There were no guarantees that even a win would have been enough for Saints to qualify for the play-offs with a top-three finish, but the a loss to the Royals meant that they have overtaken Jason Dodd’s side with games still to play in the Elite Group.
Saints named a strong team with 21s regulars Matt Targett, Calum Chambers and Jake Sinclair all involved from the start, but they fell behind after 20 minutes played when Uche Ikpeazu found the back of the net with a low finish inside the area after a cross from the right flank.
The visitors levelled up just before the break, and in some style too. Tom Leggett’s throw-in was flicked on by substitute Sam Gallagher, into the path of top-score Ryan SEAGER, who slammed home a rising strike into the top left corner for his 20th goal of the season.
The Royals slowed the game at every opportunity in the second period, but still managed to regain their lead midway through the new half when another shot on the turn from Ikpeazu, was deemed to have crossed the line, despite Leggett’s best attempts to clear the effort from the line.
Saints pushed hard to save the match, and indeed the season, but were left to reflect on a premature end to a year which had overall looked a promising one after qualifying for the Elite group.
“We’ve gone out with a bit of a whimper,” Dodd lamented. “We came here today knowing that we had to win the game, but that can be a worrying thing for the players because it was a pressure game.
“We’ve had to win it and we’ve just come up a little bit short so we’re scratching our heads a bit. Is it mentality thing, are the young players not being mentally strong enough to deal with it yet? If so, I’m fine with that. We came here and gave it a good go against a well-organised Reading team who were physical and powerful.
“Chris Johns didn’t really have anything to do, but we cannot perform at the top level by continuing to give soft goals away, and the longer they go on in their careers they’ll see that you can’t do it, you’ve got to learn it now so it works for them in the future.
“Reading are a team that want the silly little fouls and set plays because they’re a physical side so we challenged our boys to be more clever, get it down and play because we’ve got to be switched on.
“I cannot fault the effort today,” the 18s coach concluded, “But we’ve just come up short again and this is three years on the spin now where in the really important games the mentality isn’t there, so we know what we’ve got to work at.”
Saints U18s: Johns, Leggett, McCarthy, Mugabi, Targett, Chambers (Higgins 82), Gape, Reed, Sinclair (Ariyibi 75), Seager, Rowe (Gallagher 30)