U18 coach looks back at Youth Cup triumph at FulhamReading Under-18 head coach David Dodds was full of praise for the manner in which the Academy youngsters booked their place in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup – demonstrating ability on the ball, and mixing it with mental fortitude to come from behind against Fulham.
It might have been a different story – Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson struck early for the hosts, but Luke Southwood saved a Dennis Adeniran penalty before the ten-minute mark to keep Fulham’s lead down to one.
That set the platform for a fight-back, which came late in the second half as Reading wrapped up a win on another eventful evening.
“Crucial things happened at crucial times,” said Dodds. “Fulham started the game off really strongly and caught us a bit unawares with some of their tactical stuff, which was good from their point of view. They went 1-0 up, and the crucial thing was Luke saving the penalty, which was fantastic and kept us in the game.
“That gave us a bit of strength, and then we got our wits together and we got a foothold in the game before half-time. We tweaked a couple of things at half-time in our shape – just winning the first ball because we were a bit deep in the first half and we became a little bit more advanced and started turning them around.
“And then we played – we trusted each other. In the first 20 minutes, we were maybe a bit nervous and didn’t pass the ball like we can. In the second half we did – we cut them open at times. It was a really pleasing performance with lots and lots of character and spirit, but also skill.
“This group have really pleasantly surprised us this year. They’ve got a lot of character and they’ve also got a lot of skill. A lot of them have got a chance of playing football for a living, which is a nice thing.
“The Youth Cup is great, but at the end of the day you think back over the years and which players are now making a living out of the game. That’s what we’re looking at, and I thought they showed everything required to try and do that.”
Photo: Rob Sambles
The Royals finally got back on terms with 15 minutes to go – it was a bold run from Daniel Akinwunmi, latching on to a flick-on down the right, that allowed the full-back to pick out Tyler Frost in the middle to hammer in the equaliser.
Reading could have gone ahead from the spot – Fulham goalie Taye Ashby-Hammond saw red for a foul on Sam Smith, but Josh Barrett miscued his penalty. However Ryan East soon stabbed in for the Royals, and when the hosts went all-out to try and force extra-time, Smith took full advantage and tucked in the third.
Dodds continued: “People might not realise that Daniel Akinwunmi was actually at Fulham and didn’t quite make his scholarship – he came to us and has done very well. The same goes for Omar Richards, who didn’t get a place at Fulham and he has come down to our place and done really well.
“When those balls flash across the area, and people don’t quite get on the end, you start to think, ‘is it one of those nights?’ But credit to the boys – they kept doing the right things and creating more chances, and eventually we got the reward.
“We played Fulham a couple of years ago in the Youth Cup semi-final at our place and they had a bloke sent off – and at their place, we had a chap sent off. Both harsh decisions – it’s always difficult when you go down to ten, because you’re not sure whether to go for it completely.
“Fulham left themselves over, and we created more chances – that’s another good sign. We were quite ruthless and we made the most of a lack of a player for them.”
Now the boys face a wait to see where their next stop will be on their FA Cup adventure. Met Police host Wolves on Friday, with the winning team due to welcome Reading in round five.
“I said to the boys after the game, ‘sometimes when you look at that, you’re a minute from being knocked out by Sheffield United, and we could have been out of it after 20 minutes against Fulham – and you’ve found a way to play and shown resilience to win a game of football,’” said Dodds. “Sometimes it’s written in the stars; it’s fate. Hopefully that’s the case for us.
“You try really hard not to look too far ahead, because I think that’s dangerous. Now we’ll go and watch to see how they set up, and we’ll take it from there. We’ll get another game-plan ready and go from there.
“As we’ve said on several occasions, it’s like playing your first-team debut. There is a lot of hype about it and family, first-team staff and directors are here. There is a pressure, and I think if they’re watching that they will think that the lads from the Academy did well and that there’s a good future for the club.”