SAFC U23s 0 Reading U23s 4
I would expect professional football coaches to have a greater insight into the ability and potential of the players they work with on a day to day basis than I do, but when watching the U23s even an amateur like me can get an inkling of which young players might make it in the game.
I don’t get to watch as much football as Pete Sixsmith (few do) but in the past few years I have identified Lynden Gooch, Jordan Pickford, Ethan Robson, Josh Maja, Joel Osoro, Denver Hume and Max Stryjek as those most likely to, from watching them play at U21 or U23 level. There have also been a few that I couldn’t see cutting the mustard, whose blushes I will spare in the unlikely event that they visit the site.
The current crop of Academy players were on show yesterday as the U23s took on Reading at the Eppleton CW ground in what is known as Premier League 2. They haven’t had it easy this season with several of their more experienced players out on loan and there was more disappointment after a 4-0 home defeat. Myself, Peter and the Hetton Irregulars who had turned out in force, all deemed this to be a game of men against boys. Literally in fact, as the visitors appeared to be both physically stronger and at least a couple of years older, player for player.
Bali Mumba, who has been playing at full back recently, started on the right of midfield but was subbed at half time, presumably because he is in line for some sort of involvement in the What’sname Cup tomorrow evening. It’s easy to forget just how young Bali is and he could just as easily have been playing for the U18s against Middlesbrough if they hadn’t been kicking off at the same time.
Ruben Sammut is another who should make the step up to first team action at some point, though he was unusually quiet yesterday. The third player I fancy to make the breakthrough is Williams Kokolo – left back yesterday but also used as a left winger on occasions.
One player I’d be very surprised to see playing for the big boys any time soon is keeper Ahmed Abdelkader. I’ve seen him a few times in friendlies and cup games and whilst he has made a few reasonable saves has too often appeared indecisive and doesn’t command his area. With Lee Burge injured and James Patterson bench warming for the first XI this was the Algerian’s first start in PL2 and I expect it will live long in his memory, but which was also a performance he will wish to forget.
Whilst we held our own for the first 20 minutes or so, the visitors outplayed our boys in virtually every department and anyone keeping match stats would probably have awarded Reading 80% of possession and plenty of efforts on goal as opposed to Cieran Dunne’s solitary effort for us, which rebounded off the side of the house outside the Bog Row end of the ground and set the dog off barking. It’s been quiet of late so it was just like old times.
The visitors took the lead when 21 year old Irishman Josh Barrett fired home from the edge of the box, whilst Abdelkader stood and watched it go between him and the post. Even though he was only a yard or two in from the post he obviously thought it was going wide, making no effort to reach the shot and looking for all the world like the last kid to be picked in the playground before being told to go between the coats, when what he really wanted to do was play centre forward. I’m sure Pete, who was standing behind whilst I was in the posh seats, was replaying the scene from Kes, where Brian Glover fantasises that he is Bobby Charlton, whilst Billy Casper swings upside down on the cross bar.
Think of Chris Maguire’s goal against Tranmere when the goalkeeper was rooted to the spot and this was nothing like that. It was simply a huge error of judgement from an inexperienced player, who will either learn from his mistake or be consigned to the scrapheap that is French non league football.
It was only 1-0 at half time but the men in black were asserting their dominance and it was no surprise when they doubled the lead shortly into the second half when 22 year old Englishmen Tyler Frost kept his cool after a break down the left to slot home under the body of the diving Abdelkader.
Not long after that the French Algerian must have decide he’d had enough. Reading again broke down the left and he rushed out of his goal to dive at the feet of the onrushing forward to claim the ball. Unfortunately for him when he got his hand to the ball he had slid outside the penalty area and got himself a red card for his efforts. Another example of poor spatial awareness and plenty for our new goalkeeping coach to look at then delegate his improvement programme to someone else.
Despite the fact the infringement took place to the right of the area, about 10 yards from the goal line, referee Mr Swallow allowed the free kick to be taken from the edge of the D giving a much better angle for the visitors. Fortunately the effort was way off target otherwise I might have been telling Mr Swallow where he could migrate to.
Patterson was brought on to face the kick, but the young Biscuitmen pressed home their dominance and he also conceded two goals in the half hour or so he was between the sticks. The first was good header by 18 year old Frenchman Michael Olise after a decent cross from full back Teddy Howe, before Tyler Frost sent more shivers through the home defence, firing home from distance with around 10 minutes left and presumably making Phil Parkinson and his team pray for the continuing health of Jon McLaughlin.
As ever it was a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime. The majority of the Reading side have first team squad numbers and most of them have played a few times for the senior side, unlike our own boys and the difference in experience was clear. We shall expect the same tomorrow when our mix of experienced professionals and fringe squad members take on the Leicester City U21s.