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Exeter City 0-9 Reading: Running Riot

At the end of a quite simply ridiculous evening at St James Park, the scoreboard flashed up the attendance as 1871. Seconds earlier, Reading fans had held aloft a sea of mobile phones to record the legend 0-9. This was a quite simply irresistible display of attacking talent, a ‘putting opposition to the sword’ that you’ll rarely see and perhaps the most tantalising evidence yet of just how exciting the project Ruben Selles is building really could be.
Yes, the Papa Johns Trophy isn’t up there with the world’s most storied footballing competitions. The BBC won’t even deign to list scorers on their website and an Oxford United-supporting friend of mine boycotted the 2017 final because of the policy to allow under-21 teams to take part. That decision remains controversial and arguably an example of mission creep that will see the Football League itself peppered with the youth teams of nation-state-owned sporting corporations, but, for now, the match did entice as a chance to see the fringe elements of Project Selles and what they could do.
Reading started with a good many changes from the fine win over Bolton Wanderers but the 4-2-2-2 naturally remained intact, and the introduction of a bevy of second-half substitutions did little to upset the flow of the game. Exeter City’s youngsters, some of whom had looked unready for first-team action on their previous home outing against Leyton Orient, seemed bewitched by the invention and mobility of Reading’s line-up while Gary Woods, a substandard goalkeeping replacement for the absent Finn Viljami Sinisalo, failed to come for an early Matty Carson free-kick and Tom McIntyre arrived at the back post to score in the third minute.
That set the tone and the fact that Reading were only 2-0 up at half-time belied the fact that the gulf between the sides was much greater. Ben Elliott shot straight at Woods when clean through and Caylan Vickers hit the post after easing past Exeter debutant Jack Fitzwater, before another excellent cross from Carson left Zak Jules with seemingly little option but to trail the ball into his own net after miscommunication with Woods.
The opening minutes of the second period belonged to Paul Mukairu. After choosing to shoot from a tight angle when a cut-back to Elliott would have been better, he scored a superb brace – the first curled satisfyingly in off the crossbar, the second was a composed finish after good work from Elliott and a prime example of the sense in taking an extra touch. Thereafter, Reading ran riot.
Dom Ballard nodded in after coming on for Jayden Wareham and Elliott’s shot dribbled in apologetically after another substitute, Harvey Knibbs, had burst thrillingly into the box. 17-year-old Taylan Harris – a revelation on this showing – shot wide after showing pace and directness before scoring a terrific seventh, and then the sublime skills of Vickers were rewarded as he wove into the box to score number eight. It was left to Ballard to complete the scoring.
So, much to think about for Ruben Selles in advance of the Blackpool match. Exeter were severely weakened and the early goal set the tone, but the difference in strength in depth is patently obvious – as it will be for much of the opposition the division is likely to muster this season. Reading remain in the relegation zone, even if the usual Exeter centre-back trio of Will Aimson, Alex Hartridge and ex-Royal Pierce Sweeney would not have been so obliging - but this was a performance from Reading to get everyone jumping out of their seats.

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