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"It's Just A Friendly"

Reading 1-3 Swansea

Our only home friendly comes the week before the season-proper is about to get under way against a good Swansea side whose quality told in a brief first half spurt. It was also the homecoming of one 'Gylfi Sigurdsson', and it's not hard to see the programme is right when it describes him as one of the most technically gifted players to ever pull on a Reading shirt.

The only thing of interest in the first five minutes is Lukasz Fabianksi's terrible distribution, and indeed Nick Blackman almost managed to capitalise after one of the keeper's mis-clearances fell to him, but a fantastic last ditch tackle robbed him of any chance to shoot. Swansea responded well, and a long ball from Jonjo Shelvey - who seemed to forget at points that the game was a friendly - split the defence but Bafetimbi Gomis just missed bringing the ball down, and in the end it ran harmlessly through to Alex McCarthy.

Early on in my notes I wrote that any team who can quickly switch flanks would cause us problems, as Obita was very narrow - possibly covering Morrison's David Luiz-esque runs up field attempting to win the ball. Moments later I felt rather prophetic as a crossfield ball found Dwight Tiendalli, his boots covered with chalk on the right touchline, and a pinpoint cross found the hand of Alex Pearce - the OS seems rather bemused by the decision to award a penalty, but it seemed fairly clear cut to me. Gomis had bundled the ball in at the back post, and maybe Swansea would feel aggrieved if this game meant anything because Bony's penalty rattled the bar.

Swansea fired another warning shot not long after, Gylfi was given space to play in Tiendalli who put another glorious ball into the box. Worryingly Gomis managed to bring the ball down inside the area but could only fire against McCarthy's legs. The resulting corner could have been converted too, with the ball skimming off the turf and across the six yard box but nobody managed to apply a finishing touch.

Then Swansea decided that enough was enough, three Reading players seemed pre-occupied with Bony who slipped through Routledge, who had the simplest finish for 1-0. It didn't take long to double the lead either. Pearce seemed to have trouble with somebody as strong as Bony, who was able to bring the ball down and feed Gylfi. After a diagonal run to the edge of the box he found Routledge, again unmarked, who doubled the lead.

One of the main differences seems to be in central midfield, where Swansea have players that drop and make little runs; players able to pick out a pass; players with vision. We have Michael Hector and Hope Akpan. Yesterday Hector had an awful game, and Akpan was almost completely anonymous other than a clattering late tackle on Shelvey which drew some applause from the home fans. That said even when players do make runs they're not always picked out; At one point Edwards could have been set away on the counter by Blackman but he held the ball for far too long.

Hector did have the first shot on goal though, seconds after the crowd were unsettled by his inability to shoot he won the ball back and rifled an effort from 30 yards, which drew a decent, but comfortable save from Fabianski. It triggered a brief spell of Reading pressure, the tireless Edwards hit a cross-shot into the box with Taylor inches away from applying a finishing touch. Then Blackman struck with what could be a goal of the season-ish contender. A fantastic shot from 30 yards which found the top right corner of the goal and left Fabianski without a chance.

Things weren't much better for Reading in the second half. Hector lost the ball to Routledge, who ran at the defence and set-up Gomis on the edge of the D, but he could only hit the frame of Federici's goal. 

Down the other end a good free-kick from Taylor saw Fabianski have to punch; Taylor won the free-kick initially after making a run at a throw in, which is almost unheard of for Reading. A scramble in the box then gave Hector a chance to draw level, but Swansea bodies managed to get in the way and it just passed the side netting for a corner.

Unfortunately Swansea then extended their lead, Hector with a perfect poke past Morrison allowed Gomis to bear down on goal, and this time the big Frenchman made no mistake, and put the game to bed with a magnificent chip over the diving Federici.

After that Adkins rotated the squad to give the youngsters a chance. Kuhl looks magnificent in central midfield, with a great range of passing and good vision. The only problem will be whether he's slightly too lightweight to keep his own in the fairly physical Championship. Plus he only came on after the game - a friendly - was dead so it's only natural that he had far more time and space than he usually would. Wouldn't be surprised to see him throughout the season. Equally Tanner was a livewire who made things happen, some nice interplay with Blackman in particular with some good turns and lay-offs. Again though he's quite small and could potentially be manhandled in a competitive fixture. Tshibola and Stacey didn't really have the time or opportunity to impress but their development will be equally as interesting.

One of the only real worries is that the defence looked completely outclassed by pacey, skillful wingers, albeit from a better team than us, and any that we'll face in the league this year. It's a similar problem that we have every time we face Wigan; any team who move quickly, both the ball and themselves, tend to be too much particularly for the center backs. Morrison in particular was beaten far too easily on a couple of occasions. Anton Ferdinand was at the match yesterday, and obviously with him being at Police United it wouldn't be surprising to see him at the Madejski soon, but with his lack of games over the last couple of years he may not be the best player.  Plus we didn't have a clear shot on goal in ninety minutes, but still somehow managed a goal.

The positives are that we still have HRK, McCleary, Karacan, Williams, and Guthrie to come back in. That will do wonders in the middle, and free up Hector to provide cover in defence. Plus, although Swansea are obviously a much better side, we had some nice periods of play and a lot of the younger guys look good. Edwards and Blackman are, perhaps surprisingly, among our best performers and provide impetus that was occasionally lacking last year. The former seems happy to run for absolutely everything.

So, a pretty good performance even if the result is a little disappointing. Six pre-season games and only one defeat isn't a bad way to set-up for the season. Onwards to Wigan!


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