The Royals’ Under-18s fell to a 6-2 home defeat Arsenal on Saturday at Hogwood in the Under-18 Premier League.
It was an especially young Reading squad, which included two players from the U15s in its starting line-up, and Arsenal raced to a three-goal lead with a little over quarter of an hour played as Zak Swanson, Folarin Balogun and Josh Benson each struck.
Thierry Nevers grabbed a stylish goal back for the Royals soon after as the home side tried to get back into the game and Michael Olise was the post’s width away from getting another back soon after, but Swanson and Balogun both netted again after the break and Robbie Burton further extended the Gunners’ lead.
Tommy Stevens grabbed Reading’s second, a consolatory goal, with a minute of normal time remaining.
Academy coach Ryan Williams said: “We went into the fixture with a young group of players, which included two Under-15s making their first appearances at this level and two Under-16s who have regularly been in the Under-18 group lately.
“It is great for players in our system that if you’re doing well and openings arise then you will get an opportunity to be challenged at the next level.
“It was a difficult start to game for us as we conceded three early goals, and the manner of the goals was disappointing.
“But it was an opportunity for us as coaches to see who then steps up, and who has the character and bravery to get the team going in the manner we expect here at Reading.
“We recovered from this and scored an excellent individual goal from Thierry Nevers, which was followed soon after with Michael Olise hitting the post from a good team counter attack and good piece of skill from Michael.
“At half time we set some targets to be more compact as a team and defend the penalty box with an emphasis of managing the ball well on transition.
“We managed this to some degree for the first period of the second half, but unfortunately we conceded three more goals and some hard lessons will be learned.
“A good breakaway at the end of the game gave us a consolation goal, and some neat footwork by Tommy Stevens wrong-footed the defender and he finished well.
“Ultimately it was a great learning experience for our young team against a good Arsenal team. We asked the players to go away and reflect individually about their performance, learn from it to and become stronger from the experience.”
Full-time: Reading U18 2-6 Arsenal U18
Reading U18: J.Andresson, Pemberton, Omolabi (Mohamed 65), Brooking, Wilson, Buchanan (Stevens 84), Simmo, Olise, Faniyan, Wallace, Nevers (Hansen 43).
Unused subs: Roberts, Saydee.
Arsenal U18: Virginia, Clarke, Ballard (Spencer-Adams 78), Medley, Omole, Smith, Benson, McEneff (Burton 66), Olayinka (Beckford 75), Swanson, Balogun.
Unused subs: Thompson, Barden.