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Mixed fortunes for Royals loanees as season ends

Academy stars suffer Play-Off heartache in loan spells

21 May 2019

While the Royals stayed up in the Championship this season, several young Royals have been out honing their skills on loan at other clubs in the second half of the campaign.

For our Academy stars in particular, they have been gaining valuable senior experience this season as they look to progress and show their quality as potential first team players.

For Tennai Watson at AFC Wimbledon, it was the season's great escape in League One. With former Reading assistant boss, Wally Downes at the helm, the Dons earned survival by goal difference on the final day of the season, with the young full-back playing 26(+2) times for Wimbledon this season.

Having been seven points from safety and bottom of League One as recently as February, Watson and the Dons climbed out of the bottom four with a run of just one loss in 11 matches to keep them in the third tier.

Young goalkeepers, Lewis Ward and Luke Southwood were both involved in post-season for their loan clubs - although they unfortunately didn't have the end of the campaign for which they would have hoped.

Ward, on loan at League Two side, Forest Green Rovers, played both legs of the Play-Off Semi-Finals against Tranmere Rovers for a place at Wembley - as he played 14 times in the second half of the season overall.

Having narrowly lost the first leg 1-0, Rovers went down to 10 men in the second leg at the New Lawn as Tranmere booked their place in the Final with a 1-1 draw - much to the delight of Premier League referee, Mike Dean, whose celebrations went viral on social media.

For former England U20 international Southwood, he was one of the first names on the team sheet as he helped guide Eastleigh into the National League Play-Offs - playing 22 times and keeping six clean sheets. 

Having beaten Wrexham in the eliminator to get through to the Semi-Final, the Spitfires were cruelly denied a place at Wembley after losing out to eventual Play-Off winners, Salford City by being defeated 4-3 on penalties.

Away from England, Andrija Novakovich has had a fruitful season in the Dutch top tier with Fortuna Sittard. This is his second season on loan in the Netherlands, having been at Telstar last term. The American went to Fortuna for the whole season as they fought to keep their place in the Eredivisie following their promotion in 2017-18.

And the 22-year-old has certainly made his presence felt this season. He played 30 times for Fortuna, scoring 11 goals and helping Fortunezen to 15th place - meaning they kept their top-flight status for 2019-20. This comes alongside Novakovich making his first senior appearances for the USA national team, so it has been a season to remember for the youngster.

Fellow striker, Sam Smith has been extending his senior experience with two loan spells this season, first of all at Oxford United, before linking up with Shrewsbury Town for the run-in. 

Between both spells, Smith racked up 11(+15) appearances, scoring three times as he gathers more experience of playing in a first team environment.

Unfortunately for David Meyler in his loan spell with Coventry City, he could only manage 2(+3) appearances for the Sky Blues before a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely, as City finished a creditable 8th place in League One.

Marc McNulty has enjoyed a productive spell as he ventured back north of the border to play half a season at hometown club, Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership.

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McNulty scored eight times for Hibs as he helped them to a fifth-placed finish in Scotland's top tier, beating fierce rivals, Hearts in the process.

The striker also made his way into the Scotland national team squad for the very first time, making his international debut against Kazakhstan back in March.

For Adrian Popa and Ludogorets Razgrad, the season is still ongoing, with the Romanian's loan club on the verge of the Bulgarian league title. 

Ludogorets finished top of the pile in the regular season, and are holding onto their advantage with two post-season play-offs remaining to decide the winners of the Bulgarian league crown.

Elsewhere, Vito Mannone and Sone Aluko are away on calendar-year loans, so will not be returning to the Royals until January.

Mannone and Minnesota United are currently 5th in the MLS Western Conference, with 12 games played in their season so far.

Aluko, meanwhile, scored his third goal for Beijing Renhe at the weekend as he continues his campaign in the Chinese Super League.


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