Another summer gone, another season begins. For our Under-23 group, that next challenge begins on Monday with a visit to St Mary’s to take on Southampton in the opening fixture of Premier League 2.
Both the Saints and the Royals were demoted from the top tier last season – the bottom half of the 12-team table was separated by just two points and they were the duo which sat at the base. Nevertheless in Division 2 there is still a rich array of talented opponents throughout the campaign – Newcastle, Aston Villa, Brighton and Fulham are just some of the clubs we’ll be taking on home and away.
The game kicks off at 7pm on Monday evening at the Saints’ first-team venue – then on Friday we host Blackburn behind closed doors at Hogwood in a 1pm kick-off, as our season quickly gets into full swing.
Not only do we have those Premier League 2 games forthcoming, but the season will be interspersed by three different cup competitions. The Premier League Cup – which we won in 2014 and finished as runners-up last season – will take on the same format of six group games, with the top two from each group progressing to the knock-out stages. The draw will be made soon.
And the Premier League International Cup will pit us against a formidable trio – Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Porto will be our opponents in an especially tricky-looking group stage. It is the second year running we have entered the competition.
Finally, this same age-group will also form the spine of our Checkatrade Trophy participants, which stands alone as an Under-21 competition for the 16 representatives from Category 1 academies. Last year, when the format was first changed, we were eliminated in the last 16 by Yeovil… this season, we have visits to Gillingham, Southend and Colchester to navigate in the group stage.
Many of the boys who were involved in the Under-23 squad last season have since been involved regularly with the first team… that included debuts for four youngsters in the opening week of the season, and many more travelling to the Netherlands for our pre-season training camp.
A handful of our home games are set to be played behind closed doors at Hogwood Park – but most will take place at either Madejski Stadium or Adams Park, so make sure you come and support our stars of the future whenever you can!
You can view our Premier League 2 fixtures by clicking here.