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Reading 0-3 Brentford

The nice thing about watching matches back is that you remove the emotion you felt on the initial viewing, with absolute clarity with what is about to happen. And in some ways, you notice that Reading weren't as far off as you first thought. Had Puscas sorted his feet out for that chance, or Gunter measured a pass slightly better, or Olise noticed a run maybe we would have made a fist of things. But we didn't, and we collapsed in such a way to allow criticism of almost every aspect of the squad. You also notice that we were overrun at virtually every opportunity. Swings and roundabouts.

It only took a couple of minutes for the worrying signs to start. Reading's set-up to defend when Brentford's goalkeeper, David Raya, had the ball was suspect at best. Meite was stopping the short distribution to Pinnock, but that left Rico Henry - some would argue the bigger threat - as an easy option for a keeper with Raya's passing ability. Rinomhota, too, was more worried about Norgaard in front of him, than Benrahma dropping into space behind him. Gunter didn't press per se, but he didn't drop off either allowing Watkins to try to drag Morrison across into the channel. It's only Swift getting into the right position that spares our blushes so early on.

Norgaard heads to Rafael. Watkins does attempt run to front post, but Morrison shepherd's well. I'd be worried about the big trapezium of space in toward the penalty spot going forward.

Instead it was a set-piece - an area that Reading have actually been relatively good at - that Brentford capitalised from. Derby targeted the back post, and The Bees went beyond even that. In one of their first corners, Brentford had Norgaard make a run from the edge of the area to beyond the back post. They had three blockers stop blue and white shirts getting out to meet the initial ball, and from there the plan was similar. Nod it back across for Watkins to flick past Rafael, but thankfully he didn't manage to get across Morrison.

At the next corner into the box (there was a short routine in between, which also makes sense when your opposition has eleven men in their own area) Pinnock, instead of acting as a blocker, peeled off to the back - where Swift had actually been positioned after Norgaard's earlier run. The midfielder was in almost the exact correct position to pressure the header but didn't challenge at all. It was too easy for Pinnock to pick out Mbeumo in the middle, and BMW opened their account. The Brentford corner routines were variations on routines they've run previously, and they're intelligent given Reading's set-up. If we're going to pack the six-yard box then teams are just going to try to drag them out and attack with the second ball. Stoke managed that by accident.

Mbeumo completely unmarked in front of Rafael. Obita and Moore wrestle Watkins at the back post. Meite, as a player with a full view of what's unfolding, could also try to get closer.

It must be quite hard to start picking someone up after the ball is in play. Nobody was looking for Mbeumo initially, and he capitalised. He was allowed to loiter next to Rafael, before getting himself in a prime position between Morrison and Moore. That was aided by Watkins doing everything in his power to drag Moore out of position. The captain should have given Watkins to Obita, but instead ended up doubling up on the striker. It was presumably one of the centre backs' task to track the forward - at the first corner Morrison was basically holding his hand - but he needs to react to the situation.

Although not the key failure, it's too easy to work the ball to the edge of the Reading box 

A shift to 4-4-2 didn't end our struggles with putting pressure on Raya's distribution. The main failing for the second goal is clearly toward the end. Rafael palms the ball back into the middle, and Dasilva reacts quicker, so much quicker, than any of the Reading players close to the ball, but there are errors earlier too. The move starts with a Brentford goal kick, at which it's Swift's turn to mark Norgaard. Brentford do like to play through the Dane, but Swift's position in the opposition third means that Rinomhota is forced to cover Dasilva and Marcondes. The ball heads towards the latter, unsurprisingly in the very space that Swift should be standing. A first-time pass and Brentford have bypassed half the Reading side.

Swift is too lackadaisical to get into position on the edge of the box

Where Swift is more culpable is the lack of awareness defensively. He actually starts arriving back in defence before Dasilva, but the goalscorer's run takes Swift seemingly by surprise. On more than one occasion Swift failed to track his man - normally Marcondes, and this time he was punished. Usually, Swift got attracted to the ball, Marcondes peeled off and round the back and suddenly found himself in acres of space. Normally I would argue that Rinomhota is also too deep, but Obita is turned too easily, and it's Rinomhota's presence that probably stops the shot from Marcondes himself.

In terms of Reading's own attacking output, it was largely non-existent again. At times it feels like there are not enough options out of defence. In the first half, slightly strangely, it was Olise and Rinomhota that were mainly offering themselves for balls out from the back, while Swift tried to get himself further forward. I understand the theory. Olise and Rinomhota are more agile and Swift has been our biggest asset toward the top end of the field, but equally, Olise seems like he'd be too easily overrun defensively to permanently put him in that holding two. 

