The Royals’ Under-18s took a commendable point from their visit to the Academy Stadium in Manchester, where they registered a 1-1 draw with their Man City counterparts in the U18 Premier League Cup.
A draw didn’t really suit either team in their hopes of qualifying for the next round – only the six group winners and the two best-placed runners-up will reach the next stage, and both sides had lost their opening games.
But the experience of a long journey to face a side from the Northern division of the U18 Premier League – and one of the highest quality academies in the country – was a fruitful one for the young Royals, especially in earning a respectable draw.
Indeed, the Royals had led through Jack Buchanan in the second period – he gobbled up a chance after a corner wasn’t dealt with effectively. But City earned a point when they were given a fortuitous penalty, which Felix Nmecha converted.
Under-18 manager David Dodds said: “We had a long journey up there – it took us about six hours to get there on the bus! We stayed at a hotel, which was good, and the schoolboys joined in with the analysis which was interesting for them. It allowed us to look at what they were doing in units. The scholars take a look at the opposition and make notes, and we add that into the game-plan.
“The plan initially had been to use the swimming pool at the hotel and get the journey out of our legs, but we were so late that we had to go straight in for our meal, which was a bit unfortunate.
“It was only about 15 minutes to the ground in the morning – we’ve been there a few times but the driver sometimes still gets lost in their training complex looking for the right pitch… it’s a lovely, world-class place!
“Jordan Holsgrove made a bit of a difference for us, coming back into our group – he played an hour for us, because he’s got quite a heavy schedule coming up with Scotland.
“We had equal possession, or possibly a bit more than them, which is pleasing. We created a few half-chances and made their goalkeeper make saves; they didn’t have an awful lot more, just some crosses across the area which no-one was on the end of. So it was a pretty even first half.
“Shamar Moore had a bit of a tight groin which was hindering him a little bit, so he had to come off after half-time as he couldn’t run properly – that was a shame. But we rejigged it after about an hour with the shape and a couple of subs.
“And then Jack Buchanan scored for us – it was a really well-taken goal. It was a corner to start with; the ball broke, was played back in and when it fell to Jack he shot from a tight angle and hit it well.
“We had a couple of chances to make it two, and in response they had a couple of dangerous crosses and were just offside a few times. But our defence was really disciplined and held a good line.
“So their goal was unfortunate for us – it was sliced half-volley from a long distance that was going well wide, and it hit one of our defenders on his upper arm, and the ref gave a penalty.
“Even after that we still had chances to win it; Jack Nolan had a chance when their goalkeeper messed up a bit, but recovered to make a save. And we countered a few times and created some great chances to retake the lead, but couldn’t quite take them.
“It was a good game, but I thought we did well. If you’re looking at clear cut chances created, we were just as healthy as they were.
“Man City is a very strong academy with lots of quality players. And we put in a pleasing performance, which made it a shorter journey back!”
Full-time: Manchester City U18 1-1 Reading U18
Manchester City U18: Scott, Frimpong, Garcia, Rosler, Corrigan, Pozo, Ogunby, Doyle (Dele-Bashiru 79), Simmonds (Touaizi 60), Nmecha, Poveda.
Unused subs: Robinson, Thomas, Devine.
Reading U18: Desbois, Balogun, Odimayo, Burley, Dorsett, Buchanan, Nevers (Wilson 75), Coleman, Moore (Lawless 60), Holsgrove (Pendlebury 60), Nolan.
Unused subs: Roberts, Nditi.