Reading’s Under-16 side suffered a heartbreaking elimination in their U16 Premier League National qualifying group on Saturday in Brighton – but despite the anguish of being unable to make it through to the next stage, the high calibre of performance from the Royals boys against some stellar opposition was the biggest upshot of the day.
The competition sees six regional groups of four teams compete to get to the next stage; each group winner is joined by the two highest-placed runners-up for the finals tournament, which also includes some elite opposition from around Europe.
Reading’s group this year comprised of Southampton, Chelsea and hosts Brighton & Hove Albion. And our boys pushed them all the way on the south coast.
The first fixture, a 2-0 victory against Southampton, could have been by a far wider margin. The Saints, whose academy carries a reputation for fostering a number of top-tier talents, were swept aside by the Royals youngsters and ultimately flattered by the scoreline.
Next up was Chelsea – where Reading suffered a setback. The Royals had to play much of the fixture with an outfield player in goal, owing to injury, and ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline. Our U16s’ play had the Blues on the ropes for much of the second-half and struck the post – the Royals’ dominance resulted in some time-wasting tactics and long-ball football from the London club, who were just about able to grind out a win.
Reading’s attacking talent continued to impress in the final game against hosts Brighton, and they finally broke down a stubborn Seagulls defence late in the game with another moment of quality – it looked to be the winning goal. But Reading, who had dealt with set-pieces expertly throughout the afternoon, were undone with the last action of the afternoon as a corner ricocheted around the area and eventually nestled in the net for 1-1… ultimately that goal cost Reading passage to the finals stage of the tournament.
The anguish of such a cruel elimination after such a strong showing this weekend was there to behold at the final whistle… but in the longer term, the experience of the tournament will have a positive consequence on their growth through our Academy ranks.
Martin Dean, Lead Youth Development Phase Coach, was especially impressed from what he saw from the Royals representatives. He said: “The fluency of the attacking play was as good as I’ve seen in my 12 years here at Reading. The players were very impressive in the way they played through the thirds and picked their opponents apart in a very calculated manner with some high-quality goals.
“The boys were gutted to go out of the tournament, but that typified the brotherhood, family and warrior spirit – the culture that we’re driving forward.
“All in all, we can consider it a fantastic experience for these players in their development as footballers. It gave them the chance to play to our methods, but also to play to win. A lot of the work at our Academy is based on development, but these tournaments have a really edge about them and they are unforgiving.
“That is a different kind of development opportunity for them to take away from Saturday, and gives them a taste of what they’ll be going into when they begin their Under-18 scholarships.”
As well as their U16 Premier League (South) league fixtures, our U16s will also compete in the U16 Premier League Cup this season as they have another crack at knock-out football.
And our Under-15 group begin their U15 Floodlit Cup tournament this week as they travel away to Luton Town – that competition will also see them host Wolverhampton Wanderers, as well as visiting Walsall at the Banks’s Stadium later this season.