Tim Dellor's Royals Watching: Reading have a new hero in Jahmari Clarke
Can you remember what you were doing on Bonfire Night when you were 18 years old? Oddly I can, but only because it involved a narrow escape from a wayward rocket at a school fireworks display. Jahmari Clarke, Reading’s latest emerging star, will remember last weekend forever. 18 years, 1 month and 4 days old and he came off the bench at half time at St Andrew’s, replacing an experienced international striker, to score a brace and win the game for his team.
Most 18-year-old's would not have the physical strength to cope with muscular Championship football. Clarke is a teenage mountain. Defenders are not going to enjoy afternoons marking him for many unhappy years to come. They bounce off him, get outpaced by him, are unable to jump as high as him, and certainly don’t want to get embroiled in a wrestle with him.
His first goal was a deft header steered into the Birmingham City goal from a full 15 yards out. 12 minutes later he followed up his own shot, which rebounded off the keeper and back into his path, and slammed the ball home for a much needed winner. Until that moment Reading had lost four consecutive games and were sinking as fast as a stone.
Clarke has been at Reading since making a debut for the under-9 team. He lives with his Mum in London and in academy accommodation in Reading. Just imagine being 18, netting a couple in the Championship and having the world at your feet. What a future he has! He was born in 2002, which makes us all feel old.
He has been one of half a dozen academy players who have trailed around the Championship circuit, keeping the bench warm game after game. He has made some very brief cameo appearances at the end of games, but scarcely got a touch of the ball on any occasion. This was the first time he was given a full 45 minutes. Expect to see a lot more of him in the next few months and years.
Clarke enjoyed a triumphant day, but for George Puscas the misery piles on. He has toiled away most of the season, rarely getting a chance and looking out of sorts. He has not yet scored this season, so to be substituted at half time and then watch the youngster replacing him make the headlines must be difficult to stomach.
Puscas is now off to represent Romania in games against Liechtenstein and Ireland, while Clarke will spend the next couple of weeks itching for more Championship football. Some of the squad will be getting some downtime, while the focus is on getting as many as possible of the dozen players receiving treatment for an assortment of long term injuries back to match fitness.
After the international break Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United at home and then Swansea away await Reading. With a few players returning from injury, renewed confidence following the Birmingham win, and with new goal scorer Clarke ready to go, fans must hope this marks a revival in fortunes.