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Reading 1-4 Swansea City

Hallelujah! The season is over! And all I have to do before I can start writing blogs about things other than Bowen's insane tactical switches is get through this one last home defeat!

And there were some surprises with the line-up. Rather than their Bowen's seemingly preferred two banks of four instead there were five defenders, a midfield trio, and Meite again partnering Puscas in a front two.

It's unclear why Bowen decided to go back to the system that he inherited from Gomes. My best guess is that the 4-4-2 has been shown to be deficient, leaving too much space between the lines and having Morrison disrupt the shape pushing out to meet threats. The usual solution to that this season has been to put the injured Pelé there to mop up anything that manages to evade the midfield, but Liam Moore at DM places too much of a burden on the other CMs in possession. The back-five means that one can push out, as Morrison was doing, while still having enough cover.

In the first half, the system worked surprisingly well. Keeping possession while trying to work the ball forward. Miazga in the middle the main ballplayer, with Moore and Morrison trying to work triangles. Morrison, in particular, looking to go forward when in possession of the ball on the right-hand side. Instead of primarily using Swift as a playmaker out from the defence, the prerogative was given to the back three to progress the ball.

Swift, Rino and Olise played similar roles as to the game at Hillsborough, but with wing-backs providing width. That meant fluid positioning but defaulting to Swift picking up the ball slightly deeper when needed, with Olise and Rino looking forward.

Rino stood off, Rafael - if anything - covering the side of the goal the ball ends up in

It looked far more stable than at Ewood Park and took almost six times longer to concede its first goal. Swansea's chances before the red card were mainly speculative efforts from outside the box, it just so happened that one of them found its way in. Brewster's shot may have swerved, but Rafael really should have done better. He had clear sight, and plenty of time to sort himself out. Rinomhota should have closed down Brewster, rather than standing off, but in many ways that gives the goalkeeper even less excuse.

Going the other way, Reading were creating good chances through solid team play, really for the first time since the restart (bar the match at Kenilworth Road). Swift had a header saved after an Olise cross on the breakaway, Meite had an attempt from a tight angle after good work from Puscas, and a goalmouth scramble had the ball hitting the bar. Up until the sending off, Reading were outshooting The Swans.

The match changed on a rash Meite moment. It's not the first time the forward has lost his head, but it's the first time he's been punished for it. From that moment on Reading stopped doing what they had done well. Instead, falling back into old habits of sitting deep, playing long toward Puscas and ultimately putting themselves under unnecessary pressure. That was in part because Swansea throwing men forward meant they could press higher up the pitch and left Puscas against the centre backs. The gameplan worked a little better late on with the energy of Boyé and McCleary able to offer more of a threat.

Puscas (Other Reading players not pictured)

In fact, it was playing long to Puscas that leads to Swansea's second goal. Rafael looked to catch Swansea out with eight men upfield. The only issue - bar one wondergoal against Cardiff - is that the Romanian hasn't shown the ability to run away from defenders, and by that point, nobody was getting up to support quickly enough. Despite actually managing to get the ball under control, he's forced to the touchline and swiftly dispossessed. Matt Grimes takes possession of the ball inside the centre circle and plays the kind of exquisitely lofted through ball I sometimes dream about John Swift making. The ball falls straight onto Routledge's foot, who beat the offside trap, takes one touch to control, then beautifully lobs the onrushing Rafael.

The team fought hard to keep themselves in the match, but the final straw was the injury to Miazga. Moore and Morrison shifted positions, Blackett came on, and Swansea had their tails up throwing everyone forward. It was a recipe for disaster. Even so, they're two poor goals to concede. 

Blackett fails to track the Cullen run. Moore is in almost the exact position the goal will be scored but doesn't read the flight of the ball quickly enough, and Swansea get there first.

The first a long throw into the box, Blackett doesn't track the goalscorer and Moore is too preoccupied marking his man; failing to react to the ball falling straight to Cullen in the area. The second, Swansea have seven men effectively within the Reading box. Gallagher has too much space to chip to the back post, Blackett deciding to cover the initial cross rather than the pass into the Chelsea loanee. Gunter is the wrong side of Routledge, and Moore doesn't know where Ayew has gone. One of them was bound to convert.

It's hard not to put either down to a team chasing the play-offs, versus a team whose season will be over within the next few minutes. Why waste words on a backline that will never feature for Reading again?

Bowen lamented the 1v1s we missed, the problem is they fell to players who have barely played football in Boyé and McCleary. Olise, who has less excuse, should have done better with an effort too. Obviously, Swansea were gung-ho at that point, leaving gaps in the defence, but it's difficult to tell who in next year's squad will be able to capitalise in that scenario. Earlier in the season, it was Joao holding the ball on the counter who made those opportunities, but he's also made of glass. Without him, we look light in counter-attacking options, as we have done this year on the whole. There does seem to be an avenue via Olise - especially from Rafael - as in that first half but it relies on Olise not having to do all the defensive work.

I know the result here is poor, but it was honestly one of the more encouraging performances. Fully in the game at 11 v 11, with chances created throughout the ninety minutes. I still can't see it being Bowen's go-to formation next year - only used here out of necessity. 


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