A particularly young Under-18 Reading side were defeated by a 3-0 scoreline at Hogwood at the hands of Norwich City on Saturday.
But for David Dodds’ side, who have already assured themselves of a top-four finish in the Under-18 Premier League (South) table, the result played second fiddle to allowing some younger players to be exposed to a higher level of football.
That included starting involvement of 15-year-old duo Jack Nolan and Conor Lawless, as well as 16-year-olds Jack Buchanan and Shamar Moore – as well as places with a number of players who feature more regularly in the Wednesday programme.
All three goals came before the break for the visitors – despite an evenly-contested game, it was the Canaries who were able to take advantage when capitalising on mistakes.
But after the break the Royals were able to keep Norwich at arm’s length, as well as carving out some good chances to get goals for themselves.
Under-18 manager David Dodds said: “We had a very young team – Conor Lawless is still an Under-15 and he played up front for us, and the other two attackers were Under-16s in Shamar Moore and Jack Nolan.
“At the back we had three first-years scholars, and in midfield we had a lot of lads who usually play with us in our Wednesday programme.
“It was great experience for them. In the first half, we started the game off really well against Norwich and had a few little flurries and half-chances. There was a bit of inexperience which meant that they were able to pick off a pass and counter, open us up and scored a goal.
“That goal knocked the confidence of the young lads a bit, and then we conceded another after a little bit of naivety as we gave the ball away again from a square pass.
“And just before half-time they rubbed salt in the wounds as we were a little bit slow to react from a corner and we couldn’t quite get the ball away from the edge of the box.
“But believe it or not, we had controlled long periods in possession. So at half-time we set the target to the young ones of trying to win the second half – putting a performance together to allow us to score, and preventing them from scoring.
“And after the break we did a lot better. Our young front three were dropping deep and coming towards the ball, and we asked them to get between and behind defenders – they did that a lot better in the second half. Then we looked more of a threat and made two or three really good chances and their ‘keeper had to make a few good saves.
“We never shirked – we kept playing the way that we want to play, and in the second half we set some targets which we all but met. We couldn’t quite put the ball in the goal but the performance was better.
“Straight away they had learnt from the experiences from the first half. I think once they have had those experiences, they are better prepared for the future. They’ll go away and rejoin their groups with the Under-16s and Under-15s, and realise they need to step up their tempo, physicality and brightness.
“That means when they come back into our group again, they’ll be that much better prepared. That’s really healthy for development – they get a little taste for it, go away and evaluate things, and come back better next time.”
Full-time: Reading U18 0-3 Norwich City U18
Reading U18: Driscoll, Wilson, Green, Odimayo, Philby (Burley 75), Coleman, Nolan, Buchanan, Denton, Lawless (Sparta 63), Moore.
Unused subs: Roberts, Okuboyejo, Lawrence.
Norwich City U18: McCracken, Syme, Catton, Ellesley, Wallis, Aarons, Tella (Aransibia 71), Payne, Fleming, Kamal, Spyrou (Higgs 63).
Unused subs: Hale-Brown.