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Reading 1-1 Hull

Hull took a deserved point from the Madejski in a horrendously poor game. Reading retained the 5-3-2, with Blackett coming in for McIntyre.

I'd like to start with an aside. BBC Berkshire have absolutely no idea what they're talking about and it winds me up no end. Not only were they incredibly disrespectful to a Hull side they have no idea about, but they also predicted us to score four times. I haven't seen anything to suggest we can score twice without Joao. If you want the tl;dr of this article it's basically that a very well drilled (cliché, but true) came to Reading with a gameplan and executed it almost flawlessly with the help of a subpar performance from the home side.

Hull's midfield stopped Reading playing between the lines, with the highlighted space almost impossible to play into. Hull's press was initiated by a ball carrier looking to enter the final third, or the ball going out to a wing-back. Otherwise, they were happy to sit in formation.

The difference to recent weeks is that it was Hull, rather than Bowen's team, who were more than happy to sit behind the ball and look to counter. Which meant that Reading had much more of the ball than they're used to - almost 60%, but they failed to really create chances. One of the signs that Hull's system was working well is the number of times that Moore or Morrison had to attempt balls over the top. They were happy for the back three, or even Pelé, to have the ball as long as they weren't in Hull's half, and would only really press when the ball went out wide. So they stayed compact, which led to them cutting out a number of balls - or forcing Reading to find another option to begin with.

To attempt to counteract that the defensive trio attempted to stretch the game. When the ball was on their side Blackett or Moore would be almost against the touchline to provide width, allowing the wing-backs to get further forward. Moore ended up in the right-wing position on one of his runs forward, and put in a good cross, but we only seem to see those runs early on in the game. It's strange that we didn't see it more given that Hull were only playing one up top - although Maddison was also influential from midfield.

Reading's formation in the first half-hour of the second half. In possession, the players on the wing all pushed forward to form something akin to a 2-4-4.

After half time we switched to a 4-4-2. Obita was pushed forward, Pelé and Ejaria in central midfield, with Swift on the right. I'm not sure what the logic is for taking a man out of midfield when you're already struggling to play through the opposition is, but I'm sure it was well thought out. Moore also flipped over to LCB, his preferred, after being on the right to accommodate Blackett in the three.

Reading fail to capitalise on Hull's midfield being too narrow. Swift pushes up too early, making the pass more difficult. Instead, Ejaria goes long to Meite, who cannot hold the ball up, and there's nobody in the CAM space to attempt to pick up second balls (perhaps why Aluko is introduced)

The change in formation didn't tackle the root of the problem, in some ways it exacerbated it. Hull's tightly packed midfield still looked to cut out passed, and make it impossible for Reading to play between lines, but they now lacked the ability to create the all important triangles we all know and love. That man moved out into one of the wide positions. So the end product was that too often there would be no forward ball on, and Ejaria or Pelé were forced to go backwards. The one time that Reading started to pass quickly, they managed to score. Pelé was instrumental, twice switching the ball to the flanks in the build-up and stretching the Hull defence.

Reading's Goal - da Silva (circled) gets attracted to Pelé, Swift drifts into the space created, which forces the defender to push out to him and allows Obita in behind.

I think the main issue is that it's difficult to see what the plan for breaking down Hull actually was. Presumably, the switch to 4-4-2 was meant to facilitate Reading playing down the wings, but the switches to the wing were too slow on the whole and there was never any urge to commit players and force overloads. As mentioned, in the build-up to the goal, Pelé plays two balls wide which help to open up space, but they also get a large helping hand from da Silva breaking rank to close down Pelé rather than seeing the danger Swift creates. As my good friend Steven pointed out on twitter, it was actually Swift drifting over to the left-hand side that led to the goal which isn't something we saw again. I think that central midfield is crying out for Rinomhota - someone to give the legs, and who will actively try to create triangles instead of passively waiting between the lines.

Another game where the strike force hasn't made much of an impact. I think in lieu of a real target man we need to continue with Meite, but Tom Eaves really did show what Reading are missing. Baldock, on the other hand is not what I think this team needs currently. He's always trying to get in behind, and most of his touches are in the final third as you would expect. Our issue seems to be creating chances - not finishing them. Bringing on Aluko changed the style of play, with him dropping deep between the lines much more naturally, and played the link-up role that Joao does so well, albeit in a different way. That said, he was obviously helped by the fact that Hull started to chase the game, and freed up more space in the middle. It's difficult to truly judge Aluko yet, but I would be tempted to start him against WBA.

With twenty minutes left Hull moved to something like a 4-2-3-1 - at least that's what WhoScored calls it, I'm not sure it was that defined - which caused Reading all sorts of problems. Pushing extra bodies forward led to Reading's undoing, but before the away team managed to capitalise it did mean that we could actually play on the counter. There were a couple of opportunities where Reading got the ball forward quickly but missed the target both times, the second being quickly followed by Hull's goal. The goal itself is just a culmination of a lot of different threads. The main being that little movement gives opposition strikers far too much space in the box. I appreciate it's not exactly the same, but it reminds me of Smith's strike against us at The Den with nobody alert to the danger. Maybe Pelé could have done better - he does track back rather slowly - but there doesn't seem to be any danger until the striker receives the ball in the box. The defenders are in roughly the correct places until a little jag back opens up space for Wilks. When he shoots there are five Reading players around him, and not one attempts to really put him under pressure.

What's the new lad doing this high? Admittedly he's actually attacking space. I think I sort of like it?

A special mention for Araruna. He was composed on the ball, always looked to go forward, and linked up well with Swift. On a couple of occasions he cut inside to a central midfield position, winning a dangerous free-kick on one occasion. He seems to be a capable back-up to Yiadom, who will presumably be first choice when back from injury, but based on one game, and my gut feel, I think he will probably be in that defensive midfield slot when Pelé heads back to Monaco. Frustratingly he could also be another Rinomhota to give energy to the midfield trio, but without any other fit right-backs it's unlikely he'll get an opportunity any time soon - unless Rino himself covers at the back.

I appreciate too that we did actually do some of the things I've asked for in previous posts. We didn't sit as deep - or with as many men behind the ball, and we engaged with Hull higher up the field than we had been doing recently, rather than waiting for them to enter the third. Bowen put this game down to fatigue. And in many ways, you can see that - Swift's poor form could be put down to it. He's played ten and a half hours of football so far this year and has the fourth highest minutes of any outfield player so far this season. But it was his go to excuse against Millwall too, and if it's really that bad maybe use the squad?


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