Here Morrison passes back to Moore, whose heavy touch puts him in trouble, and forces a long ball towards 5'5" Sam Baldock. What should have happened was Morrison plays the ball into Rinomhota. Rino can turn into space, or fall over and win a foul like he does so well. Watkins is ready to pressure the midfielder, but Rinomhota can lay the ball off to Moore in that instance - who now has more time and can bring the ball forward a little further.

Coupled with that is a reluctance to take risks that probably harks back to the Stam era. If the ball is played into a midfielder in space they need to have the confidence to turn. Likewise, if there's a progressive pass on that may be cut out they need to still attempt it sometimes. Gunter is obviously the best example of this safety-first thinking, but I think it still affects Swift, Moore, and Obita to varying degrees. Morrison isn't a graduate of Stam's team, but it's clear he doesn't trust himself enough and ends up shifting responsibility to Moore when he can. I'd love to see Osho given a go before his contract (properly) expires. The academy grad seems to be much more comfortable on the ball, and willing to bring it out of defence.

Brentford content to sit in their 4-5-1 rather than press Adam (it is a 4-5-1 when Baptiste isn't at LB anyway). The Scot spreads play wide to Obita. Some fortunate play for Ejaria gets Puscas a fantastic chance on the edge of the six-yard box.

Charlie Adam's inevitable introduction did help. Adam is always going to be a more viable option when Reading are chasing a game and the opposition aren't as focused on exploiting his defensive weaknesses. His entire job was to be given the ball and to switch play to the opposite wing. So simple, but quite effective. Adam's passing is flatter and quicker, but it's hard to see why it takes his introduction to put into practice a fairly basic methodology.

The change to 4-4-2 was meant to give us more sticking power up front, but it failed to really make much of a difference. Interestingly you can pinpoint the exact moment Bowen switches - 38:55 in; Mid-press Olise gets called over to the right-wing, Meite joined Baldock up front, and Ejaria dropped a little deeper on the left. The most worrying comment Bowen has ever made is when he said that players should just know how to play 4-4-2 after the Wigan game. We don't play it particularly well, and that's only exacerbated when you play two vs three in central midfield against a side whose movement is among the best in the league.

It's all very well going more direct after half time, but Meite had a poor game. When he did win headers there was nobody around him to pick up the second ball - admittedly not his fault, but heavy touches, bad runs, and being pushed off the ball too easily meant he had no impact. Above, he does well to roll Henry but then wastes it allowing Pinnock to clear. Bowen seems to see him, probably fairly, as the only even semi-viable target man left in the squad without Joao, but he's just not a natural fit for the rest of this team.

I suppose the issue is, should we be playing with a target man at all? Is this really the best formation for us right now? Our tactical changes reek of desperation. When plan A doesn't work, switch to 4-4-2. When Baldock doesn't look like he's causing enough problems, put Puscas on after an hour. These are so obvious that you can predict them before the match at this stage.

In his post-match interview, Bowen said that he hopes to be able to build 'his' team over summer. It's perfectly plausible that Bowen recruits for a 4-4-2 next season and has some measure of success with it - although he'll need to buy incredibly well to fix the gaping holes defensively caused by his coaching. Even if he pulls it off, I'm not sure that good squad building makes you a good manager. Is Mark Bowen getting the best out of the current squad? No, he's not. If only there was some post at the club where he could influence transfer policy without actually being involved in the day-to-day running of the team. Not that he's shown any particular prowess in that side of the footballing hierarchy either.

I'd really like us to blood some of the youngsters over the next six games. Admittedly a loss to Luton could really start alarm bells ringing, but if Bowen is seriously confident that we're not going to be dragged into a relegation battle then there's no real reason not to. The play-offs have gone (and it was ludicrous to ever be seriously contemplating them), and we need to start making some decisions about what the squad is going to look like next year. You would assume that there would be little to no pre-season for tinkering, so why not chuck some youngsters in now? It seems to have worked alright for Derby.

I think it goes without saying that it's hard to be confident for Saturday. The Hatters' form picked up even before lockdown, and they're now unbeaten in six. That new (ish) manager bounce is real, and I'd be surprised if Nathan Jones has any problems motivating a team who are desperate to stay at this level.


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