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Reading 0-1 Bristol City

There's very few things in life that are certain, but Reading fans experiencing disappointment is perennial. To be fair, Bristol City came into the game on a decent run of form - in their last four outings they beat the bottom three, but got smashed at home to Brentford.

It was an even first half. Bristol clearly watched the game against Millwall, because they set up in a very familiar way. Attempting to cut off all passing lanes out of defence, and force Reading to go long. With the midfield selected we did actually manage to play out on occasion, but Bristol managed to regroup and sit rigidly behind the ball. Too often the ball would get to the edge of the box only for the attack to break down. Obita in particular had a poor half, failing to put any dangerous crosses in, although it's hard when you only have Puscas to aim for - all the midfielders more content to sit just outside the area. Other times the defence would panic at clear the ball without really thinking, and to be fair Diédhiou did continually put them under pressure.

After the break there seemed to be a conscious decision to push Blackett beyond Obita, which helped to find space, but never really came to anything. At the end of the day we're lacking a clear plan to score goals. It seems to rely on individual talent, rather than a gameplan. At the end of December it was obvious, Joao would spearhead the attack, and Swift would get himself around the penalty spot to offer the cutback when the ball was wide. Swift is now deeper, but Ejaria isn't making those same runs.

City caused issues before half-time by overloading their right, with their cenrtal midfield pair making runs into the half space between Moore and Blackett. The former dropped into the area, which left Blackett and Pelé to deal with three men (RW, RB, CM). Thankfully they only managed to sustain pressure for a short period, with Reading tending to be the team on the front foot. On the couple of occasions they did manage to get a cross in Paterson was adept at finding space in the box, but didn't get his attempts on target. It was a little worrying at times that the communication from Moore to Blackett seemed to be lacking.

Arguably one of Reading's best chances was from central defender, Michael Morrison. The big man stepped into the attack, ran twenty yards, slipped the ball to Puscas, but was closed down when he got the ball back. Reading need to do far more of that when teams are happy to sit in front of them. In fact, teams use their centre backs in the same way when we're in our defensive shape. It's frustrating because with the technical ability in the squad you would hope that they'd be able to play out of defence - even when under pressure - and be able to unpick defences. It's not turning out to be the case though. The other option is to go backwards and pull the defence out of their shape, which managed to gift a chance to Gunter of all people, but seemed to be more out of luck than judgement.

Too often recently goals can be put down to players switching off, and so it was again. Pelé, not for the first time recently, was caught ballwatching. Paterson had a headstart that he never relinquished, and finished well.  Bowen has definitely improved the defence on the whole, but I wonder if the level required of them leads to mistakes. Annoyingly they had a decent game, but football is a game of moments, and we're often not winning them.

The substitution of Puscas just after the goal made little sense to me. I appreciate he wasn't playing particularly well, again his touch in particular was poor, but I'm not sure how Baldock was meant to improve the side. I can remember Morrison hitting a hopeful ball into the channel which Baldock forced a throw from, and a ball from Pelé almost split the CBs, but really he offered little. He didn't manage a shot, or even a touch in the area. Every run he makes is into space behind and we're not playing those passes. It felt more like Bowen realised Puscas wasn't working, and just threw on Baldock in the hope he may do something, rather than having any concrete plan on how to improve the performance.

Meite played well when he came on, putting himself about, and being the only attacking player capable of winning a header. Suddenly crosses had a clear target, and the whole team started to improve as a result. Albeit with the heavy caveat that Bristol City were more than happy to defend. On another day Ejaria keeps his effort from inside the six yard box below the bar, or Meite's header sneaks just inside the post rather than hitting it, and from that point the momentum is with us. It's becoming a theme to have to chase games, and that's not ideal. Reading have only lead for 47 minutes of the last 630 played in 2020 (effectively one half of football in seven matches) - and every minute came in the Blackpool replay.

Finally a quick mention for one of my potential favourites, Sone Aluko. Crowd reaction for him is almost entirely based on historical performance and the price tag that brought him to the club. People expect more from our £7.5m man, and while that is completely legitimate we have to just write that off at this point. There were positives and negatives in his performance. He runs with the ball well, has potentially the best close control in the team (bar Ejaria), and a decent passing range.  The only mistake he made was when he had the potential to play a through ball for Ejaria on the inside, but instead cut inside and shot himself which was easily blocked. Even then, it's obvious why he chose that option. It's what Meite does every time he picks up the ball in an attacking position too, but it's rare I'd hear the same level of dissent.

So now we have two games away in Wales coming up, and the league game in particular is important to arrest this slump. Bowen has shown a worrying lack of tactical evolution, and it would be a great time to start; and if Puscas could show some of the same magic that bagged him a five minute hat-trick that would be lovely. How hard can it be going up against Sean Morrison?

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