U18 manager on progression through the age groupsYoung aspiring footballers aren’t allowed to get too comfy at Reading. Whenever the time is right and opportunities allow, they are encouraged to take test themselves at a higher level.
This season has been a case in point – across all the age groups.
Notably, this season has seen another two Academy products – Liam Kelly and Tennai Watson – making their first-team debuts, while several others from that Under-23 age bracket are also challenging themselves around the EFL with their loan clubs.
Those movements have left some spots up for grabs for Martin Kuhl’s U23s in the Premier League 2… Tyler Frost and Tom McIntyre, both aged 17, have been regularly impressing in those squads and have featured in the Checkatrade Trophy against senior sides from Bristol Rovers and Portsmouth. Fellow 17-year-old Ramarni Medford-Smith also debuted for the U23s last Friday against Leicester, while defensive partner Akinwale Odimayo, 16, came off the bench in the same fixture before starting for the U18s the next day!
The knock-on effect is that a number of youngsters from lower age-groups have also had chances to step up to the Under-18 level – likewise, 16-year-old Danny Loader’s involvement with the England setup has made him unavailable for a number of our Under-18 Premier League South matches so far this year, leaving opportunities for other forwards.
And yet the results keep on coming for David Dodds’ Under-18s. A squad which was also missing striker Ben House for family commitments (as well as Loader and McIntyre to international duty and Frost and Medford-Smith for their U23 commitments), still managed to secure a dramatic 3-2 win against Swansea last Saturday… taking them level on points with Arsenal and Chelsea, and just two points behind leaders West Ham.
“It’s nice to be up there alongside Arsenal and Chelsea – but it is more important to have that development… especially with players stepping into the Under-23s, as that’s the next step before the first team,” explained Under-18 manager David Dodds.
“It is nice to see really young players up there and performing well. The performance levels of the players who were involved at Leicester last Friday were really high and they were unlucky not to win the game.”
Two 15-year-olds made their full debuts for the U18s on Saturday, and he affirmed that their opportunities were a just reward for their hard work so far. They were also joined in the squad by first-year scholars Ethan Coleman, Akinwale Odimayo and Harry Philby, all aged 16... and that inexperienced side had the fighting character to overturn a deficit in the last 10 minutes to take the 3 points!
“We had Shamar Moore making his debut as a centre-forward for our Under-18s, and Jack Nolan also making his first start at that level – and they did well," Dodds continued.
“There were five or six players away, and the boys that came in really did a good job – which is nice to see. Our Under-23s are also a really inexperienced team now and that there are a lot of young players in there that are doing well, so it’s all positive at the minute.
“It’s good to see young lads coming in to join us from the Under-16s – it was a real baptism of fire for Shamar, who was playing against two of Swansea’s senior centre-halves. He’ll have learnt that this level is a bit more physical… he really worked his socks off and kept them occupied. He has probably learned that the step up from Under-16 to Under-18 is quite steep so that will be great learning experience for him.
“And Jack made some really good runs with the ball and contributed with a great cross for the first goal. So all in all it was a successful day.
“Sometimes the first-year scholars or the Under-16s have to wait until the end of the season or even next season to make their breakthrough. So it’s great that they have been able to dip their toe in the water and see what this level is like.
“Hopefully they will take some confidence from that, or go back and think, ‘I’ve got to work a bit harder’. Either way, it works for our development.”