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Middlesbrough 0-0 Reading

Reading once again kept the opposition at bay, but this time they couldn't find a way through at the other end.

Reading were dominant defensively. Winning all four headers in their own box, and blocking four shots.

Morrison and Moore dominated in the air, neutralising most of Middlesbrough's more dangerous positions. Unsurprisingly, they were mainly under pressure courtesy of set pieces (and Jonny Howson). Rafael tipped over a deflected Howson shot (set up from a throw-in, it counts), and pulled off the same save from the resulting corner after Morro diverted it toward his own goal.

The second half brought two free-kicks. As noted in @Analytics1871's tweet above, Boro proved adept at recycling possession and Howson managed to find a pocket of space on both occasions. First Lucas Joao stepped out early, leaving the Boro man alone but, thankfully, offside. Next, Morrison's defensive header fell to JH but Moore cleared on the goalline (even if he was directly in front of Rafael - apparently that negates the shot on target).

The tips over the bar were fairly comfortable, but the second half chances were truly dangerous. There was no master plan that caught Howson offside, and a better shot from the midfielder would have seen Boro take all three points.

More generally, although Reading set up a similar mid-block to previous outings, though Middlesbrough's direct approach meant it was largely redundant. When Reading did end up making challenges in the opposition half they mainly ended with free-kicks awarded, but given the result of that meant an aerial ball that our defence were favourites to win, and stops a counter-attack in the process, that's not a huge issue. 

As always we had an issue moving the ball forward after Middlesbrough got back into shape. The right-hand side, again, struggled but the left was also more anonymous than usual. In fact, the defence looked out of ideas on more than one occasion, mainly due to Middlesbrough standing off and allowing them the ball. Moore ended up playing long, usually successfully, but the slick football some envision still hasn't materialised. 

Meite has made a run centrally, and Olise forced the LB central with a run offscreen (the random arrow right of shot). Holmes needs to attack the space created, instead he holds the defensive line.

Diagonal balls out to Tom Holmes seemed particularly effective, when utilised, although it was clear the centre back didn't have a long history of crossing the ball. One move seemed a carbon copy of last week's goal, the ball in the far left corner, cleared to a blue and white shirt, Holmes in space - but this time the ball went via Rinomhota in the middle. That extra touch pushed Holmes wider, the exact run I said he could have made last week to open up more space, but his ball in was, again, poor.

Holmes should attack the two players highlighted, giving Reading a three-on-two overload. Instead, he plays safe into Laurent - who is in space. His first touch is a pass backwards to Morrison, even though there's space to attack if he wants it, and from there it's back again to the goalkeeper. Someone needs to be braver on the ball.

Last time out Holmes' reluctance on the ball was somewhat covered up by the fact we were playing stronger opposition, and he bagged a good assist, but it was the same story this week. Admittedly, he got himself in advanced positions more frequently, but he still played inside when he should run with the ball, and failed to pierce the Boro defence. With Meite cutting inside with the ball he needs to be quicker on the overlap, not just when Reading are encamped in the opposition half.

And while it does help to have another six foot plus defender in the backline (he won 4 out of 6 headers), he was consistently dribbled past and ended up getting a yellow card for a slightly needless foul on halfway. The one change I wouldn't hesitate in making for Wycombe would be to bring Esteves in.

Much like Aluko against Watford, most of Olise's work happened in the withdrawn role. When going forward his final ball was often wayward - as can be clearly seen by the inaccurate passes into the final third.

Another academy grad, Michael Olise, had a mixed game. His role was continually changing over the course of the ninety. Initially, he played a similar role to Aluko last week - trying to link play and keep the ball. So far this season we've seen Joao drop into space to perform much the same function, but instead, he was much more static than usual - presumably to allow the long ball. Olise's final ball was often pretty poor, and it could be argued that Ejaria out wide opened up the best chances, although Joao scuppered the forward momentum on more than one occasion.

In the second half Olise changed to play more like a traditional #10, staying high and making runs in behind. The one-time he decided to go looking for the ball deeper almost lead to a goal. The teenager picked the ball off Moore and fed Rinomhota who, in one movement, took the ball on the turn and passed straight to Ejaria. A touch inside, and a fierce left-footed shot gave the keeper no chance, but unfortunately, it just missed the far corner. I think there's a definite case to be made that Reading miss having Swift in that deep-playmaker role who consistently plays forward and can pick out players in space.

The Semedo introduction moved Olise out to the right and Meite up top. I'm not convinced it's a change that should be repeated. Balls into Meite bounced off him, Olise was marginalised, and the new arrival showed nothing to suggest that moving him to CAM is worthwhile. Though he did manage to nick a couple of balls that show he might have a future in his actual defensive midfield role.

Ovie draws the attention of six players but still manages to get a pass out to Joao. The defender stops him in his tracks before he can move toward goal.

Ejaria had a slightly under the radar game, mostly due to the fact Reading didn't capitalise on the chances he created. Twice in the first half, he played nice balls to Joao to either put him one-on-one but the target man couldn't find enough space to shoot. After the break, he had a pair of shots, both off-target but promising - he demonstrated last year that his shot can be vicious and it should be something we look to utilise far more this term.

As I think a fair few have mentioned - Rinomhota had a good game. He showed a more attack-minded approach in the second half and was involved in a few good opportunities. In fact, he played more key passes (3) than any other player - his first three of the season. The flexibility that both Laurent and Rinomhota give means that Reading can (albeit subtly) change their style of play without having to pay the cost of a substitution, and given we also have a fairly thin squad, that's invaluable.

A point was all I wanted out of this match - keep the unbeaten run going into two fixtures that, on paper, we should be winning. Reading needed penalties a year ago to overcome Wycombe, let's hope we can win inside 90 minutes this time out.


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