Novakovich and Holsgrove net for Royals
Reading’s Under-23s fell to a 5-2 defeat against a vastly more experienced Arsenal side at Hogwood in Premier League 2.
The Gunners boasted Premier League regulars Alex Iwobi and Carl Jenkinson amongst their number, while the Royals had three Under-18s starting.
The youngsters of Reading had led through early goals by Andrija Novakovich and Jordan Holsgrove, but 31-year-old defender Mathieu Debuchy cut the deficit before the break, as the French international headed in a corner.
And then a hat-trick by Yaya Sanogo – who had scored three against the Royals’ senior squad for Charlton in our 4-3 win at The Valley last season – helped to turn the game on its head, along with a sole strike by Cohen Bramall.
The Royals got off to a blistering start against a side with heaps of top tier and international experience – parity lasted less than two minutes before Novakovich opened the scoring.
Arsenal hadn’t been in control of possession by the time the American forward struck; it was a low cross from wing-back Tyler Frost which was steered into the forward’s pass, and he fired fiercely beyond the reach of goalie Ryan Hubbart.
The visitors responded well and began to link up well around the Royals’ area. Reiss Nelson had a curling effort deflected past the post, and from the resulting corner, youngster Tom Holmes stood strong to block out a bicycle kick on the far side by Debuchy.
Rangy forward Yaya Sanogo came a whisker away from equalising with an overhead kick – Rob Dickie won the first header but the forward followed up from 12 yards, and was narrowly over. At the other end, Deniss Rakels couldn’t quite get onto a one-two with Novakovich and Hubbart rushed out to gather.
But the Royals did get that second goal through Holsgrove. Novakovich, who had overhit a cross from the left minutes before, got into a similar position again and forced a poor defensive header. Midfielder Holsgrove saw his shot deflect past the goalie – it spun across the line and back into play, but the assistant referee awarded the goal.
Some careless possession play from Arsenal allowed the Royals to snaffle possession on halfway – and it took a cynical challenge from Rob Holding to prevent Novakovich from bursting past a high line and through on goal. The first yellow of the game was shown as a consequence.
However the lead was cut to one before the break; Reiss Nelson hung a corner towards the back post, allowing Debuchy to make a well-timed leap and head in.
And not long after the restart, the game was all square again – Chris Wilock’s hanging cross was met by Sanogo’s header at full stretch, which nestled into Luke Southwood’s net after striking the woodwork.
Wilock had a couple of openings to complete the turnaround – one of which was fired squarely into the face of teammate Sanogo. And Alex Iwobi was wasteful when space opened up on the inside left.
Andy Rinomhota was bullish with the ball and a lung-busting forward run allowed him to feed Frost on the right, whose arrowed shot was kept at by Huddart. Southwood pulled off an equally impressive stop at the other end to deny Sanogo a second from point-blank range after the forward had bulldozed into the six-yard box.
However Sanogo grabbed his second to complete the turnaround when Cohen Bramall stormed down the left and cut back for the forward to convert.
Two more quick breaks sewed up the result for the Gunners – firstly Bramall grabbed one for himself after a smart back-heel by Ainsley Maitland-Niles down the left flank, before Sanogo was released through the middle on another counter and slotted past Southwood for his hat-trick.
Sub Josh Barrett had a chance to reduce the arrears after Rinomhota’s quick thinking won a free-kick, but a sprawling low save by Hubbart denied him a consolatory goal.
Goalkeeper Liam Driscoll was introduced for the final few minutes and pulled off a terrific low stop with his legs to deny Nelson a sixth for the Gunners, and at the other end Holsgrove sliced just over the bar from the edge of the box. But the visitors’ second-half turnaround gave them the three points in Premier League 2.
Full-time: Reading U23 2-5 Arsenal U23
Reading U23: Southwood (Driscoll), Holmes, Richards, Osho, Dickie (Andresson), East, Frost, Rinomhota, Holsgrove, Rakels (Barrett), Novakovich.
Unused subs: Medford-Smith, Smith.
Arsenal U23: Huddart, Jenkinson, Bramall, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Debuchy, Nelson, Reine-Adelaine (Sheaf), Sanogo (Nketiah), Iwobi, Wilock.
Unused subs: Keto, Johnson, Da Silva.