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Luton Town 1-0 Reading

 Another cup game against Luton, another 1-0 loss via a cross to the back post.

I should start out by correcting a wrong. On the EPR podcast, I said that Semedo played badly. I think that was probably just my confirmation bias coming through. While he may not have been outstanding, he did his job well enough. I am sorry, Alfa.

All of Luton's outfield players are in this photo, Luton have Bree over on the right. That's the benefit of having an extra man in midfield.

The goal itself came about as a consequence both of mistakes on the field, and a mismatch in the systems. Luton's 4-4-2 diamond meant that when the full-backs pushed up during possession, Reading were outnumbered in midfield 6-5, meaning there was always a man over. That man tended to be Bree hugging the touchline. When the ball goes wide Reading's full-backs are supposed to be able to pack the box, with the winger pressuring the player on the ball, but Onen was frequently too narrow. The youngster could have been a little more passive, holding position rather than looking to get involved in play. Bristow sprinted out to Bree, but couldn't block the cross. Maybe the left back could have been braver.

(Small) Semedo and Olise fall in, Pendlebury has to push out. (Large) Moncur drifts off the back of Olise, while Pendlebury goes toward the edge of the box.

Even then, a cross into the box is a low percentage play. Except when you've let George Moncur drift into the box completely unmarked. We have to go back to before the ball was played out wide to understand why. Olise had been following Moncur around the pitch during the build-up, and that left Joe Morrell free between the lines. Lee shifted the ball to Morrell after Semedo put him under pressure, but rather than continuing to push out Semedo retreated into shape. It was Pendlebury who ended up having to force Morrell into the pass. At that point Moncur starts his run into the box, Olise doesn't want to drop that deep but Pendlebury isn't in position to pick up the man. All that adds up to Moncur volleying home without a Reading player in sight. Olise, who looked a little lazy on a few occasions, has to realise he's just let his man run free. Obviously not his usual remit, but poor from the youngster.

Moncur's strike was a piece of quality that Reading sorely lacked. Onen and Aluko spurned incredible chances, with Melvin-Lambert also disappointed not to convert. Before half-time Reading were sloppy generally, with the senior players failing to retain the ball on multiple occasions. Baldock continues to be a misfit for the striker role, which doesn't help with keeping possession either.

The few senior players that started were replaced with fifteen minutes left, and Reading finished with ten academy grads (plus 18yo Tomás Esteves). On the whole, they all gave good accounts of themselves. 

Dorsett plays a magnificent ball out to the right wing. He only played long on a handful of occasions, but looked assured.

Luke Southwood could do nothing about the goal and was brave on a couple of occasions to deny Hylton. Jeriel Dorsett had surprisingly little to do at the heart of the defence, given that Luton largely looked to overload their right and cross to the far post. When he was needed he made a couple of decent tackles, but it was his passing range that really stood out. Nelson Abbey's injury looks to have benefitted Dorsett, who had seemed to be below him in the pecking order.

Bristow out wide has only Baldock making a run into the box. His crossing isn't perfect, but it's not helped by the lack of a target.

On the left Bristow and Onen had a tough time in the first half. Onen, who usually plays behind the striker or on the right, didn't give his left back enough cover - which in part led to the goal. I thought Bristow played fairly well until he started to tire, and mistakes crept in with ten minutes to play. He wasn't flawless, but a solid foundation for a 19-year-old with 3 senior apperances. In offensive areas, he was hesitant to put balls into the box, but with only Baldock and Olise as targets, it's understandable. 

Onen intercepted the ball well, and set off but allowed Tunnicliffe (left shoulder) to get back in. A slightly worrying lack of both speed and strength. Hopefully, the latter will improve.

Onen is more difficult to critique. Playing out of position down the left, he was often too narrow and didn't support Bristow well enough, even if he recovered well on a few occasions. He didn't really get on the ball in the first half and didn't impress when he did; being dispossessed too easily on the whole. However, he showed good movement and anticipation to follow up on chances, even if he was ultimately unsuccessful.

As the ball goes right to Onen, Pendlebury makes a run into the right channel to open space for Esteves

It was also Onen's move to the right that helped to unlock Esteves. The Porto loanee is always looking to run into the centre of the pitch, and Reading finally found a formula to get the best out of him. Onen holding wide, with Pendlebury vacating the centre to allow Esteves space to run into.

On the topic of Pendlebury, he was effective in the midfield screen. He showed both sides of his game, doing the defensive work while also overlapping down the right flank. He was largely tasked with following Elliot Lee, and given how little impact Lee had he was largely successful. He also managed to rein himself in compared to his youth appearances - where he has 20 yellow cards in 53 appearances. The only area of obvious improvement would be his crossing when he gets into those advanced positions. With Pendlebury and Tetek Reading have two ready-made options to come in for Laurent or Rinomhota should it be required.

Shame about the finish, but the run from NML and pass from Tetek was perfect

The replacements didn't have much time to make an impact, and it's clear that there's still development needed, but Nahum Melvin-Lambert had a couple of moments. One where he managed to spin the defender on halfway as a ball bounced over them, but the defender managed to get back in to tackle. Then his movement for the chance at the end showed promise, rolling the defender to find space, and the finish was so close to being perfect. I still have some questions over his general hold up play, but that will hopefully only improve - and playing him at senior level should speed up that adjustment. It was Tetek's challenge on Hylton (that looked like a foul) and pass that set up the chance initially. 

Mamadi Camara looks a tidy player too, even if it's far too early to make any judgments. He won a free-kick after some nice control using his chest and late on stole the ball from Clark before shifting to Pendlebury to cross. Conor Lawless meanwhile didn't have much of a chance to make an impact as the game largely passed him by.

In a year with increased levels of fixture congestion, going out of the cup early is not an issue. In fact, it may be a blessing if it frees up some of the youngsters to go out on loan. The only real disappointment is that Reading should have got something out of the game.


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