For the first time in professional football, Omar Richards’ name was in the starting XI in a league fixture when he was selected to face Derby County last weekend.
But the youngster’s performance belied any lack of experience. Calm under pressure, alert to danger, supporting the attack and snappy in defence, the 19-year-old put in an eye-catching display in the 4-2 victory.
Reading gaffer Jaap Stam was delighted that the fledgling defender put in that kind of performance on that kind of stage.
“I think Omar did fantastically – he was very good,” Jaap said. “Everybody knows that we’re trying to bring young players through at the club and into the first team.
“Everybody needs to perform – first-team players need to perform, and youth-team players need to step up. If there are players from our Academy who are stepping up and doing well, and others aren’t at the level they can be, then the young players will get their chance.
“That’s what happened with Omar. Of course, it’s tough – he hasn’t played in a while so to come straight into a game like this, where it’s a big game and a big crowd and a good team… but to perform like that, I’m very happy for him.”
As well as Richards’ starting inclusion, Josh Barrett and Axel Andresson were also named amongst the subs – two more Academy graduates pushing for positions in the senior side.
The manager revealed that if they continue to impress at youth level, then the door to first-team selection will open.
“They have shown themselves in friendly games, in pre-season, in cup games – we know what they can do,” Jaap continued. “If there are injuries, we can call on them. If they need to step in, they can deliver.
“It’s important for them to deliver in the Under-23s. If they’re not performing over there, there is no opportunity for them to join into the first-team squad. But they are doing that, and as long as they are, eventually when the place is there then they will get their opportunity.”