Defender delighted with winning runNiall Keown believes that the catalyst for the U21s’ promotion to Premier League Division One was a heavy defeat to West Bromwich Albion in January.
Since suffering the 5-0 reverse, the Royals have remained unbeaten in league action, winning their last seven matches in a row and nine of the last 10.
They have also not conceded a goal in 578 minutes of football and the young centre-back says that the adjustment in style following the defeat to the Baggies has proved crucial.
“It was probably a reality check that day and, looking back, it’s brilliant that we’ve been able to use that disappointment and frustration to put things right in the second half of the season,” Keown said. “Since then, we have focused ourselves on making sure that we are well organised and we’re all really pleased to be going up.
“The change we made has been very beneficial to the defenders in particular because we have managed to learn a lot more about the game and transform it into results. We’ve found ways to stop teams breaking us down and getting through us, whilst also maintaining our quality going forward.
“We’ve become much more of a unit and a team defensively, which is showing in our results, and especially considering it’s so long since we conceded a goal.
“We have worked a lot in training on defensive shape and organisation as a team and that helped everyone to recognise the roles and positions that they need to take up out of possession.
“A lot of credit has got to go to Martin Kuhl, Lee Herron and Eamonn Dolan, who have all put a lot of work in and shown belief in us. They’ve given us the confidence and things that we can improve on and, without them, it would have been difficult to have put this run in place.”
Keown was one of 11 academy graduates to make his first-team debut this season, his coming in the home victory over Brighton & Hove Albion, and he says that he has learned a lot from his experiences.
He said: “It’s been a great learning curve for everyone that has stepped in. You recognise the level that is needed when you step into it. Everyone wants to play at as high a level as they can and having had that taste around March time I have managed to put that into practice.
“So have a lot for the lads and, when we have been back in the U21s, we have managed to use those experiences to win games. Against Aston Villa last Friday, they maybe played better than us but, in terms of finding a way to win and how to be affective as a team, we won the game and you definitely learn those things throughout those experiences in the first team.
“Eleven of us have made it through this season and Martin Kuhl has certainly given everyone the confidence to believe that they have the ability and should be in that first team.
“Eamonn has been guiding everyone through since a lot of the lads were very young. A lot of us that have made their debuts have been under Eamonn’s watch since they were eight, nine or 10 years old.
“The progression throughout the club has had everyone in the right direction and kept everyone hungry to succeed.”
The U21s' final match of the season against West Bromwich Albion is being played at Madejski Stadium on May 15th, kick-off 7pm, and fans can attend for FREE.