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Preston North End 0-0 Reading

A match that seemed destined for 0-0 early on ended up being so, but the penalty miss stings.

Joao's spot kick missing the target was obviously the crucial moment, and there's no real excuse. He's now missed his last two, but it was the change in penalties that was most interesting. He's gone back to how he scored his first two penalties of the year, looking to hit the left side netting. Gone is the stutter-step he trialled against Nottingham and Birmingham, and, while he does keep his eye on the keeper initially, it's much more about hitting his own target than attempting to outwit the man between the sticks. Clearly, the Birmingham miss hurt, but it just needs the next one to go in to get him back on track. 

Anyway, away from the sad bit - Preston were direct, and with Riis up front it's no surprise. Even if The Lilywhites didn't retain possession, they often had bodies forward to attempt to win the second ball or pressure the Reading defence. Laurent largely stayed in defensive midfield, rather than trying to break forward, to counteract that quick break although Rinomhota did venture forward a little more.

Preston hit Riis, who can give the ball to an unmarked Sinclair.

I haven't watched Preston a great deal, but all the stats websites have them down as consistently playing a 4-2-3-1. Preston changed that approach here, pushing Ledson into a central midfield role and lining up in something closer to a 4-1-4-1. That gave Reading's midfield screen two central midfielders to worry about, which in turn gave Potts and Sinclair the opportunity to come inside and overload the half-space.

Probably because of the high press, Reading's offensive unit changed the way they operated. As we've seen a few times this season, the attacking output was largely left to those front four - with the rest of the team mostly looking to keep it tight. Swift no longer dropped deep with the same frequency, and instead went back to predominantly looking to link offensive play. Reading didn't seem to want to mess about with trying to set up Swift unless they'd established possession, opting to consistently look for long balls toward Joao.

Preston look to pressure any short goal kick. Rafael consistently chose to go long instead.

The best example of this is from goal kicks. With Preston attackers encamped on the edge of the area, Rafael played long. Obviously, Joao was the primary target, but more than a few went to Aluko on the right side who valiantly tried to outjump Rafferty (probably one of the reasons Aluko was withdrawn for Semedo). When Rafael received the ball in open play, he waited as long as possible before launching - trying to create space further up the pitch by drawing the opposition onto him.

As Ovie runs toward the centre of the pitch, Swift looks to go into the space on the left

Swift's game changed to move horizontally, looking to interchange with Aluko and Ejaria, and Reading's offensive spacing suffered because of it. Aluko was found centrally too often, and Swift didn't go wide enough to replace the lost width - although that's in part because his secondary function was close interplay to open space for others. Without an attacking full-back on that side, or even a full-back who can consistently cross, too often there's no threat coming from the right at all. Rinomhota did take that track on occasion, but it was largely a token run and he came inside almost immediately giving no option on the switch.

It could be that Reading were deliberately narrower, making it easier to pick up the second ball after it's been played toward Joao. The issue being that even when possession had been established, Reading were still in the middle of the pitch. Another issue, and I'll say up front my twitter bio currently contains "John Swift superfan", is that Swift lacks autonomy. Your side's main creator is reacting to those around him, rather than imposing himself. That works when those around him work, but that wasn't the case.

Ovie has enough room to hit a cross quickly but instead dallies and ends up having to take a tough left-footed cross from the byline after being closed down by two Preston defenders.

People will remember Ovie's 'chance' at the end - following a superb through ball from Josh Laurent - but I think it shows a couple of more fundamental issues in Ovie's game. When he gets into the half-space inside the 18-yard-box he often attempts to do too much. Sometimes due to a lack of options but a lot of the time he just doesn't take the half-space he's normally afforded early on, before he's double or triple-teamed. Sure, dancing through Coventry players was fun, but it's rare he doesn't get dispossessed.

On that occasion in stoppage time, he just needed to fire the ball across the box, rather than coming back onto his right, and that's another problem too. Ovie may be able to generate a powerful shot with his left, but doesn't seem to want to trust it to deliver anything else. That means he can diffuse dangerous situations by having to stop to get onto his right.

Results elsewhere meant that a draw was enough to actually extend the lead over seventh place in the table, and that's the only thing that matters at the moment. Next up, a tasty 5th v 6th. Bournemouth may be lacking form, but they're still going to be a tough prospect.


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