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Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Reading

Reading got nothing from a game they deserved nothing from. 

The change to 4-4-2 was a disaster. Blackburn, quite literally, wandering through the Reading defence. Morrison, appearing to be the designated aggressor, pushed out to danger between the lines - often leaving large pockets of space behind, or dragging Gunter narrower. Unsurprisingly very similar to the match against Wigan, last time we tried 4-4-2. All three of McIntyre, Morrison, and Moore will have felt they could have done better on goals.

Swift reacts slower to the loose ball than Holtby, McIntyre has already started to back-off. Needs to at least pressure the ball carrier when they've entered the box. You would hope Morrison would be yelling at him.

Within three minutes it was obvious that Omar Richard's role of tracking Lewis Holtby would cause Reading issues. The academy graduate, playing on the left-wing, was dragged inside, meaning Blackett was forced to disrupt the shape pushing out to Nyambe. The ball is fired into Brereton and Richards twice makes good recovery tackles, only for the second to fall straight back to Holtby, who flicks in to Brereton first time. Maybe Swift could have been more alive to the danger, maybe Blackett should have got back quicker, but at that stage, McIntyre needs to push out to the forward, but drops so far back that Morrison actually attempts to block the shot across him.

Three minutes later again and Blackburn's short - but not quick - free-kick managed to catch Reading unawares. Holtby (his name is a running theme) taps and Joe Rothwell drives into space that Rinomhota has left by sitting deep - presumably waiting for the cross into the box. Adam Armstrong lets the pass into him roll across his body, which takes Morrison out of the play and finds the corner. Whether Rafael should have done better - he doesn't seem to get much purchase on his dive - is a question up for debate. Personally, I think you have to be expecting more from the keeper on both the opening goals, although it's difficult to tell if he was unsighted for the first.

In the second half, another short set-piece routine was Reading's undoing. Again Holtby and Rothwell get the ball moving. Again Rothwell is allowed to run too far without pressure, this time in part because Puscas, who does spot the danger, is never in the right position to square up to the attacker. Rothwell's speculative shot was meant to bend into the far corner but instead was straight at Moore, who doesn't get enough on the header and instead diverts it past Rafael. 

I want to give Moore the benefit of the doubt - it came at him quickly, and he was as much a passenger as anybody, but it's easy to argue he could have done better and this will be another blot against him in many people's book. His lack of effort to stop the final goal against Wigan, the penalty - after getting away with one minutes before - at Derby, and now a poor goal to concede in a game that Reading actually got themselves (or Baldock got us) back into. I think the captain right now is pretty much the definition of someone where a move would benefit both parties before the mood between them sours irreversibly. 

That is not to say that I don't believe Moore to be a good player - in fact, I think it's undeniable that his ceiling is above where ours is currently, and the issue with moving him on in this transfer window is whether we can get an established centre-back to bed into the squad in a shortened period of time. Ultimately, as with all seemingly all players this summer, finances will decide his future.

In terms of Reading's goals, there were really only three factors: Rinomhota's ability to buy a foul, Blackburn's inability to maintain their wall, and Sam Baldock.

Our first goal came from a combination of the initial two. Swift picked a good pass into Rino, who was quickly bundled to the floor. Rinomhota takes so much pressure off the team by winning fouls - nobody in the squad wins more p90. Swift's free-kick found the corner, but the wall should have done better. It's always concerning when a set piece effort manages to find the bottom corner. 

People can say that Reading had a spell around the hour mark, but even that's being a touch generous. Twice the ball found Baldock in good positions, and it was his tenacity that dragged The Royals back into the game. The change, as ever, felt pre-arranged, but this time it paid off. You do have to give credit to Bowen if it's the comments midweek that fired up the substitute striker, and you would assume he'll be starting in the final game of the season as a reward. 

His goal is nothing but individual skill. A great cross from Obita - playing as a left-back and looking all the better for it on the whole - was directed at the near post and the keeper couldn't get there. Then Super Sam wrestled control of a loose ball, shifted it past a diving defender and chipped a pass right onto Meite's head. Meite's finish not quite of the same standard as Baldock's, but nicely placed into the far corner. Feed The Yak is just as pertinent for Yakou as Yakubu.

Front two touches before Sam Baldock's introduction.

Up until Baldock's introduction, the switch to two up front hadn't had the desired effect. Adding additional strikers somewhat misses the point that it's the wayward passing into the most advanced player(s) that is causing the issue. Once the ball ends up with the fullbacks there are few options. Especially given Richards' main task was defensive, and Olise drifted infield to form a central midfield trio.

Reading may have tripled their number of shots-on-target from midweek, the stated aim of the formation change, but they were seven short of the Luton match where we played with one up top. Incidentally, The Royals have now scored with their last four shots on target (and five of their last six).

We also saw Gunter's main shortcoming, an unwillingness to carry the ball, exposed. Had Yiadom been in the team I think we could have been looking at a completely different match, with much more Reading threat down the right. Or, even, if Osho had started - who has already shown himself to be capable. Was this about him not signing his contract? I fail to see the reason for the change.

Olise's role was bizarre, but not unusual. Bowen seems to favour building down the left - and the gameplan for Olise highlights that. That made sense when Meite's involvement further forward deprived you of a right-winger, but what was the justification here? Swift dropped to bring the ball out from the back, and Olise moved alongside Rinomhota when deep, then drifted behind/alongside the main strikers as the ball progressed. And without that marauding full-back, It left the right side completely barren, and exposed to Blackburn's counter; Although they were preoccupied with attacking down the opposite flank anyway. 

A (rough) progressive runs map where the player carries toward the opposition goal. Roughly based on WyScout's progressive run definition (roughly)

The introduction of McCleary added an extra dimension of a ball carrier to progress the ball quickly through the final third. Specifically attacking the right hand side, exactly in the spaces we'd neglected for the rest of the match. Alas, there was a lack of final ball that hampered any real danger. It is an indication of how a true wide man could work in Bowen's system - and someone with a bit more quality could have been a real threat. 

So the first few subs were good, but the decision to then bring on Osho in favour of Swift, and push Moore into midfield was truly, truly baffling. The only theory I have is that Osho was stripped and ready when they noticed that Swift was hobbling, and just couldn't be bothered to change the player coming on. It's another match where the decision to extend loans of players we seemingly have no interest in using becomes worse, and worse. Not that it would have even required a temporary member of the squad; I have no idea what's going on with Felipe Araruna but I'm sure he could have managed ten minutes.

Heck, I don't know if having Moore in the defence would have stopped the last goal, given there was always a certain inevitability about the result. And so it came to pass with Gallagher getting above Obita at the back post. Gunter should have done better to stop the initial cross, and Obita never even challenges for the ball. Instead getting caught out trying to shepherd it behind.

For once I agree with Bowen, at least this season is almost over.


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