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Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 Reading

To say this is a bad result is an understatement. Wycombe have been making a fist of things, but a side hoping to go up this year should have enough about them to take all three points.

Four centre-backs was always an odd decision given the opposition had only won four games before Tuesday night and scored the second-fewest goals in the league in the process. It reduced the ability to carry the ball and condemned Reading to a night of playing long toward Joao - a tactic that eventually bore fruit in the reverse fixture but never looked threatening this time out. 

I wonder if we set up like this against sides with big, strong forwards so that there's no weakness that they can exploit. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case as Ikpeazu bullied the backline at points. None of the defence played badly but they weren't set up to succeed - especially after going a goal down. If you set your side out to keep things tight, you have to actually follow through. 

Morrison has to get across Onyedinma and stop the attacker from getting to the ball

The goal is disappointing for a few reasons. Not least because Wycombe manage to recycle position through multiple phases with nobody in red managing to get close to them. Then they get that piece of luck, with a bicycle kick ending up on the head of Stewart at the back post.  Rafael comes to get the ball but doesn't spread himself and Onyedinma can stick a foot in and touch it past him. The keeper wasn't the only person at fault, Morrison really has to be stronger blocking the attacker out. It's the kind of goal that gets worse every time you see it.

Wycombe understandably started to sit deeper after taking the lead, and that meant Semedo came into the game much more. His directness is a real asset that we don't always see from Rinomhota but it wasn't utilised in the first half. In the build-up to the penalty, he took the ball on the edge of his own box and found Joao on halfway with the very next touch. He scans the pitch well and has the ability to make some of the tougher passes. In this instance, there was still a bit to do (that ball from Ovie is unreal) but it was Semedo that gave the platform and forced the play.

As for Joao, missing a spot-kick is fairly sinful at the best of times, and the striker has surely had his last chance now. He had a good technique going into the left-hand corner but doesn't seem to have the variation to make him a legitimate option. His penalty misses have cost the side four points, and that's without taking into consideration the impetus those goals would have given to get level against Birmingham and Wycombe.

And unfortunately, he didn't show the level we've come to expect more generally. He was outmuscled by Stewart when the defender was the last man, failed to control a Moore free-kick, and a McIntyre long ball that would have put him clean through escaped him in the last few minutes. None were easy opportunities, but they're the reasons Reading fans have been so vocal about him being a 'complete' striker.

There's always so much space for Reading attackers that is under utilised. Admittedly Ejaria crossing (L) is probably a surprise

One of the more glaring wasted opportunities was Laurent's low cross that Joao failed to get anything on. For me, one of the poorest qualities of this Reading side is in crossing positions. Not just the crosser, but the decisions those in the middle make. It feels like all the actions are a second too slow, or the spacing of runs means the ball ends up missing everyone - even with bodies in the box. Under Bowen, there was a clear plan (at least with Joao in the team), that the striker makes a near-post run with Swift arriving late on the penalty spot, but I don't see that level of understanding currently.

People will question whether this performance it's fatigue after a busy schedule, but Wycombe have played more fixtures in February (7 vs 6). Paunovic's refusal to rotate, and use his substitutes, should be a critique, not a saving grace. Although maybe it's better he doesn't use make changes if he's going to go back to withdrawing Olise and Ejaria while chasing a goal. Conceptually do either suit the 4-4-2 we ended up playing? Not really. Do I care about that when 1-0 down with ten minutes left? No.

So many players in the box, but without a link it's pointless

Okay, we loaded the box (with Baldock?) but that means little when the players tasked with getting the ball into the mixer are Morrison, Holmes, Moore, and McIntyre. Even if we didn't start with recognised full backs, the game was crying out for Richards and Yiadom who can at least create the separation required to attempt crosses. Instead, we hit hopeful balls from deep rather than trying to attack the box and cause issues. There was a painful passage of play that consisted of Laurent and Morrison just nudging the ball to each other, hoping the other would find the space before the midfielder mishit a cross with his weaker foot.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to find positives at the moment. The gap to the chasing pack is closing - and a Barnsley win in their game in hand would put us in serious danger. The next three sees us face off against out of form sides, and hopefully, that'll be our salvation.


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