Review of Academy 2012/13 campaignGet involved with the discussion on Twitter with our #academyweek! This week we are accordingly dedicating our online content to our aspiring youngsters, following Alex McCarthy's call up to the England team...
A fantastic season for our under-18s, five Academy graduates debuting in the Barclays Premier League, eight top flight goals from our youth products and a call-up to the England squad for one. It's certainly been a year to remember for Reading FC's Academy.
Eamonn Dolan's new batch of under-18s were looking to go somewhere near to emulating the success of last season's top three finish in Group B - under the inaugural 2012/13 Premier League system. In a month which saw Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce and Hal Robson-Kanu make their top flight debuts for the Royals, our next generation came from behind to draw 2-2 with West Ham, before thumping West Brom 4-1 away from home.
A fairly positive month for our Academy ensued. The youngsters kicked off September with an excellent 4-1 victory over Norwich at Hogwood Park before a solid 0-0 draw away at Everton. Our under-18s then suffered their first defeat of the season in a 3-2 thriller with Bolton before recovering with a 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers - the launch of what would be a fantastic 11-game winning run. During this month, Hal Robson-Kanu scored the first ever home grown goal for the Royals in the top flight - against Tottenham Hotspur at Madejski Stadium, while Alex McCarthy made his Premier League debut in the same game.
Midfielder Jack Stacey races forward against Arsenal at Hogwood Park
The Academy began to really find their feet at this point, and started the month in emphatic style, beating Arsenal 3-0 at Hogwood Park thanks to a hat-trick from top scorer Uche Ikpeazu. A convincing 2-0 away win at Norwich City followed, before Dolan's side smashed West Brom 4-0 at home. Nine goals scored, nine points gained and zero goals conceded - a perfect month for the Academy.
A faultless November followed for our ever-improving under-18s. Four wins were added to the run, and a place at the top of the Barclays U18 Premier League was cemented. Crucial away wins at West Ham and Bolton were backed up by two home wins - the first a gritty 1-0 victory over Everton and the second a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Blackburn - in which Ikpeazu and Craig Tanner both scored hat-tricks.
Captain Aaron Kuhl sets the side on their way to victory in the FA Youth Cup
Our Academy secured the accolade of group winners for Phase One - and qualification to the Elite League - as they came out on top in a 5-3 goal-fest at Arsenal stretch their winning streak to ten games and set them up nicely for their FA Youth Cup third round clash with Brentford. Under the lights at Griffin Park, Dolan and David Dodds' side won 5-1 against the Bees to progress into the next round and round off a fabulous 2012 for the Royals Academy. Meanwhile Dominic Samuel, last season's top scorer for the Academy, made his senior debut in the Barclays Premier League, coming on as a substitute for Brian McDermott's men away at Sunderland.
The Royals youngsters had exactly a month between their Brentford win and their first game of 2013, the opening Elite League fixture away at Everton, and were perhaps a little rusty as the Toffees won 3-2 in Merseyside. That wasn't the ideal preparation for their FA Youth Cup fourth round clash against Bolton Wanderers at Madejski Stadium. In front of 500 loyal Royals, our boys were unlucky against a clinical Wanderers side and bowed out of the tournament. Reading's youngsters managed to end the month on a brighter note as they earned a 1-1 draw away at Southampton.
Aaron Tshibola during FA Youth Cup fourth round tie at Madejski Stadium
Dolan's youngsters struggled to rediscover their pre-Christmas form as they fell to defeat away at Manchester United and then at Fulham. But better news was just around the corner - as the Academy got back to winning ways with a 3-0 victory over their FA Youth Cup conquerors Bolton, while Jake Cooper, Aaron Tshibola, Tariqe Fosu and Niall Keown (standby) all received call-ups to the England under-18s squad to play Belgium.
The Royals Academy backed that up by coming from behind to superbly beat Everton 4-3 - with Ikpeazu notching another hat-trick and taking his goals tally to 22 for the season. In their next fixture, watched by Royals owner Anton Zingarevich, the Royals won their third on the bounce as they defeated league leaders Fulham 3-1 at Hogwood Park.
Uche Ikpeazu battles through against the Man United defenders
What followed was a truly magnificent April. Dolan's side won all five of their league fixtures - 3-1 away at Crystal Palace, 3-0 at home to Chelsea, 2-0 at Bolton before narrow wins over Southampton and Manchester United at Hogwood Park. The win over United took their winning run to eight games and all but ensured their top three finish in the Elite League - which qualifies sides into the final stage semi finals.
Striker Craig Tanner waves in and out of Chelsea's back four
The Royals Academy began the final month of the season in confident fashion, beating Crystal Palace 2-1 at Hogwood Park before thrashing Chelsea 3-0 away at the Blues' training ground - on the same day that Academy graduates Robson-Kanu and Karacan both scored in the first-team's 4-2 win at Fulham. Their win at Chelsea ended the league campaign on a high, but it wasn't quite enough to take the glory of the Elite League title - as Fulham edged it on goal difference.
Finishing as runners-up meant that the Royals would face Everton for a place in the final and, despite treacherous rain at Hogwood Park, Dolan's youngsters saw off Duncan Ferguson's Toffees with an assured 4-0 victory. So, in style, our boys booked their place in the Barclays U18 Premier League final against Fulham at Craven Cottage. But it wasn't meant to be on the youngsters' big day as a hat-trick from the talented young French attacker Moussa Dembela secured the triumph for the hosts.
A terrific season - but the youngsters have to settle for a runners-up spot
But despite narrowly missing out on the Barclays U18 Premier League title, it was a fantastic season for our youngsters and a memorable year for everyone connected with the Royals Academy. Hashtag #academyweek to get involved with our Academy news and discussions!