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Tactics vs Nottingham Forest (A)

At some point I will be able to stop writing these as Bowen will settle on a defined system.

Admittedly the shape is now pretty set, but due to a myriad of reasons the personnel had to change everywhere but the defence. Ejaria moved central to be the most advanced of the midfield three, Obita took his place over on the left, and Olise came in for Meite on the right. Up front Baldock dropped to the bench in favour of Puscas.

After a lacklustre defeat at Millwall it was notable the increase in tempo early on, and Reading pressed much higher up the pitch than in the home game. John Swift played the role vacated by Adam, dropping deep to pick up the ball and attempt to start attacks. He ended up between the CBs at times, very akin to Liam Kelly. He wasn't as immediate to play forward passes as Adam would have been, but he bided his time before finding an opening. Either pinging balls about, or when there were no options he was able to beat a man or three. In fact he completed the same number of dribbles as Ejaria. To be fair, Reading now have numerous players that can progress the ball. Swift, Pelé, and new boy Olise all have the ability to play forward. Either raking 50 yarders, or intelligent through balls.

Reading didn't have the same issue playing down the left hand side as they did at The Den, with Obita giving extra width. That was mainly due to the opposition giving us more space to play out, which was positive because our play needed to be down the left while Olise played a freer role on the right. Neither full back gallivanted forward as much, both opting to give options backward instead. When Blackett joined the attack his runs were always inside, but I'm not sure Gunter ever got beyond his winger. Even with the added option to cross the ball Reading didn't really make the most of it. Admittedly, it's a little bit difficult to cross with nobody in the box - Puscas didn't touch the ball in Forests' area.

Puscas used his body well early on to take Matty Cash out of play, and then played it wide to Obita. Both the sort of thing we want to see more of, and the sort of thing Baldock is unable to do.

The Romanian did have a few promising moments. He used his body well to hold off defenders, and won a couple of free kicks. More generally his touch still needs work, and too often he gets panicked when closed down - ending up trying to pass straight through the defender. Though there's still more to work with than when Baldock heads up top - as the latter is not built to play with his back to goal. To be fair, Baldock looked good when he came on. He had some nice feet, and it's amazing he even got off his shot for the goal - though Samba should have comfortably saved it. I see much more value in using Baldock in an impact sub role, when the defenders are tired and he presumably can utilise his agility without having to battle so much against the backline.

Swift had time and space to pick out passes in the middle of the park. Here he finds Ejaria, but just as easily could have picked out Olise or Gunter on the overlap

Reading looked most dangerous when Swift, Olise, and Ejaria managed to get between the lines, and they all have the quality to create chances. The most encouraging part was that it wasn't even fast breaks where the trio looked at their best. We took time with the ball, before managing to unlock the home side's defence. Olise, only playing because of Meite's heartbreaking personal situation, looked assured. I'm sure Meite will come back in, but Olise has staked his claim. Maybe moving Meite up top wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, with the lack of any other real options. I do think that the aerial presence Meite gives is still useful; even if we didn't necessarily see that this time out.

Obita tracks the run of Cash

Olise marshalls Ameobi

Obita and Olise were both tasked with tracking the full backs as they joined attacks from deep, which did a lot to stop Forest going forward. In fact there was only really one moment where that fell apart. Olise didn't track Riberio after the left back's one-two with Ameobi, and Gunter let the ex-Bolton man find space in the box. The ball was slid back to Sammy, and, before Pelé managed to get back, he found (deliberately or otherwise) Grabban at the back post. One mistake can change the game at this level - but thankfully in both Forest games we've been able to regroup well (with a large helping hand from Forest themselves).

Worrall drives into space before having a shot

Reading did still sit very deep at times, which was something that Millwall exploited. In the game in London Millwalls CBs often stepped up into the attack. We're a team that keeps 10 men behind the ball in defence, and when they sit too deep that opens up a lot of space in front of them. Forest had one such moment when Worrall got the ball on halfway, drove forward, and had a shot from 30 yards. It had more than a touch of the Ron Vlaar about it, but thankfully the finish wasn't up to the same standard. Obviously teams are always going to apprehensive to commit all their men forward, but when it's only Puscas up top how many do they realistically need to keep in reserve?

Though the negatives aren't half as bad as they were. At some point my thoughts at some point drifted back to being smashed against Fulham at home. Morrison would follow Mitrovic all over the pitch - leaving gaping holes in behind, and all it took was a simple run from deep to expose them. There's no chance of that happening any more. If Grabban dropped deep to areas that were unlikely to hurt us then he'd probably be able to pick up the ball, which would trigger anyone but the centre backs to press. It's unbelievable that this is the same team.

So a decent comeback after a loss the last time out, and one that - in many ways - actually raises more questions than it answers. Has Bowen found a way to play Ejaria and Swift in the centre of the park? Does Olise manage to keep his place? Does Puscas and Baldock continue the rotation? And will we manage to overcome Bristol City, who have beaten all of the bottom three in their last four games? There's never a dull moment in the Championship.


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