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Reading 1-1 QPR

A good performance was marred by a nightmare ten minutes, and the fact that a point really wasn't enough.

Injuries to Yiadom and McIntyre, combined with the recoveries of Rinomhota and Ejaria caused a bit of a reshuffle. Reading returned to the 4-2-3-1, with Meite moving out to the right, Ovie coming in on the left, and the re-establishment of the Laurentino partnership. Instead of a natural right-back, like Esteves, the centre backs shuffled right. Holmes played at full-back and Moore RCB, with Gibson, making his first appearance in a month, taking up his position at LCB.

All of this seemed to actually work. Reading started the match much the brighter - not something that can be said on many occasions this season. In the first twenty-five minutes, Reading outshot the away side 7-2, including a Yoann Barbet 'shot' from 25 yards. Olise and Ejaria both tallied three key passes in that period, as they looked to provide the cutting edge.

Olise had a couple of passes that opened up space for the receiver. Had Meite taken a better touch then he would have been bearing down on goal, instead he slipped. As part of the same move, Olise passed over the top of QPR's defence to Joao but his tendency to look for the perfect opportunity meant QPR bodies got back in front of the effort. 

More importantly were a couple of occasions when the youngster actually got himself into the box. Reading's best chance of the opening 45 fell to the playmaker around the penalty spot, but he blazed over the bar. It's the sort of position the teenager rarely takes up, tending to play outside of the box. In the diamond especially he drifts from side to side to help facilitate.

That chance was set up by our main threat on Saturday, Ovie Ejaria. He was in scintillating form, as he set up chance after chance. He should have had an assist with that cutback to Olise, his run just after half-time ended up with Moore's offside (who knows) equaliser, and then set up Joao to round the keeper... only to miss. With eight key passes (a Championship high this season) and six successful dribbles (tied Ovie's season-high), there's zero question about who the best player on the pitch was.

The cherry on top was seeing Ovie cross the ball! It's incredible to see a player both attack the byline for the cutback, and put in good looking crosses when that's not an option. Alas, that wasn't the case for everyone. Omar Richards does many things incredibly well, but crossing is unfortunately not one of them. He seemed to cross early and often, instead of trying to work a good opportunity or, like Ovie, get to the byline.

With Holmes on the other side, it also meant that Omar needed to be the more attacking of the pair. That was certainly the case in the first half, the period in which all of Richards' final third passes came. The change of formation at half time left less protection for the back four, and so - despite being the width in the diamond previously - Omar was a little less offensive in the second half.

It must be said that Holmes did not have a great game. QPR were largely kept quiet in the first half but had two huge chances. The first, a cross that found Austin at the back stick, caught Holmes out of position. Partially because Moore got it all wrong against Dykes, who managed to get the better of him. His touch looped over Holmes, who had started to come across to cover, putting himself in no man's land and allowing Austin to shoot wide from the corner of the six-yard box.

Rinomhota and Olise do little to help Holmes, but likewise, Holmes allows the pass by picking neither option

And after a last-ditch tackle saved an almost identical position earlier in the half, QPR took the lead just as it came to a close. Don't get me wrong - Holmes is by no means the only error on the goal, but he gets completely caught out again. Rinomhota takes up a position as if he expects Holmes to double up, instead, he drops off while simultaneously failing to track Wallace. Even Olise ends up hidden behind Rino and could have contributed a little more. From there, Dykes uses his strength to get across Gibson, and he was never going to miss.

To be fair, Reading came out in the second half and continued their encouraging performance. Veljko reverted to the 4-4-2 diamond, which was a little surprising given that the side had played fairly well pre-goal. 

I'm fairly confident Paunovic decided just to make me look like a fool after my last post by having:

  1. Meite score from the left with his right foot
  2. Joao miss that aforementioned wide-open goal

Meite's goal was actually the first with his right foot all season. Rinomhota, having a slightly more forward-thinking role after the change of shape, put the ball over the top. Meite used his body well, then his strength, before cleverly cutting past the defender and playing through the keepers' legs. The right-winger-cum-striker scores goals, and with a misfiring Joao it's crucial to have another goalscorer in the team. As an aside, you could tell the mentality when there was barely a celebration as the players sprinted back to halfway immediately.

Rinomhota's assist was impressive, but he needs to be more consistent. Even in the minutes before, he tried a fairly similar pass to Joao that was easily cut out. Then a quick free-kick gave him a perfect, though not simple, chance to square to Meite that he couldn't capitalise on. Sure, usually a defensive midfielder, but that's his first assist of the season. A little bit more, please.

As for Joao, he did good things outside of finishing, but, again, it's missing chances that matters in tight matches. It's hard to drop a striker who's scored 21 goals, but most Reading fans seem to be coming around to the idea that Puscas may be worth a go. There was still some good in his play; even when Torres-ing his shot. The run was good and the touch left the goal open but it was that last piece that was lacking. Sure, missing the penalties has become a pattern, but these sort of chances haven't become that just yet. Maybe that's predicated more on the heart than head, but it'll also be harder to justify dropping him after a rest for the international break.

The diamond inevitably means that Rafael looks long. We can criticise his distribution, but it has to be within the context that it's clearly a tactic, where we try to catch the opposition on the break. I'm not sure how efficient that ends up being if Joao and Meite can't win the initial header, and they rarely do, but there's the opportunity to win the second ball either way.

Semedo fails to track the QPR player - and you can see Laurent being dragged across to cover 

And that is precisely where Reading's game seemed to nosedive going into the last fifteen minutes. With Semedo coming on, The Royals lost the ability to win the second balls and hold up play further up the pitch. It must be said, that was largely down to playing Semedo deeper than Ovie had done. Effectively we switched to a flat midfield three, with far too much space between midfield and attack. It's an odd substitution in a tied game that, realistically, you need to be winning. 

Combine that with the fact the midfield trio didn't effectively protect the back four. Again, that's not even solely on Semedo, the double team of Laurentino falls apart if the pressured player can move the ball around them, as happened on occasion. It's the same midfield three that worked so well against Blackburn earlier in the season, but this was a horror show.

Esteves seems to try to cover off the low ball across, leaving the back post open

The other change with five minutes left was Holmes, who had again been the route QPR utilised for their best chance to win the game. Wallace breezed past the full back like he wasn't there before Rafael was called into action by Johansen coming in - very much like Olise in the first half but kept beneath the bar. It must be said, Esteves didn't fare too much better. A couple of poor touches, and a lack of understanding about his positioning. How easy it is for a player to improve when they're only given minutes in the single figures is hard to say, but the mere fact that Holmes started the game should highlight how Paunovic sees the loanee.

Afterwards, there was a lot about the team looking tired, largely because they weren't able to get near the ball in that last ten minutes, but it's such a cop-out. We focus on how many games Reading have played, but QPR have played an extra game since the turn of the year and took to the field once more than Reading in March.

Anyway, in the immortal words of Biffy Clyro - "Hit reset, reset. Time and time again.". Beating Barnsley might be the last chance Reading have to keep things in their own hands - which, even now, it is. Please, lads.

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