Leatherhead played their final home pre-season fixture against Reading’s U23 team. Despite coming up against an academy side packed full of younger players, this was not a team to be taken lightly as they fielded players with age-grade international pedigree. 17 year old midfielder Jack Nolan has starred for England’s U17, while Tom McIntyre played for Scotland’s U17 side in the 2015 European Championships. Reading’s Australian shot-stopper has trained and travelled with Reading’s first team previously, and trialled with PL giants Arsenal before signing for the Royals. Therefore, despite the tender age of our opposition Nikki Bull knew this would be no Saturday stroll in the park for the Tanners.
The game saw two Gallagher’s on the pitch for the second game this pre-season. However, this time they were both fighting for the same cause with brothers Dan and Josh both donning the green jersey! Dan slipped a fantastic through ball to Gregory on the right wing after a quarter of an hour. Gregory cut inside and got a shot away which was blocked, he got a second stab at it but he dragged it just wide. Not long after defender Will Salmon stepped up from defence and sprayed a wonderful cross-field ball which Gregory latched onto, with his deflected shot landing on the roof of the net. The resulting corner was whipped in from the right corner flag, and saw Dan Gallagher connect sweetly with a well-timed, crisp volley travelling goal-wards which the opposition GK did well to keep out.
With just shy of half an hour gone, Reading’s playmaker Jazz Wallace had a strong and powerful dribble up the pitch making 60 yards territory for his team before laying off for his teammate to shoot, which never made the target due to a brave block from Leatherhead’s Matt Bozier. With the half-time break approaching the game opened up and produced end-to-end action, with Reading stringing together more prolonged attacks and Leatherhead countering with pace! Tanner’s right-back Crossley Lama was up and down his flank all game, doing his primary job of defending with distinction, but also bombing forward making overlapping runs and creating space for his teammates in the middle of the park.
The second half started as the first had ended, and Leatherhead broke the deadlock just after the hour mark with a well taken goal from new boy Elliott Benyon! Dan Gallagher did brilliantly to win the ball and feed Gregory, who played a smart through ball that split the two Reading centre backs in half which Benyon latched onto and tucked low to the keeper’s right with aplomb. Unfortunately, Reading equalised fifteen minutes later via a finish from Joel Rollinson. A good ball over the top caught Leatherhead’s substitute GK Kamil Blonski in two minds. He rushed out to the edge of his area but Rollinson got there first and dispatched coolly drilled it to the keeper’s left.
The game finished 1-1, but it was by far Leatherhead’s most convincing performance to date. A draw against a well-oiled Reading academy side cannot be underplayed, and must be seen as progression and a step in the right direction after four defeats on the bounce for Leatherhead. Next up, a trip to VCD Athletic on Tuesday 31st July. We hope to see you there! C’mon, you Tanners!