season under new boss Ruben Selles.

Reading v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images

This forthcoming season for Reading is of course an interesting one for many different reasons, with off-the-field issues taking centre stage, making it more than difficult for the club to bring in senior players.

However, despite the supposed need to bring in senior players, the academy boys have shone brightest in recent weeks, with Reading’s three wins this season coming via a much younger squad that is almost full to the brim with academy players. So, in this piece I will be trying to look beyond the obvious and understand who could shine for the Royals this season.

Before going onto the five players I believe could shine for Reading this season, it is important to note that some players, such as Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, have been involved with the first team for a while now, and started alongside senior players against Port Vale and Peterborough United. So, for that reason, he has not been included in this list.

Jahmari Clarke

The 19-year-old forward has almost been a forgotten man after suffering an injury in his very short loan spell at Forest Green Rovers in the 2022/23 season. However, everyone remembers Jahmari’s breakthrough during the 2021/22 season under Velijko Paunovic. He made his debut back in 2021 in the 3-0 Carabao Cup first-round defeat to Swansea City, and made his league debut the following week against Bristol City.

Following that, Jahmari’s real breakthrough came against Birmingham City on November 6 2021 – coming off the bench at half-time with Reading 1-0 down, going on to score two goals and turn the game on its head. His first goal was a finish of a true striker: a ball in from John Swift right onto the head of Clarke who powered it past the ‘keeper to get Reading on level terms.

Birmingham City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

His second was scrappier, following Swift’s shot being saved and falling to Clarke, whose first effort was saved but then his second flew into the bottom corner – certainly staking a claim for a place in Reading’s first XI. Following this, Jahmari didn’t get as much game time as he possibly would have liked.

However, this season, with raw talent on Jahmari’s side, it is a chance for him to shine, if given the opportunity. With the raw talent Jahmari has and the goalscoring prowess that he has shown in very small spells of time, this certainly gives a chance for Jahmari to showcase his talent this season further.

Coniah Boyce-Clarke

The 20-year-old goalkeeper has seemed to be promoted to the number-two spot so far this season, despite the rumoured signing of Joel Pereira. Previously playing for the England set-up, the talent has always been there for Boyce-Clarke, and he’s come through the Reading academy from a very young age. Now, with Boyce-Clarke having signed a new two-year deal at the club this summer, he may have got the chance to impress further and potentially stake a claim for the number-one spot in the coming years.

We saw Boyce-Clarke make his debut on the final day of the 2022/23 Championship season, in which Reading lost 2-0 to Huddersfield Town. Boyce-Clarke has then gone on to to make two appearances this campaign, in the 4-0 dismantling of Millwall and 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town.

This season could be a breakthrough for the young shot-stopper though. If David Button’s performance levels drop or he suffers an injury, it could lead to Boyce-Clarke taking his spot. As we have seen with the other youngsters, if Boyce-Clarke performs well, this will make it very hard to drop him and more than likely Ruben Selles will give him further games to impress.

Furthermore, from what has been seen by Boyce-Clarke, there are signs of a very modern goalkeeper despite the mistakes. He also seems to be very athletic, giving him a good chance of keeping the number-one spot if he is given the opportunity.

Jay Senga

The young midfielder played a prominent role in Reading’s pre-season but has seen himself fall a bit down the pecking order due to the signings of Lewis Wing, Charlie Savage and Ben Elliott. However, Senga has been a man of high praise in recent months, especially from Mark Bowen at the STAR Blue Collar event.

He made his debut for Reading in that 2-0 defeat to Huddersfield on the final day of the 2022/23 Championship season. Senga began the season mainly for the under-21s, started against Ipswich Town, and then went out on loan to Ayr United until January, which is unsurprising given the number of signings that have come into the club.

Being just 18 years of age, he still has a lot to learn. If an injury crisis sparks or there is another drop in performance from someone after he returns from his loan spell, Senga may get the opportunity he has been waiting for.

The youngster has a very tall stature and looks to have the technical ability to go alongside that, which could make him a very good central midfielder in the coming years.

Nelson Abbey

Reading’s skipper for the last three league games may have finally got the break he has been looking for, after making his debut for the club all the way back in September 2020. Being from the town, he certainly knows the meaning of playing for the club.

Abbey has finally been given the opportunity to impress and, so far, he is more than taking the opportunity. He has all the attributes to become a top-level centre-half, which include pace, power, strength and a good eye for a pass.

Reading v Swansea City - Pre-season friendly Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Like Boyce-Clarke, Abbey has been involved in England youth set-ups, playing for their under-17s. He also started playing for Reading’s under-23s at just 16 years of age, which shows the expectations the club have had for him. With a lot of room to grow, if Abbey keeps up these levels of performance, there’s no reason as to why he can’t cement that spot and be one of the first names on the team sheet for the coming years.

Caylan Vickers

Like Abbey, Vickers has been involved a lot this season, making appearances in all seven league and cup competitions – making three starts in his last four games and certainly impressing.

Someone who has arguably come out of the blue in recent weeks, Vickers has been presented an opportunity and has certainly grasped it with two hands. The young attacker has proved to be a handful for every team he’s faced so far; while not being the biggest or strongest, with his pace and how direct he is, he scares any defence.

Whenever he has picked up the ball he has been positive, and his cute and clever flicks have created opportunities, forcing the red card against Stevenage after his flick found the onrushing Harvey Knibbs. He also forced the own goal against Cheltenham Town with more direct running and his attempted through ball was deflected into the defender’s own net.

Remember, Vickers is only 18 years of age, and there is some feeling around that he could be the next ‘big thing’ to come out of the Reading academy. Certainly, with how direct Vickers is, he is always bound to put some fear and panic into defenders, and if he can continue to be positive and direct with the ball and start to add some goal contributions, Reading may have a very special player on their hands, who could certainly shine this season, given the amount of game time he has already gotten.

These players were just a select handful and there are many others who could also play a significant part for the Royals this season, such as: Michael Craig, Kelvin Abrefa and Matty Carson. This does feel like a new dawn for Reading; especially with the academy and the players coming into the first team, it feels for the first time in a long while that the academy and the first team are on the same page. These young players have a real chance to stake a claim in the first team and that is something they are doing so far this season.

How these academy players are performing so far is certainly a credit to the club and themselves. Most importantly, what they are doing would certainly make Eamonn Dolan very proud.