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Reading 1-0 Blackburn

These wins may not be good for my nerves, but I couldn't care less if we keep getting results.

Reading started the game using the same 4-4-2 diamond as they did away at Ewood Park. There's an excellent video on that match on The Coaches' Voice if you haven't seen it. It may not have yielded quite the same goal return at The Madejski, but it helped to stifle Blackburn's outlets in the middle of the park - with only their full-backs on the outside. 

From earlier in the move that saw Puscas' header. Reading looked to overload the left-hand side with Joao occupying the right back and Richards also looking to make the run. Olise's run into the centre is also what opens space for Yiadom on the right.

Reading actually managed to exploit that early on, as Yiadom's run down the side was found by Morrison, and after some interplay with Olise, a cross into the box saw Puscas header turned over. The way we pushed players forward so that the Blackburn full-back had to decide whether to come across to the run or continue marking the man in the middle, was always going to be dangerous with the away side's front three reluctant to track back.

Elliott has no real options and find himself caught on the ball, leading to Reading's goal

Not that the only goal of the game was brought about by Paunovic's offensive genius. Richards was clearly tasked with following Elliott about the pitch to try to negate his influence (and, yes, probably in part to win back the ball and transition quickly), but I'm not sure he was meant to get the hockey assist on a tackle. Reading did incredibly well as a unit to take away any options the Blackburn player had, and he eventually tried to run down a dead end.

It might be pushing it to say Joao and Puscas still had a lot to do, but they did what they had to. I was slightly worried Lucas was going to try to end his goal drought rather than picking the obvious option across the box, and that worry was followed up by the feeling Puscas hadn't fully managed to get the ball out of his feet. I needn't have worried, though, as George took his goals p90 above Joao's. 

Olise sitting off Blackburn's CDM meant he can turn and play out

One of the noticeable qualities of our defence in the reverse fixture was that we almost changed to a legitimate 4-3-3 when the ball was with the opposition centre backs to try to stop Rovers playing out through their defensive midfielder. This time Olise was a bit less focused on stopping that pass, and it allowed the away side to move forward. It's hard to tell if this was solely down to the teenager, or whether Paunovic had tweaked things - he made a comment in his CV video about it being hard to cut off passes into the midfielders dropping to pick up the ball.

Omar Richards was notably offensive in the first half, before looking to be more compact in the second

I think the change to a flatter 4-4-2 in the second half (before going to 4-2-3-1) was mainly to starve Blackburn of any space in behind. While they didn't have many chances, there were occasions where Richards or Yiadom were clearly caught high during transition. In some ways it was a performance to hark back to early in the season where Reading were perfectly happy to take a 1-0 lead and play on the break.

And they did play on the break, even if it didn't particularly feel like it. Ovie had a couple of chances to go forward quickly and was hacked down on both occasions - putting two Blackburn players on yellow cards in the process. One of those fouls stopped a four-on-two opportunity that you like to think would have been converted.

As a slight aside, Reading didn't seem to threaten at all from set-pieces. They only had two corners, and then free-kicks seemed to be fairly easily dealt with by the goalkeeper. Morrison is so often the target from those situations, but you would expect Holmes to be able to pick up the slack. McIntyre, if he were to be the one to come in for the next game, has already shown his prowess.

Coming back to the overall second-half performance, I'm happy enough to put the small errors that crept in down to tiredness or the lack of an understanding between Puscas and those around him. On the 70 minute mark he flicked the ball to Laurent, before turning and sprinting for the ball back but Josh just put it out of his reach. Maybe one Laurent would have found him with in the first half, or Joao would have got to?

I definitely don't think I'm alone in enjoying Puscas' performance. The Romanian striker showed not just his strength and hold-up play, but also a couple of nice turns or flicks to enable him to get away from an opponent. I also think he's deceptively quick. He may not win any 100m sprints, but he's got the ability to just pull away from defenders when he needs to. I think we're all wishing that halfway line effort fell beneath the bar.

Reading did a good job at forcing Blackburn wide, and protecting the middle

If The Royals hadn't won the game, then questions would undoubtedly have been asked about whether going defensive was the correct decision. Michael Olise registered the home side's only shot of the second period, but Blackburn didn't really threaten either. Armstrong's shot from the edge of the box, which Holmes diverted behind, was probably their highlight - and that came before we fully shut up shop. Most of their touches in the Reading area were actually going away from goal. Particularly that cluster in the left half-space (from their view) where Armstrong was taking the ball coming across from the right.

Michael Morrison's injury is a blow, there's no doubt. Any time you have to change the centre back pairing, you're always slightly nervous that the ~intangibles will come into play. Morrison has established him as a leader, and the options to replace him don't have that quite yet. I think it's likely that Holmes keeps the spot, rather than having to shuffle Moore to the other side to accommodate McIntyre.

In the last two games, we've seen Rinomhota and Morrison break down, and that is absolutely expected when you look at how many minutes both have played. CB is obviously one of the positions you do see heavy minutes (as the list below shows), but Paunovic must surely be looking for opportunities to rest Laurent. We have a week off after the next game, but there's still four in total to navigate before the international break.

Total Minutes by Championship Outfield Players (Pre 06/03/21 kick-offs)

Curtis Nelson3,150
Shaun Hutchinson3,060
Max Aarons3,058
Paddy McNair3,050
Michael Morrison3,002
Dominic Hyam2,970
Mads Andersen2,947
Oliver Skipp2,947
Josh Laurent2,934
Sean Morrison2,932
Andy Rinomhota2,921

With pressure being maintained by those below us, we have to keep winning. Sheffield Wednesday are another side in dreadful form (this run of fixtures has been incredibly kind) and should be put to the sword. Early in the season performances can trump results, but that time is over. Just keep putting points on the board, please.


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