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Bristol City 0-2 Reading

 A well-deserved victory, although not one that was particularly hard-fought.

Let's be honest, Bristol City were poor. They managed just five shots, and all from the penalty spot or beyond, and going the other way was no better. Reading consistently managed to get players into half-spaces and played some dangerous balls across the box without reward, before breaking the deadlock with another Olise > Joao free-kick.

So, given the nature of the game wasn't particularly enthralling or enlightening, the main talking point seemed to revolve around the substitutions or lack thereof. Josh Laurent was out of the game after what seemed to be a summation of smaller knocks, and some of the squad have played (and will continue to play) a lot of football this month. While those substitutions were eventually made with five minutes left, the first sub was to put Tom Holmes on for Esteves, who may have been suffering from a lack of game time recently but was hardly the most pressing case.

And this aligns with a concern of mine that Paunovic hasn't been using the youth on the bench enough, although the worry diminishes as more senior players return to fitness. Obviously, we shouldn't be playing the U23s to the detriment of our play-off push, but as rotation options they could surely benefit the side. Current U23 outfield players have combined for 74 appearances on the bench and totalled just 28 minutes of playing time.

The obvious counter is the young players already in the team, though they can be split into two distinct groups. Those that were already first-team regulars before Paunovic arrived (Richards, Rinomhota, Olise), and those that have found a way in via injuries (Holmes and McIntyre). It's tough to tell how much of the progression of these players is down to Pauno and how much is their natural curve, but there is definitely credit due to the manager as they've all improved this season. There is just a slight worry in my mind that to withhold players until you have to use them will inevitably mean they take time to get up to speed at the very moment they're critical to the side.

Going back to what happened on the pitch, possibly the most interesting theme was the tendency for Reading's defensive players to continue runs. We saw it with Michael Morrison, of all people, passing into Joao and then running beyond the striker to score. For the record, definite deflection. It wasn't just Morrison; McIntyre carried the ball forward, Rinomohota made runs into the box, and Semedo started a move at the edge of his own eighteen-yard area and ended up on the end of a cross. We've seen Reading's defensive unit hold position quite a lot recently, but they were much freer at Ashton Gate.

Esteves held position well on the right, allowing Ovie his usual tendency to roam inward.

Those runs tended to be within the width of the box, while Reading's wide forwards and full backs looked to stretch the game horizontally. They were aided by Olise, who drifted from side to side looking to create overloads. Ovie likes to come inside looking for the ball (and Richards too, to an extent) but Esteves was more disciplined, something which Reading have routinely lacked on the right. The Porto player didn't look out of place either and had Joao gambled a couple of times he may have got on the end of balls flashed across the box (even if some of them may have been shots).

And it was obvious that Reading were attempting to monopolise the ball in a way that hasn't been the case recently. Since the turn of the year, Reading have only had the majority of the ball once, in the last match vs Millwall, but even there Rafael was looking for longer passes. Reading playing out from the back was reflected in the goalkeeper's passing, as he completed 74%. For context, his average for the season is 10% lower, and against Bournemouth last month Raf only completed 1 in 4.

You could tell City were a side in freefall, and Holden losing his job post-match was no real surprise. It was, however, good for Reading to arrest their own slide early. A win against Middlesbrough will surely be a boost to the play-off chances, and then we're into two games against current bottom four sides (though Rotherham have games in hand). A good position to be in.


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