Can you believe that it has only been a year since Liam Kelly made his Royals debut? Such is the trajectory of the rise of our playmaker, it feels like he has been a key component in our team for much longer!
But then again, the 21-year-old has been a Royal for a lot longer than that… joining the Academy at the age of eight, he has worked his way through the ranks to cement his spot in Jaap Stam’s senior squad.
What a year it has been since making his Royals bow. Even before we consider two new contracts for our home-grown midfielder, who had been on loan with Bath City in the National League South a year before, his achievements on the pitch in our colourshave been hugely noteworthy. Here are 10 of the key moments in the last 12 months for Liam…
Debut against the Dons (23rd August 2016)
After 12 years playing youth football in the blue and white hoops, Kelly was finally handed a debut for the senior team. It was impressive performances in training and our pre-season camp that convinced gaffer Jaap Stam to elevate Kelly to first-team affairs – he began the match as we defeated MK Dons on penalties in the second round of the EFL Cup.
League bow at New York Stadium (22nd October 2016)
A bit of a bittersweet day in South Yorkshire for the midfielder – drafted in for a full league debut against the Millers, but substituted in a tactical switch just before the half-hour mark. Kenny Jackett, newly installed as Rotherham boss, had deployed a more route-one system than we might have expected… and so skipper Paul McShane, who eventually netted the winner, came on in defence to shore things up at the back and to defend the barrage of aerial balls. But it wouldn’t be long before Kelly was out there again in Reading colours…
Experiencing the Emirates (25th October 2016)
… just three days in fact! And what a venue for Kelly to play just his second 90 minutes for the club, having starred in the previous round of the EFL Cup in a win in Brighton. The midfielder lined up against some Gunners superstars including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mohamed Elneny and Olivier Giroud… the Royals’ cup run did end at the fourth round, but not without a good fight from all involved.
Which Liam netted in Ewood? (17th December 2016)
Was this the moment that Kelly opened his account for the Royals? Officially, the answer is no… Liam Moore was the one awarded with the goal at Blackburn! Kelly’s thunderous strike cannoned down off the crossbar and perhaps crossed the line before his defensive teammate made sure by following in… and in truth, who scored is of little consequence. More to the point is that it was Reading’s second goal at Ewood Park in a 3-2 win, with George Evans grabbing the points for the Royals in stoppage time.
Maiden goal in Robins overhaul (2nd January 2017)
No argument about this one – our first goal of 2017 definitely belonged to Liam Kelly! And it was a big turning point in one of many memorable fixtures of the 2016/17 season. Trailing to two Tammy Abraham goals at Ashton Gate, Kelly’s introduction from the subs bench midway through the second half inspired what had seemed an unlikely victory. His first goal for the club, striking hard and low from the right of the area, got Reading back within one… and then a driving run and low cross meant he turned provider for Yann Kermorgant to grab the equaliser. And in the final minute of the match, the Frenchman fired beyond Frank Fielding to secure the three points, much to the delight of the travelling support.
Meeting Man United (7th January 2017)
Visiting the Emirates in the EFL Cup is one thing… but running out at one of football’s most iconic venues – a packed Old Trafford – is something a bit special. Nearly 75,000 supporters were in attendance for our FA Cup third round tie, in which Kelly played the entirety, with Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini providing the opposition in the centre of the park. Ultimately United would run out 4-0 winners, but another great learning curve for Kelly and his cohorts. Kelly would lift the supporters’ Player of the Month award at the end of January.
Invited to become Ireland international (13th March 2017)
Having represented the Republic of Ireland at youth level in the past, Kelly was for the first time named in Martin O’Neill’s 39-man provisional squad ahead of their World Cup qualifying matches against Wales and Iceland. Ultimately an injury picked up around the same time ruled him out of those plans… but as recently as this week he has been drafted in again with some more World Cup qualifiers coming up!
Walking out at Wembley (29th May 2017)
It wasn’t quite the perfect end to an incredible season. But nevertheless a memorable day. Another opportunity to run out on one of the biggest stages for Kelly… few games have more riding on them than the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Subbed on in extra-time, Kelly struck a sweet penalty high into the roof of the net in the shoot-out – although the day ultimately ended in heartbreak.
Opening our account in 2017/18 (8th August 2017)
No hangover from last year’s disappointment for Liam Kelly, who impressed on our first outing at Madejski Stadium of the new season. In fact, it was his two goals against Gillingham which sent us through to the second round of the Carabao Cup! On our brand new playing surface, Kelly looked at ease as he thrashed Pelle Clement’s teed-up ball beyond the despairing dive of Tomas Holy. And then home debutant Mo Barrow played him in for a well-taken second – his first brace in the hoops at senior level…
A first league goal of the new campaign (12th August 2017)
… but we all know that the league is our bread and butter. And Kelly rolled over his Carabao Cup performance to the weekend when we met Fulham in the Championship… the first side to visit us in the league since we beat them in the play-off semis back in May. Kelly was charged with trying to unpick a Cottagers’ defence after Tomas Kalas saw a red card with barely 30 seconds played… and indeed it was he who netted our first league goal of the current campaign as he leathered Joseph Mendes’ square ball past David Button in the Fulham net.