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Reading 1-0 Watford

Okay, I did say that if we managed to get a result from this match I'd start to get excited. And here we are, 3 points later.

Watford had the better of the early going, playing dangerous balls in from their left-hand side. Switches in play caught Tom Holmes narrow, or Meite failed to track the run of the second player. If I were an opposition manager I'd be looking to switch the play almost every time - either with a player undercutting Richards (who goes wide early to attempt to close down that ball), or overlapping Holmes (who stays narrow).

Most of Holmes passing was safe balls inside, rather than attempting to be incisive

Reading's right side of defence was fairly dysfunctional getting the ball forward. Holmes and Morrison don't trust themselves to play forwards, and deferred to others. That is, of course, other than Holmes' assist for the goal. It was noticeable that it was his only pass from the middle of the pitch - tending to stick to wider areas. Much like Araruna before him, he often didn't have a simple pass forward, and his inability to beat a player meant having to go round the back before going forward.

The reason Holmes found himself central for the only goal of the match was because of Reading's pressure in the far left corner. As we've seen before, that pulls the Reading defence toward that side. Holmes offered the pass which opened up space centrally, before picking out Puscas. If anything, Holmes could have opened up more space for himself by making his run a bit wider, but in the end, it was perfect.

Puscas didn't mean that touch, got a huge amount of luck, but like Olise's strike last time at The Madejski, his instinct to take it early was the key. And it's slightly at odds with the discussion around Reading's shooting stats (at least by Reading fans). Yes - Reading's shots are coming from good positions, and are worth high xG, but that doesn't mean that Reading are creating the best chances. And, as we've seen, creating good chances can sometimes be a little overrated. 

It's almost definite that our current level of shots-to-goals is unsustainable, but in Puscas and Meite we have two high volume shooters that, you would expect, will tend the other way over the course of the season if they play any kind of minutes.

Puscas and Meite both benefitted from Watford's high defensive line, allowing them more leeway in holding up the ball but both have noticeably improved their first touch - although the sample size is still small this season. Above - Puscas does hold the ball up well and plays a lovely pass out to the right, but his touch on another day would see him lose the ball. It's the sort of performance that can help build to something greater.

Sone Aluko sans free-kicks - linking play, but not troubling the final third

As @JordanCottle touched upon on Twitter, Sone Aluko had a great game as Paunovic altered the role of his CAM. He dropped deep, held onto the ball, and recycled possession but rarely looked incisive at the other end. His ability in tight spaces was crucial to breaking the Watford press. On first glance, his tally of three key passes (out of eight) is an impressive stat, but two of those were free-kicks and one a lay-off to Tom Holmes thirty-yards from goal.

If there was any sign that this squad may still need reinforcements, it's that Tom McIntyre replaced Olise with half an hour still to play. He may add some defensive solidity, but I'm not convinced he's the missing piece going forward.  Michael Olise didn't have the best of games, but it's a little difficult to see how bringing McIntyre on helped the side. It makes the decision to have Femi Azeez on the bench, a winger who played 90 minutes for the U23s the day before, even stranger.

But none of that should detract from the fact this was a superb result, and Reading deserved the win. On another day maybe Watford connect with one of those crosses or the free-kick dips under the bar rather than hitting it, but that's downplaying how comfortable we were for large parts. Watford may be struggling to adapt offensively, but they still have tremendous players that could have caused real problems.

I expect that with Ejaria fit Aluko will drop back to the bench. Ovie presumably heading out to the left-wing, while Olise, assuming he's not sold before the deadline, playing centrally. The eighteen-year-old has the same ability to get out of trouble as Aluko, but also a more direct dribbling style and a desire to look for the ball that occasionally drags him out of position when playing wide. If Joao is fit he'll come straight back into the side, but it would also be interesting to see whether Olise and Puscas could play in combination.

Just avoiding defeat at The Riverside is probably more than good enough, given we then host two promoted sides - and anything other than six points from those two games would be a disappointment.


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