Academy manager delighted with extended opportunitiesLee Herron, who we were proud to announce as our new appointment as Academy Manager on Friday, spoke of the ‘phenomenal experience’ that the Checkatrade Trophy offered to some of our younger players.
16 of our 18-man squad in Tuesday evening’s win against Bristol Rovers came through our youth system at Hogwood Park. Competition rules also require the invited Category 1 Academy clubs to field six Under-21 players in the starting XI – the Royals named eight starters in that age category, and a further seven on the bench.
For many of those young players, it was their first competitive action against a League 1 first-team opponent, and Herron felt that opportunity was a huge positive for their development.
“There was a bit of spice to it – Rovers didn’t want to lose, that’s for sure,” said Herron in reflection on a successful evening. “We’ll go into the next game at Portsmouth and it’ll be another phenomenal experience for the lads.
“That’s what these nights are about – of course we want to win, and every time we want to play we want to win. But you’re also looking at putting the building blocks of development into these players by playing in front of crowds.
“It’s about taking pressure, relieving themselves from pressure, keeping possession, scoring goals. There are all these elements that are in the game that we have to help to teach, and the only way you can do that is by having these experiences. Tonight was one of those.”
Reading twice went ahead – Jack Stacey, now on loan with Exeter in League 2 – fired the Royals in front and Jake Sheppard added our second – we were pegged back by Matty Taylor and Jermaine Easter in turn. But then Joseph Mendes won a spot-kick and converted it himself to earn the three points.
“We’re delighted – it’s a little bit of an unknown coming into this, with lots of young players in the team,” Herron continued. “To come away 3-2 winners against a League 1 side – and we felt that we deserved to be winners – we’re over the moon.
“The boys had lots of composure – we want to play football from the back and play through the thirds, and control the game by controlling the ball. We felt we did that really well in the first half and probably should have been more than one goal up.
“But we were playing against seasoned professionals and we had a few 17-year-olds out there, and that’s probably the biggest game that they have played in. They knew that the second half would be a bit different and that Rovers wouldn’t want to lose in front of their home crowd, and that they would come at us – and they did.
“The other side of the game is the grit, the determination that you stay in the game and that if you get chances at the other end, that you convert them. Luckily tonight we did that.”
Striker Dominic Samuel, who picked up an injury in pre-season at Swindon, also played over an hour for the Royals as he continued his return to fitness. Since making his comeback, the former England Under-19 international has also featured for our Under-23s in a defeat to Tottenham and then a 3-2 win against Man City at Madejski Stadium.
“It was Dominic’s third game with limited minutes, so he is getting closer to where he wants to be,” Herron said. “As you can see, he is a threat.
“He is great with the ball and he’s a good mover too. He is making the progress that he needs to make physically, and no doubt soon he’ll be back to full fitness.”