Under-18 manager on Academy progress…Royals Under-18 manager David Dodds gave a glowing review of the past weekend for the development of young talent at Reading Football Club.
On Saturday, an especially young U18s side was defeated 3-0 by Norwich – including two Under-15s in the starting XI. For Dodds, more important than the result was the opportunity for those boys to be exposed to a higher level of football and take learning experiences from it.
And on Sunday, the Under-23 squad – which was made almost entirely from teenagers – travelled up to Leigh Sports Village and beat Manchester United by a 2-0 scoreline. That included a number of members of Dodds’ U18 squad, playing above their age-group: a starting debut for 16-year-old Tom Holmes, as well as continued involvement for both Jordan Holsgrove and Tyler Frost, both 17.
While the results represented a mixed bag, Dodds believes that it represented a big step in the right direction in terms of progressing a number of players towards their eventual goal of first-team involvement.
“For me, it was probably the best weekend for development for the club in the seven and a half years since I’ve been here,” Dodds reflected.
“We had lads stepping up to the Under-23s and young boys coming in for our Under-18s… I thought it was a proper development weekend.
“The Under-23s got a brilliant result from a fantastic performance, and the lads who played for the Under-18s have learned loads from their experience.
“We had two first-year Under-18s starting for the Under-23s in Tom Holmes and Jordan Holsgrove. Then we had Tyler Frost involved who’s a second-year, and there were four scholars on the bench – Liam Driscoll, Ade Shokunbi, Joel Rollinson and Ramarni Medford-Smith.
“It was a really good weekend for development. Those young lads were really getting pushed, and it was a great performance up there in Manchester. It was even good for those lads who didn’t get onto the pitch – it’s important for them to see what it’s like in the dressing room at that level.
“Three of boys in our Under-23s defence on Sunday were part of our back-four in the Under-18s last season, and then we had 16-year-old Tom Holmes coming in for his debut at right-back. And they were solid – they played from the back and did exactly what Martin Kuhl and Michael Gilkes had asked them to do.
“Jordan Holsgrove came in again – he’s been doing really well with the Under-18s. It’s a huge challenge for him but he’s starting to cope with that – if he hadn’t been given the chances, he wouldn’t be developing like he is.
“It was a really good development weekend with lots of people being challenged – that’s going to be healthy for the future.”
That result for the Under-23s was especially important for the league table – it hoisted the Royals above United in a congested bottom half of the Premier League 2 table.
But all of the staff are on the same page – as much as they are keen to keep their top-tier status, the most important aspect is stretching the boundaries for our prospects and helping them on the pathway to first-team football.
“The way that the Brian Tevreden, Lee Herron, Martin Kuhl and myself would all look at it by placing the importance on development ahead of any results,” he continued. “Although we never want to lose, I’m sure Brian will be delighted that so many young lads went in and did well.
“It’s one thing putting players in, but if they’re not ready and they don’t do very well then you’re left wondering. But they all did really well and had an organised pattern of play.
“We definitely want to see our boys stay in the Premier League 2 – they have worked so hard to get into there and it’s always good to pit your wits against the best. But I think we all value the development that comes with exposing young lads to new challenges.
“It’s all about performance levels – that’s what the focus is on for us. Of course we want to win matches, and we believe that by focusing on performance levels we will get results as well as giving these boys the very best chance of eventually getting an opportunity to make it into the first team. But it’s in that order. Performance levels come first; we don’t make it about results, results, results.”