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Reading 2-0 Barnsley

Bowen reverted to the set-up that was so successful against Sheffield Wednesday. Moore was replaced by Miazga in an enforced change, and Obita was selected ahead of Richards. Other than that the personnel was the same - with the only other difference being Ejaria through the centre and Olise on the left.

It's curious - you pick up your first win of the year, play well at Leeds, and then decide to overhaul the system which leads to a morale-shattering defeat. Switching back shouldn't absolve Bowen of the mistakes he made midweek, but at least he recognised how to rectify the issue. It's almost irrelevant to judge whether Bowen is doing a good or a bad job, the key question is whether he's doing a better or worse job than someone else would be in his position.

One interesting development in the way we play is that Meite doesn't seem to push up quite so much to support Puscas. Don't get me wrong, he was still a focus for long balls, and he's often the furthest forward of the midfield quintet, but he's not looking to play as a second striker in the way he did in January. He's playing in front of the defence and linking with those in the midfield rather than trying to get in behind. It means that Yiadom actually has a bit more license to push forward with the idea that Meite can cover.

Puscas continued his ascent up the Reading striker ranking by putting away another chance - this one more difficult than his penalty or deflection in. There's not a chance that his touch is intentional, but once the ball spins in behind the defender I don't think the result was in doubt, and what a change that is to say. Again there's an excellent dissection of the goal on TTE.

I appreciate that the Morrison/Moore partnership had a successful period, but Matt Miazga deserves to be in this team. Moore's leadership always seems a little suspect - is he the captain because he's the best player to do that job, or because it was promised to him to make him stay? Miazga, on the other hand, never stops communicating with those around him and looks like a leader on the pitch. Not just that, his positioning seems impeccable and the guy is tall.

The move to have two legitimate wingers (or whatever you want to call Masika) on the pitch later in the game opens up counter-attack options that aren't as forthcoming otherwise. Particularly having somebody so fast, although it's still too early to fully judge Masika. It feels like there must be a reason he's being held back a bit more - although that could just be that he doesn't fully fit into Plan A. McCleary was functional, but his Reading career is coming to an end, and shouldn't be thought of as a long term option.

While there are obvious signs of improvement from Wigan, I think we also have to be cautious to overemphasize a result against another team fighting relegation. Numerous times Barnsley had the ball in dangerous positions, but it was their poor decision making that squandered chances, rather than Reading playing particularly well defensively. In fact, in every model of xG I can find Barnsley come out on top by far, with Meite's fluke goal counting for half of Reading's total.

Part of that disparity can be explained away by Reading's defensive shape meaning that Barnsley could lay siege without ever really threatening - seventeen of Barnsley's twenty-three shots came after Puscas' goal and Reading shut up shop. There was a sequence of three shots denied by goal-line technology, but putting those aside Barnsley only managed one shot on target at two-nil down - from twenty-five yards. Cauley Woodrow and Alex Mowatt both managed more touches than any Reading player. Often in front of the defence, but better players (or just a different day) would have punished us.

The only thing stopping us keeping the same team at St Andrew's is the extra time period against Sheffield United that may have sapped energy from key members of the team. Birmingham's last league defeat was NYD though they're not winning every game - it has draw all over it (which probably means it actually has a narrow defeat written all over it).

Let's just hope that Jude Bellingham doesn't have a point to prove.


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