Four goals by 16-year-old Danny Loader – including a perfect hat-trick of left-foot, header and right-foot – and a sole strike by Adrian Popa helped the Royals to a 5-2 rout in the second of two friendly fixtures against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
The youngster netted three before the break on an impressive first involvement with the first team – just a day after agreeing his first professional contract with the Royals – and winger Popa drilled in another.
And Loader netted another midway through the second period to put the gloss on a fine team display. Reece Grego-Cox and Charlie Owens netted Rangers’ late consolatory goals.
It was a more experienced starting XI that began the second of the two games; that included full internationals in Chris Gunter, Paul McShane and Popa.
But it was the youngest of the lot that had the impact. Threaded through by fellow Academy product Liam Kelly, the ball was picked up by Loader who still had work to do to check inside to buy a yard and smash in with his left.
And then, with 15 minutes on the clock, the lead was doubled by Popa. The Romanian was slotted in down the left-hand side and buried his shot decisively from a narrowing angle – he took a knock in scoring, but was fit to continue.
Although Reading were well in command of possession, Rangers sent a reminder that they could be a danger on the break – after a Royals move broke down on the left, Reece Grego-Cox sent over a cross which dropped onto the back post and into the grateful arms of goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola.
However the third goal again went the way of Reading – Kelly sprayed wide for Gunter, whose delivery was perfect for Loader to glance in past Alex Smithies for his second and the Royals’ third.
And Loader’s hat-trick goal came before the interval, with another slick attacking move. Kelly’s flighted cross-field ball found Popa on the flank – the winger shimmied to shake off his marker and picked out the youngster, who tapped in from six yards.
Kelly had a chance from a free-kick on the edge of the area after Loader was taken out with a cynical foul; the strike struck the top of the wall.
But Loader added his fourth soon after; the ball bobbled loose and he showed good close-control before slotting in from the edge of a crowded box.
Popa had a chance to make it a brace when Pelle Clement found him in space – he opened up but shot straight at Smithies. And then he received less than a minute later and was denied as the goalkeeper rushed out after he had rounded his marker.
Once again, a group of youngsters came on for the final stages in a wholesale change to play against some adult opposition – meaning a total of 34 players had been used across two fixtures.
Jack Nolan nearly created a goal early after his introduction – played in by Ramarni Medford-Smith, he fizzed in a low cross which Joel Rollinson couldn’t quite tap in. Then Rollinson tried to turn provider, but Conor Davis was bundled out as he tried to get on the end of the delivery.
Goalkeeper Jaakkola had to make two late visits to his net as Grego-Cox was able to angle in a strike from the left which crossed the line via the far post, before Owens smashed in with the last kick of the game.
Full-time: Reading 5-2 Queens Park Rangers
Reading starting XI: Jaakkola, Gunter, Richards, Ilori, McShane, Kelly, Evans, Rinomhota, Popa, Clement, Loader.
Reading subs: Sheppard (HT), Medford-Smith, Andresson, Osho, Coleman, Wieser, Nolan, Rollinson, Holsgrove, Davis (all 70).