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Cardiff 1-1 Reading

I'm bored of playing Cardiff. I'm bored of drawing games. And I'm slightly bored of our defensive shape.

Bowen returned to the 5-3-2 (5-1-2-2) that Gomes pioneered earlier in the season. In Bowen's first few games he tweaked the system so Swift and the wingbacks sat deeper, while Ejaria was the main attacking outlet. On Friday night we had reverted to how Gomes set the team up. Ejaria and Swift in front of Pelé, and the wing-backs pushing higher when in possession to create a 3-1-4-2.

Reading's low block. Men behind the ball, Pelé ensures teams can't play through the lines, which forces teams to cross from deep.

There always seemed to be a huge gap between Baldock and Meite up top and the rest of the team. When Pelé won the ball he often would look for the ball in behind for Baldock to run on to. Which rarely worked, and meant that the ball often came straight back. The low block has caused us to be far better defensively. Under Gomes, we conceded 17 goals in 11 games (2 clean sheets), that's down to 17 goals in 19 games (6 clean sheets). The issue is that when we turn it over, we really have no option to go forward. Or at least the option of playing forward quickly is the wrong one, as we have two forwards who are making runs away from the (potential) supporting players, and are unlikely to be able to hold the ball up.

From a Cardiff Throw, but in a passage of play where they never have more than four men in the box. Pelé looks for a quick counter-attack, but Cardiff cut the pass out, recycle the ball under no pressure, and win a free-kick. The ball in behind is clearly a tactic we looked to utilise. (Which at least suits Baldock more)

It worked when Joao was up top because he was never really trying to run in behind, he held the ball up well and was able to link the midfield. Without that, I really think the low block is doomed. And you can see that by the fact that we've not scored more than once in a game since our big target man picked up an injury. I'd like to see us try one or two things.

  1. Play out from the back. I know that that's five words that strike fear into the heart of many a Reading fan. At the very least we should be using the midfield more in transition. I think there are a few reasons why. Our team, other than Morrison, and Gunter, are very good on the ball. They should be technically good enough to do it. Whether they have the composure remains to be seen, but even in the dark days of Gomes' playing out we actually rarely conceded from it. It also means that the striker's main job becomes putting away chances. Something that all our strikers - bar one notable exception - are quite good at.
  2. Press higher up the pitch. It means that when we win the ball back our players are naturally in more threatening positions, and the strikers aren't as isolated. We may concede more goals, but if our defensive prowess is at the complete expense of any attacking output then we have problems.
Reading's goal actually came from getting the midfield on the ball. Meite did well initially; Gunter's block inside his own 18-yard-area spewing up to the forward, and his persistence eventually came away with the ball. Ejaria's through ball from inside the centre circle was well-weighted for Baldock, who held the ball up and found an onrushing Swift - on a very similar run to Blackett on the undercut. The midfielder crossed to the edge of the six-yard box where Meite was waiting to head home.

Moore offers an option after Reading drag the Cardiff defence left

The main issue with having Ejaria and Swift in the middle of the park is the fact that both are so easily attracted to the ball. To be fair, Ejaria seems to prefer to stay left, but Swift drifts all over the place. In previous games, we haven't really utilised the space that overloading the left creates (if you want to put a positive spin on it), whereas with five at the back we seem to have decided that one of the CBs can actually step into the attack more freely. On a couple of occasions when the ball was on the left Moore, as the right-sided centre back, offered himself for the pass, and would run with the ball if given the opportunity.

Moore also offered an underlap when there was a clear opportunity to do so

If there's one strike duo that should be permanently shelved it's Meite and Puscas. Both want to play the exact same role, to the extent that they get in each others' way. And considering the form that Meite has shown over the last few games (even if that's solely against Cardiff) it will be hard to justify playing Puscas, especially given his own form.

Hull have just sold arguably their two best attacking talents, in Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen, and come into the game on a run of five consecutive defeats. They haven't scored more than once in a game this decade, and we're unlikely to need 3 CBs against their 4-2-3-1, so I wouldn't be surprised to see another change in formation. The season is petering out, but it's crucial to try to figure out what our best formation is, and where we need to strengthen over summer so we can hit the ground running for 2020/21.

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