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Reading 1-1 Stoke

There may have been three-and-a-half months since Reading last took to the pitch, but there were few surprises amongst the first starting line up of the restart. Yiadom's injury saw Gunter take part, Moore came back into the side for Miazga, Obita replaced Rinomhota, and Joao played his first game in six months as Puscas dropped to the bench.

1st Half Shape

Interestingly it did seem as though the shape was slightly tweaked, moving to a 4-2-3-1 from the usual 4-1-4-1. Ejaria and Swift made up the double pivot, while Olise played in front of them - although it must be said that they weren't tied to those positions, and did rotate if needed. Obita offered the width that twitter was calling out for on the left-wing, and Meite started from a wider position than he had been doing with Puscas up front.

In terms of the midfield trio, I'm not convinced about Ejaria in a deeper role. His tendency to dither on the ball can cause issues, and his passing range is inferior to Olise's. Plus the youngster's directness could be a real asset to instigating attacks, but I suppose you could make the same argument about him unlocking defences from higher up the pitch. What's clear is that every match Olise plays he becomes a more exciting prospect. As for Ejaria, he was disappointingly quiet by his standards.

Joao Touches vs Puscas Touches

It quickly became apparent how big an asset Joao is. Dropping deep to link up attacks, and being in the exact right place when Meite pulled it back to him after seven minutes to tuck home. A couple of lucky ricochets in the build-up were accompanied by a lovely shuffle by Olise to find himself space. It's relatively unusual to see Meite stay wide when in possession, but Joao's focus centrally allows him to do so.

Strangely, for a team who were set up to play down the left, most of the dangerous attacks - and attacks in general - came down the right. Searching balls in from Olise and Gunter only narrowly missed their target. Obita on the other side was largely irrelevant. When the ball did arrive he normally managed to make enough space to put the ball in, but was only once successful. On paper crossing for Joao and Meite makes some sort of sense, but I'm not convinced. For one, Joao hasn't scored with his head all season. He may be tall, but I'm not sure it's his best strength. And I'm not sure that Obita has enough of a skillset, or pace, to be an out-and-out winger. Do we really benefit from having Obita on that wing over Ejaria?

The injury to Joao came as he slalomed between Stoke City shirts. It did seem to be a penalty, but it's difficult to tell on iFollow - even when it does work. Likewise, I wouldn't think there could be many complaints had the push on Morrison been given early in the second half. He may have gone down easily, but Clucas had his hands in his back and certainly did shove him. Incidentally, Clucas was a little fortunate not to be sent off for his challenge on McCleary toward the end of the match.

2nd Half Shape

I think that it's harsh to lay the blame for our turn in fortunes at Puscas' door, even if his introduction is the root cause. Likewise, those who say we didn't change to suit Puscas miss some of the nuances of Bowen's set-up. Puscas likes to make runs into the channels, meaning we lose the focal point Joao gives. To counter that we reverted to Meite playing his hybrid ST-RW role. We also, presumably to then give more solidity to our midfield, pulled Olise back and switched to the 4-1-4-1. It's unsurprising, therefore, that we lacked creativity in the second half - all too often Puscas was too isolated. The times we got players forward to support him we looked better, even if we still failed to convert that into shots.

You can tell that Bowen was running out of ideas because at one point Meite actually switched wings with Obita. Meite actually had some success, getting past his man and attacking the box, but Obita was still anonymous. It was slightly surprising that it was the former who made way of Garath McCleary, although he had run himself into the ground.

First half shape. No forward balls on, and Stoke are forced backward. Swift is over in the middle of the park to marshall between the lines.

Worryingly the tactical switch also lead to us looking more open. In the first half Reading were content to retreat into their defensive 'shape', with the central midfielders man-marking central options. Reading on defence track their men far further than you would sometimes expect, but it is effective in stopping the opposition progressing. More often than not Stoke resorted to long balls which were easily dealt with. On a couple of occasions Powell and Ince drifted into space centrally between the lines and did cause problems, but Ince's chance at the back post was their only real look before the break. After the change Ejaria - the RCM - was tasked with covering the space that Meite vacates, which completely disrupts what we were doing well.

Ejaria is late back after pressuring on the right wing. Stoke are under no pressure in the Reading half, and as Richards is tracking Ince into the centre, a ball over the top to the right flank is possible - although Obita does track the run.

Thankfully Stoke dally and Reading get back into shape, but it takes longer than in the first half.

I can't understand the logic of changing the shape when we looked so comfortable. Having Meite change to CAM, and Olise moving to the wing would have kept the 4-2-3-1, and allowed Meite to attack the box without compromising us defensively. You may lose some creativity centrally, but you also do that when you drop Olise deeper, and give him less freedom to find space; Particularly when you put him on the left side, which we under-utilised. Heck, just let Olise stay where he was and reap the benefits a la Louie Sibley.

The tactical changes were combined with James McClean's introduction for the ineffective Thompson. (Or you could argue that Thompson was one of Stoke's most effective players when he trod on the back of Joao's calf). The Irishman stretched the game and was always a danger on the counter. And Sam Vokes caused Morrison all sorts of problems aerially after he joined the game 65 minutes in.

Even then Reading defended admirably - never giving up a clear chance. Campbell hit the post after a deflection, but Rafael had that covered. Everything looked rosy right up until the 92nd minute when Powell nodded home. As always Steven has done an excellent thread on this, but it boils down to Adam abdicating his responsibility at the back post, instead deciding to retreat into no man's land. Swift's failure to put pressure on his man probably ended up making the initial header more difficult, but Powell reacted first to the second ball. McCleary could have reacted quicker, but I think that it's easy to over-analyse split-second decisions.

It's a sucker punch no doubt. Maybe Reading should have had a penalty (or two), we hit the bar, but we didn't offer enough from open play to feel truly hard done by. Derby line up very similarly to Stoke, but use their fullbacks offensively a lot more, so it will be interesting to see how we cope with that... or if we don't.


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