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Birmingham City 2-1 Reading

How quickly football turns. Reading have gone from three wins in four, to one point in six. Form needs to turn around quickly to elongate our season.

One of the main issues raised for Reading's demise was Birmingham's high press, and Reading did struggle to move the ball into midfield. There was also a clear plan to get the ball to the front two as quickly as possible, as was evident from Rafael's quick distribution up to the strikers when taking the ball in open play. I think it's one of the areas where Ovie is majorly underrated, yes we get annoyed at him in attacking positions, but his skill on the ball allows Reading to play through the thirds a little easier. He has always been willing to drop deeper to pick up the ball centre-left and attempt to play forward.

One of the main issues with playing both Joao and Meite in this system is they both seemingly want to roam - often leaving a hole centrally. That's a particular problem when your team are attempting to play long into the centre, as they were often doing in the first half on Wednesday night. Puscas is quite happy to play against the defenders, but Meite seems to prefer to create separation by running diagonally, meaning he's either out of position at the start or end of the run.

And that was the cause of another issue, he seemed to be playing at times as the left striker. Whether by design or circumstance is hard to tell, but it meant he was running from left to right and would have been looking to take the shot with his wrong foot - had someone actually managed to squeeze a pass through for him. We saw how little he likes to shoot with his right in the first half when he had an opportunity to shoot but instead attempted to work it onto his favoured left.

Josh began this move challenging against Gardener for a header, but after Richards is bundled over (a foul, no?) he's completely out of position

Against Forest, the sides of the diamond did an adequate job defensively. At St. Andrews a little less so. It's been the case over the last few matches that Laurent is the more aggressive partner, with Semedo almost creating the defensive screen we've seen from the 4-2-3-1 at times, but that left Richards far more exposed than usual. Halilovic was also perfectly happy to cut back onto his stronger left foot, past Laurent coming back.

So, given the left side of the diamond was the aggressor you would naturally expect the goal to come from there. Obviously, not the case. A ball in from the right saw Birmingham take the lead. I don't particularly want to just hammer Semedo, but I do think he was a crucial part in both City goals.

Semedo should be roughly where the referee is, cutting off the pass out wide, but also close enough to press Harper

For the opener, Reading cleared a corner well and pushed out. The ball bounced around for a bit, with Semedo in the correct position covering on the right before a header turned him and he had a second long tussle with Jutkiewicz. He seemed to think the job was done, and he held in that deeper, central position rather than resetting to a bit higher, and trying to cover the passes to his side of the field. A more experienced DM than McIntyre would probably be trying to move him into the right area.

Birmingham shift the ball round to Bela, via Harper. No real drama, Semedo comes across to double up on the winger and the danger should still be averted. Except Bela cuts onto his right foot - the one Semedo should be defending - and crosses like he's not there.

Not that Reading's defensive woes end there. Rather than going for the header, Moore tries to block Jutkiewicz out - he puts himself in the position that the striker ends up holding him in. I think it's slightly hard to understand how the referee hasn't given a foul, but the captain has to do better. Sky commentary attributed some blame to Rafael, but I think that's harsh given the quality of the ball in. If he's taking them he's on his way to being a Premier League goalkeeper, and his lack of height doesn't help either.

This match wasn't about the positives, so we're going to lightly glide over Reading's equaliser that effectively equates to 'Michael Olise can take corners very well'. He could have had an assist seconds earlier, at the free-kick that preceded the corner, had someone properly attacked the ball. Reading have missed having someone with Morrison's heading ability at corners, but Yak might just be his natural replacement. Sky were right this time, the keeper has to do better once he commits.

In the second half red shirts tried moving the ball quicker, particularly noticeable from free-kicks behind the half-way line, but still couldn't work shooting opportunities. Reading's best chance was a volley from twenty-five yards that Puscas just couldn't follow up on.

Lucas Joao's goals vs xG. At some points this season he's been scoring with almost every shot

It's slightly incredible that a player who has put themselves alongside Kermorgant and Long in terms of goals scored - with so many games left - is the centre of discussions about his form and whether he should be rested, but that's where many Reading fans are with Lucas Joao. I don't think the striker played badly, but he just wasn't involved. Whether it's Lucas' fault that other players can't create chances for him is up for debate, but supporters have been spoilt when he creates something out of nothing and it has occasionally papered over Reading's creative cracks this year.

There were positive signs for him against Forest, and there were positive signs against Wednesday, but you could read Paunovic's post-game comments at being directed at the striker. His Achilles heel is his temperament. When things don't go his way, you can tell. It comes across as selfish - which it is, but you could just as easily argue that that's the reason why he's tallied over 20 goals this year.

The moment Semedo seems to realise he's not challenging for the ball unopposed, and hesitates

And when your team aren't creating it always feels inevitable that the opposition will. A decent initial aerial challenge wasn't nodded clear by Joao and instead fell onto the head of Harlee Dean, who put power and direction on the ball to find the gap between keeper and post. Again there are questions around Semedo. Rather than going up for the header, he just holds back, putting Dean under no pressure.

It's a disastrous goal in the context of Reading's season. After grinding through wins against out of form opposition over the last few weeks it could have been seen as a platform. Reading are doing nothing but putting themselves under more and more pressure to chase results. Credit to Dean though, the celebration was pretty good.

Put this match down to new manager bounce, Reading tiring, whatever. What is sure is that the next two matches are going to be huge. Reading could allow Bournemouth a chance to move above them with anything other than a win against QPR (although The Cherries are playing in the FA Cup this weekend). Then we better rest up over the break ahead of travelling to the division's in-form team, Barnsley.


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