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Rotherham 0-1 Reading

A slightly nervous win, but one that eases the tension among the fanbase.

Semedo has a tendency to not even get off the ground when defending set pieces. MacDonald has the height on him, but that's exacerbated when you remain on the floor.

After the Middlesbrough game, there's a microscope on Semedo at set-pieces and he struggled again. Multiple chances came the hosts' way due to his inability to track runs and challenge in the air. Confusingly his aerial prowess in open play is a real asset to the team but he doesn't seem able to concentrate on both ball and man, which ends badly... quite a lot of the time. Giving him less responsibility in dead ball situations conflicts with his positioning as a DM, and will be a hard issue to solve if he doesn't improve. The midfielder does still have his uses. He again showed his directness when on the ball, both carrying and passing. 

And it's not like Reading have many other options for midweek now that Rinomhota picked up an injury. Paunovic seemed to suggest that it wasn't too bad, and maybe the forced rotation of a player who's played 98% of league minutes this season is positive in that case. The only issue is that, if Meite isn't fit to start, we now have a gap at RW. Presumably, Esteves will come in to play the same kind of role as against Bristol City. He was able to provide width, but maybe not the same off the ball work rate as you get with either Meite or Rino.

Ovie drove toward the byline and crossed to the front post. Trying to stand the ball to the back post was probably a better option, but somebody needs to make the near post run.

One of the most refreshing changes was Ovie's purpose in possession. He tended to pick the ball up in the middle third, but his desire to drive toward goal, rather than in circles, was notable. In the second half, he had a shot from the corner of the box that may not have been the wisest decision but was at least intent. And given how well he struck that attempt with his left foot, it's always a little confusing when he seems hesitant to use it.

Ovie and Olise benefitted from Rotherham's high press, which gave Reading's creative players more space further up the pitch. The Royals used a couple of tactics to bypass the pressure. In the first half, Olise tried to pick up the ball off Rafael from goal kicks and play out from the back. That was done away with after half time, maybe to negate the danger inherent in such a tactic, instead mainly choosing to go long into Joao. Lucas may have left his shooting boots at home but his hold up play was excellent, particularly in the number of fouls he was able to win.

Rotherham's backline starts to push up, but Morro beats the 'offside trap'

And Reading actually used the home side's press against them when it came to free-kicks. Instead of playing directly into the box, they played a couple of short passes to try to drag the opposition out, giving more space for runners in behind. It also helped that whoever marked the player Reading were actually trying to get in behind didn't get the memo, playing them onside while the rest of the red wall had pushed out (or potentially, that was the very reason for what they were trying - hard to tell given my lack of Rotherham knowledge).

Semedo's dropped too deep with players on the edge of the box.

The last ten minutes felt horrific, but in reality, Rotherham still didn't create much and we would have been incredibly unlucky to come out with a draw. There was a real issue, though, with the midfield dropping too deep and allowing shots from the edge of the box. For the final chance, that heart-in-mouth deflection, Reading had eight players along the six-yard box. Okay, that was because it came in from a throw, but it meant nobody picked up Wiles and had to (in a controlled and safe manner) block the shot.

On another occasion, a ball in from their left-hand side gave Rotherham touches directly in front of goal, just yards out, and could have been our downfall. Thankfully no harm came of it. It's the type of cross that normally one of the defensive screen would cut out, but Laurent had pushed out to the second ball from the initial corner, and Semedo pulled over to the crosser - leaving nobody covering the 'cutback' to the penalty spot.

It's hard to know whether Paunovic's refusal to rotate contributed to Rinomhota's injury, but it certainly didn't help. Reading have three players in the Top 10 of outfield minutes played - Morrison, Rinomhota, and Laurent. Given the amount of running the latter two do, and the number of knocks Rino takes, it's frankly amazing they've made it this far without missing time. 

Ejaria for McIntyre raised a few eyebrows, but pushing Richards forward to LW with McIntyre behind him isn't the worst setup, but it does take away that ability to hold the ball up under intense pressure - even if Richards is good with the ball too. Reading fans can't have it both ways, though. They know how thin the squad is, and if these are the sort of subs that can rest players then it's something we'll have to accept. 

If we can get to Saturday without any further losses then we have a week to recuperate, followed by a further three matches, and then the international break. In terms of this season, that's a vacation. With the next two matches against teams in the worst form in the division, we have to follow through. We're back in the position of every game being a must-win.


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