A look at the season to date for our Academy ladsA cursory glance at the standings for the Under-18 Premier League (South) gives an indication of some of the success that our Academy has achieved to date this season.
There is still a smattering of fixtures left to play for other clubs, but with all 22 games played for the Royals, we have secured third spot – only behind Chelsea and Arsenal in the league standings! That means we’ll go on to face the top-four finishers from the North section in a few weeks’ time: Manchester United, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool.
But there is more to the story than just the results – much more!
The goal of the Under-18 players is to make the step into the Under-23 squad – and by consequence, a step closer to the first team.
And this season so far, 10 players who are currently on our Academy scholarship have already made their first forays into U23 football - as well as and the Checkatrade Trophy, where they have met open-age opposition. Goalkeeper Liam Driscoll was set to make it a square 11 on Saturday… only for our Premier League Cup game against Stoke to be postponed because of a waterlogged pitch!
That has been brilliant learning experience for some of our younger boys – an opportunity to play above their own age-group in competitive fixtures and learn by playing against (and alongside) players who have already seen and done a bit more. For those that have been impressing, there’s no resting in the comfort zone.
17-year-old Tyler Frost taking on Portsmouth's senior squad in the Checkatrade Trophy
The likes of Tyler Frost, Tom McIntyre and Ramarni Medford-Smith have all had prolonged spells in the U23 squad, while others have had a chance to get a taste for Premier League 2 action and the nous and tempo that it requires… including 16-year-old Tom Holmes, who helped the defence to a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Manchester United last time out!
The knock-on effect of so many Academy scholars stepping up to the U23s has been extended opportunities for younger players within our Under-18 side.
On the two-year scholarship programme, it can be pretty typical for an Under-18 side to field teams consisting mostly of second-year scholars, while the first-years tend to have to wait in the wings and settle for friendly action. But at Reading, we do things a little differently!
We’ve seen a remarkable 15 youngsters from the first year of their scholarship in competitive Under-18 Premier League action – that has included regulars in the likes of Danny Loader, Jordan Holsgrove, Harry Philby, Ethan Coleman and captain Akinwale Odimayo. Between them, they offer the defensive stability and the forward creativity that propelled us to our third-place finish!
Jack Nolan, 16, representing the Royals in a 5-1 win against Arsenal's Under-18s
Not only that, but goalkeeper James Hillson became the fourth player from a younger age-group to represent the Under-18s this term in our 1-1 draw with Brighton on Saturday. Shamar Moore and Jack Nolan, both also Under-16s, were also involved the week before against Norwich, when Under-15 attacker Conor Lawless also made his U18 debut.
Those details become all the more impressive when David Dodds’ boys have continually found ways to earn impressive results throughout the season, whilst retaining their culture of playing in the right way. Mixing it up with the best clubs from the south of the country, only Chelsea and Arsenal have a better set of results – Tottenham, Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa are just some of the other sides sitting below the Royals in the table!
All of our Academy scholars are trying to make their own pathway to the senior team – and it’s a path well-trodden by graduates before them. Tennai Watson and Liam Kelly became the 40th and 41st former Academy players to represent our senior squad this season, while Jordan Obita recently passed 150 games in senior football.
And U18 quartet Tyler Frost, Teddy Howe, Jordan Holsgrove and Ramarni Medford-Smith have all already signed their first professional contracts already this season, ensuring that they’ll have the opportunities to keep progressing in the Royals setup.
The season isn’t over yet for our youngsters; many of our Academy boys will be involved in the next stages of the Premier League Cup and in trying to secure top-tier status in the Premier League 2 for the Under-23s, while the Under-18s will soon have their fixture list for their final seven games in the eight-team Elite League with some of the biggest names in European club football.