By Simeon Pickup –
The depressing nature of Reading’s 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers last week gave fans little to be positive about.
Despite picking up a point – and marginally edging away from the bottom three – the home side looked second best for much of the game and can count themselves lucky to have taken anything from the match.
However, Jaap Stam’s shock team selection did provide reason for optimism. 17-year-old Tom Holmes came in at centre-half for his full debut, having previously impressed in the academy.
Besides expressing surprise that Stam had made such a bold choice, fans took it as a damning verdict on Tiago Ilori and Tyler Blackett.
Although that’s true – being shunned in favour of a 17-year-old speaks volumes about Stam’s faith in them – it’s a little harsh on Holmes. Few players, let alone someone so young, gets drafted into a struggling team without having something going for them.
The manager could quite easily have changed formation or thrown any number of players in alongside Liam Moore: Ilori, van den Berg, Blackett, George Evans and Chris Gunter have all featured at centre-half under Stam.
To his credit, Holmes repaid the faith shown in him with a composed, confident display –
despite a tricky opening half against the wily, intelligent lone striker play of Adam Le Fondre. The academy graduate could so easily have wilted under the pressure of the occasion, but he barely put a foot wrong.
What’s best about Holmes’ inclusion is that he is just the tip of the iceberg as far as talent in Reading’s academy goes. Axel Andresson, Gabriel Osho and Tom McIntyre are other fine centre-halves, whilst the likes of Jack Nolan, Danny Loader, Jordan Holsgrove and plenty more have huge futures ahead of them.
Whether Stam (who has dished out plenty of first team debuts over the last two seasons) is in charge or not next season, a commitment towards youth – and giving it a genuine chance – is a vital part of Reading’s future.
Simeon is the editor of Reading fansite The Tilehurst End can be found on Twitter @BucksRoyal and his website’s account is @TheTilehurstEnd.