Hosts emerge triumphant at StaplewoodReading’s Under-23s fell to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Southampton on Monday evening at Staplewood.
Saints went into the break ahead through defender Alfie Jones and could have been further ahead but for some impressive stops between the sticks by goalkeeper Stuart Moore. Josh Sims doubled their lead before Andrija Novakovich gave Reading a lifeline, but Sims’ second in the final minutes sealed the victory for the home side.
Martin Kuhl named another particularly young side, with a number of the senior players from the U23 age-group out on loan at other EFL clubs – that meant another full 90 for 17-year-old defender Tom McIntyre, and 45 minutes for his Academy teammate Tyler Frost in midfield.
Southampton did fashion a number of presentable opportunities in the first period – but ironically it was the scrappiest of openers by Saints defender Jones with just 10 minutes on the clock. Thomas O’Connor’s inswinging corner was initially turned goalwards by Sam McQueen, and after being blocked out by the massed Royals bodies, Jones was on hand to stab in from close range.
From there, the Royals owed their single-goal deficit to goalkeeper Stuart Moore, who made a string of impressive saves to keep the scoreline down. The first of those came just moments after the opener, as Olufela Ololmola’s fierce effort was matched by a stunning low stop by the Isle of Wight-born stopper.
And after narrowing the angle for Lloyd Isgrove and putting his face in the way of a fierce strike, the pick of the saves came as he was at full stretch to push a venomous strike by England youth international Harrison Reed onto the angle of bar and post.
In the first half, Reading hadn’t been able to cause any significant problems to their former stopper Alex McCarthy, who was tending the net for the Saints side. But after the interval the Royals began to find another gear – and came close on a couple of occasions to levelling.
After Andy Rinomhota had drawn a free-kick on the edge of the Saints area, captain Liam Kelly dinked a dangerous ball into the box – half-time sub Harry Cardwell made the first header and Rinomhota was denied a third goal of the campaign as he arrived to meet at the back stick, as the ball was scrambled off the line.
Josh Barrett also put a testing inswinging ball in from the left which Cardwell tried to divert goalwards, only to miss at the near post.
Instead it was the hosts that doubled their advantage – it was a slick bit of forward play by Jake Hesketh to take the ball on the turn and find Sims, who took one touch to control and a second to fire inside the far post.
Moore was again called into action to deny Olomola from point-blank range as he received a low cross from the left in a steered towards goal, before Sims showed quick feet to find an angle and drawing a smart stope.
The Royals almost got back within a goal in calamitous circumstances as McCarthy dwelt on the ball just a moment too long to all Novakovich to get a block on his clearance – fortunately for the goalkeeper it squirmed off target.
Late pressure from Reading was coming thick and fast – a whipped cross by Jake Sheppard caused chaos after good link-up on the right with sub Tyler Frost, and then a close-range overhead kick by Rinomhota was diverted away by the head of Thomas O’Connor.
Finally the Royals got their goal through Novakovich – Saints had seen a promising attack snuffed at out at one end, and Reading quickly broke at the other to allow the American striker to skip around a challenge and fire in from the edge of the area, with a slight deflection helping the shot on its way.
But after pushing for that leveller, it was Saints that sealed the game in the final minute of the 90 as Sims forced home his second goal at the second attempt as O’Connor’s right-flank corner was attacked at the far post.
There was still time for Reading to have one last attack – Novakovich again showed nimble footwork to find an angle to test McCarthy at full stretch, and then seconds later Kelly called him into action to tip away from distance as the Saints held on to their two-goal margin.
Full-time: Southampton U23 3-1 Reading U23
Southampton U23: McCarthy, Stephens, Bakary (Wood 75), Jones, Isgrove (Johnson 68), Reed, McQueen, Sims, Hesketh, O’Connor, Olomola.
Unused subs: Parkes, Slattery, Willard.
Goals: Jones (10), Sims (64, 89).
Reading U23: Moore, Sheppard, Griffin, McIntyre, Jules, Kelly, Bennett (Frost HT), Rinomhota, Barrett, Novakovich, Samuel (Cardwell HT).
Unused subs: Southwood, Andresson, Vancooten.
Goal: Novakovich (84).