U23 manager reflects on a well-earned in at the Memorial StadiumMartin Kuhl, who was in the dugout for our 3-2 win at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday evening, was pleased that a young Royals side were able to mix it up in gallant fashion against their League 1 hosts.
The team comprised mostly of players from his Under-23 squad – that included a teenage centre-half pairing of Gabriel Osho, 18, and Tom McIntyre, 17. Injuries, illness and international duty prevented a number of players from being available but the team refused to be bullied on their trip to Bristol – and ultimately triumphed thanks to goals by Jack Stacey, Jake Sheppard and Joseph Mendes.
“In the first half we controlled the tempo and we were very good, and we could have been a few up – similar to when we played Man City with the Under-23s,” Kuhl said after the victory.
“We knew in the second half that we would come into a battle, but what I was pleased with was that they stood up and competed. We still had spells of play, but they are learning the other side of the game.
“We lost a few players through injuries and sickness, and before that we had already lost Liam Kelly and Jake Cooper. But in came lads like Tom McIntyre who has been out for a year with a back injury – he came in and played very well in front of the gaffer.
“We trust the Academy and what we do – I took Tom when he was 14 and he played in the Under-16s, and he was like a man then. He had a back injury for the last year but he has come back – he has great character and he is a great lad and hopefully he’ll go a long way. Gabriel did well alongside him, and Shane Griffin had just come back and had had a day’s training.”
The Pirates had twice levelled the scores after Reading had taken leads – sub Matty Taylor struck their first leveller to cancel out Stacey’s strike, and Jermaine Easter grabbed the second after Sheppard had netted for Reading. But they still dug deep to earn a third when Mendes was felled in the box and converted the resultant penalty with five minutes remaining.
“In the first half we were in good control and we were deserved leaders,” Kuhl continued. “As we said to them – like when we played Man City – the mentality will change and we need to trust the way we play from the gaffer down. We needed to be brave and strong and when teams press you, you have to play a certain way.
“They found a way of winning the game. Twice we were pegged back, and they still found a way to win the game. For them, it is a massive experience.
“Rovers are a League 1 side that brought on three subs to make a difference. But we believe in what we do and we came here and gave a good account of ourselves. That’s a major thing for the club and the badge.”
Playing in front of the club’s management – including the gaffer Jaap Stam, who watched on from the stands in Bristol – the Royals’ Academy products continued to impress and to stake their claim to climb up the pecking order.
“We played well against Arsenal and deservedly won; against Everton we did well but were a bit unlucky with some self-inflicted mistakes,” Kuhl said in reflection on the early weeks of the new season. “We got what we deserved in a defeat to Tottenham when we didn’t perform, but since then we have been good again – first against Man City and then here against Rovers.
“For us that’s good – all we can do is play the way we do, put it forward to the gaffer and then hopefully we’ll give him a decision to make. They have to keep knocking on the door and doing more than the first team. If they do that, we’ve got a healthy club.”