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Reading 0-1 Luton

When you rotate the entire squad, you can't expect to win games, and I doubt Paunović will be too disappointed about going out of the cup early. 

The youth players were a mixed bag. The centre backs showed that we need not look for incomings to be happy with our defensive depth, but Bristow on the left seems to need more time to develop. Tetek was composed on the ball and probably did enough to earn a spot on the bench at points this season, but Watson, played out of position, failed to capitalise on his chance.

The blur that is Tom Holmes takes a first touch around the onrushing LuaLua, and then spreads play to the now unmarked Felipe Araruna.

In fact, we should put Tom Holmes in the spotlight, because he played fantastically. He won all nine duels he was involved in (five ground, four aerial), didn't commit a foul, made 92% of passes including 10/12 long balls, and even put Danny Hylton on his backside with his first touch. McIntyre is rightfully considered a real prospect, but to bring someone in above Holmes would be unconscionable.

Meanwhile the experienced players, yet again, failed to trouble the manager's preferred starting XI. Almost everything that Baldock or McNulty tried ended in failure, which meant that Puscas barely touched the ball. On the occasions the ball managed to find the Romanian he did a decent job - 19 touches, 10 passes successful out of 10, 2 fouls won. Meanwhile, Aluko was the only senior player that attempted to inject the urgency needed, although you still only see glimpses of the player Reading thought they were signing.

The idea out wide appears to be the full back tucks in, while the winger pressures any attacking full back, but McNulty was too slow out.

Luton's main threat was balls in from wide positions, from set-pieces or open play. Particularly down their right flank, with Bristow tucking in and nobody pressuring the ball. The Luton attackers always managed to find a pocket of space with their movement, but rarely forced Southwood into action; the 'keeper couldn't do anything about the goal. I've highlighted before that if a team switches flanks quickly there's open space, and that's what Luton did. Albeit, slower than I thought would cause us issues, but Sparky didn't get out to the man quickly enough. Bristow ends up failing to even challenge for the ball as Clark gets in front.

Reading allow a simple ball into midfield, Tunnicliffe can turn and set up an attack. Reading should be in 4-4-2 shape here, but the strikers haven't got over to cover.

Having an inexperienced Tetek, and an out of position Watson meant that Luton could find space between the lines without Reading having the understanding of who to pick up. And the pressing all over the pitch was disjointed, individuals pressing without cutting off simple passing lanes.

Reading's forward quartet were slated for failing to show anything, but Luton made it hard to move through the double pivot, by marking them out of the game. Hopefully less of an issue with Rinomhota and Laurent.

A large part of our offensive issues appeared to stem from players not backing themselves. When chasing the game Bristow had a couple of bursts down the line which show some signs of ability, and Tetek's mazey run past a multitude of orange shirts, but the main pattern of play ended up being the defence and double pivot shifting responsibility to each other. It was noticeable how much Reading improved when bypassing that pivot altogether, either going straight into the forwards or having Holmes and McIntyre carry the ball. Luton, to be fair, contributed to Reading's bluntness, man-marking the defensive midfielders out of the game.

Reading also didn't use the pivot in the same way as they have done, where Laurent opens up space for wingers to drop into and Rinomhota then takes the ball off the back four. Instead, they were the more traditional screen in front of the back four at all times.

Centre back Tom McIntyre offers (and receives) the knockdown.

One thing that I'm really struggling to understand was Pauno's decision to throw McIntyre upfront when Nahum Melvin-Lambert was already on the field to offer an aerial target - and it was the latter that won the only long ball forward. There wasn't a lot off the bench - Pendlebury and East are defensive midfielders, but Joseph Ajose is allegedly a winger that may have been able to make an impact. Or allow Puscas to play off Melvin-Lambert rather than swapping them.

At the end of the day, whoever won this match was going to get battered in the next round. It allowed the gaffer to gauge youth and hopefully make some decisions about the senior quartet. Realistically that's a good outcome without risking any of the first choice side.


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