Reading’s Under-18 side began the new season with a 2-0 defeat at Hogwood at the hands of Swansea City.
It was an especially fresh-faced side that represented Reading – four promising players who are eligible for this age group have already been pushed on to the Under-23 group permanently, while defensive trio Jamal Balogun, Harry Philby and Akinwale Odimayo all missed out with injury.
The Royals controlled a lot of the play in the centre of the pitch – but fashioning chances wasn’t easy against a solid Swansea rearguard. And it was the visitors who struck first; Marc Walsh arrived at the back post for a tap-in as the cross came through a crowd.
Jazz Wallace had a chance to level after the break, but saw his spot-kick saved comfortably by Welsh stopper Alex Lang. And, with Reading pushing for an equaliser, substitute Matthew Roberts showed a cool head to finish one-on-one as the game ticked into stoppage-time to kill the game off.
Under-18 manager David Dodds said: “As we’ve said in the build-up to the new season, we’re playing a lot younger this year and pushing players up a level to take them out of their comfort zone. So what would have been the backbone of our Under-18 team are playing up with the Under-23 squad – Gabriel Rosario, Tom Holmes, Jordan Holsgrove and Danny Loader.
“We’ve also had a few injuries as well and players coming back to fitness – so we begin the season with about seven players missing from what would be our strongest squad. It was predominately an inexperienced team for us – only Joe Wilson, Jack Nolan and Ethan Coleman had really played any length of time for us last season.
“But we started the game quickly and controlled the game. There were a couple of poor passes from the back which gave them a bit of oxygen. We started well, but the only real concern was that we didn’t create much in the way of crosses, shots or other chances. Although we controlled possession, we didn’t get chances.
“They pressed us high up the pitch and that led to a couple of chances. Adam Desbois made a couple of saves to deny their centre-forward. But then they scored a couple of minutes before half-time – there was a bit of slack marking as the cross came over from the left and the ball came all the way through to their winger, who could walk it in on the far side. It was just a bit of naivety from us.
“We had a few words between us at half-time – just about the manner and principles in which we weren’t observant. And in the second half we tried to get the ball down and play through the thirds. We were awarded a penalty for a bit of dangerous play by one of their defenders, but their goalkeeper kept it out.
“Roberto Nditi had a good chance when he got in behind their defence from a set-piece but the ball got caught up and that made it easier for their goalkeeper… we did have a couple of good chances to get back into it when we were 1-0 down. Goals can chance mindsets and confidence levels. But they stuck to their guns.
“Swansea had a tough, hard-tackling back four which made it hard to get by them one-on-one or make any combinations. And they scored a good goal right at the end – the ball was slipped between the two centre-halves and their striker was very composed to lift it over our goalkeeper for 2-0. We were pushing for the equaliser at that stage.
“All in all, we had a young team out and they’ll learn. I wouldn’t expect to see the best from them until after Christmas, once they have got into the routine. They’ll have to learn quickly, but it’ll be onwards and upwards for them.
“There were some big positives for us – Adam Desbois made his first appearance for us after a long time off with injury and he has the potential to become a really good goalkeeper. Andre Burley and Roberto Nditi did really well, and we were also able to use Jeriel Dorsett and Thierry Nevers from our Under-16s, who both did very well.”
Full-time: Reading U18 0-2 Swansea City U18
Reading U18: Desbois, Wilson (Dorsett HT), Burley, Nditi, Elva-Fountaine, Buchanan, Coleman (Nevers 60), Wallace, Nolan, Sparta (Lawless 80), Moore.
Unused subs: Rosario, Lawrence.
Swansea City U18: Lang, Lewis, Blake, Cabango, B.Cooper, Price, De Boer, Jones-Thomas (Roberts 78), Walsh (Hazell 78), O.Cooper (Williams 90), Gudjohnsen.
Unused subs: Williams, Reed.