It’s that time of year again, when our aspiring young players from our Academy enter the premium youth competition – the FA Youth Cup.
As usual, we enter in the third round alongside other Category 1 Academy sides and clubs whose senior teams play in English football’s top two divisions.
And we couldn’t have been handed a much trickier draw, as fellow Under-18 Premier League side Aston Villa make their way to Madejski Stadium to vie to get their name in the hat for the next round.
Our match is one of just two all-top-tier ties – the other being Wolves’ home tie against Norwich City. So our lads won’t face any of the so-called minnows at this stage… but for Villa, it’s a daunting a challenge too.
Throughout the course of the regular season, some of the outstanding talents who are eligible for the U18 age group play up in the Under-23s, testing themselves against players a few years older than them.
But it’s common to field a squad of some of the strongest eligibility in the Youth Cup with the hope of getting a step closer to the final – so we can expect two high-quality sides in action on Friday night.
While our side have made some great progress in the Youth Cup in recent seasons, it is Villa who can point to the silverware.
They are three-time winners of the tournament – firstly in 1972 and 1980, and then most recently in 2002, beating a Wayne Rooney-led Everton in the final. They have twice since been beaten finalists – their 2004 squad in particular with noteworthy names including Gabby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner and Gary Cahill.
The Royals’ best effort in recent years came in 2014 when we reached the semi-final of the tournament. Leeds, Crewe and Accrington were all bested, before a dramatic quarter-final win over Liverpool. Fulham were our eventual downfall over two legs in the semis.
And it was Villa who ended our hopes two seasons ago – Michael Olise and Dejan Tetek played that night at Villa Park, but it was Villa who progressed to Round Five.
The visitors’ U18s also have the better form going into the game in the respect of their 2020-21 season to date. It has been a fortnight since their last outing, where they beat Crystal Palace 2-1, and that followed a 4-2 win away to Chelsea.
Their 3-0 defeat to Fulham in October is their only loss of the league campaign to date; they have won seven of their nine outings, and drew the other one, to place them top of the U18 Premier League (South) table.
The Royals’ results haven’t been quite as good – but our run of three consecutive defeats (all by a single goal) was ended last time out when we hosted Norwich City in emphatic fashion, when Nahum Melvin-Lambert grabbed a brace in a 5-2 win.
Follow it live
Please note that this fixture is behind closed doors, and fans are not permitted to attend.
We are aiming to bring you live coverage from Madejski Stadium – free to view on YouTube.
Press the ‘Set reminder’ button above – if you’re a subscriber to our YouTube channel, you will get a notification as soon as we go live.
We will also bring text updates via Twitter and host a match report after the final whistle.