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Stoke City 0-0 Reading

A game that could put even the most ardent supporter to sleep. Stoke barely troubled Rafael, while Gunn only had a solitary shot to deal with at the other end.

There was some talk about whether Yiadom should start, or come on at half time after an underwhelming offensive first half from Holmes, but Holmes was crucial when dealing with aerial balls into the box. It was particularly important from set-pieces where Stoke had the towering pair of Batth and Souttar. Holmes was fairly consistently able to get first contact, or at the very least put off his opposite number. Without Semedo or Meite in the team Holmes has a pretty crucial role that Yiadom just can't pull off. That may not be enough to keep him in the side given Reading's offensive woes in the last two away games, but height seems to be the manager's comfort blanket.

In fact, it was a very good afternoon for academy grad defenders named Tom, as The Other Tom also put in an assured performance against Steven Fletcher. By all accounts, The Potters have been more toothless without Tyrese Campbell but Fletcher went into the game having scored in his last two outings. It wasn't as testing a match for Tom 2 as Bournemouth, but he's now been at the heart of a defence that has conceded two goals in the last five games.

Laurent has space to receive the ball centrally

Reading effectively played a 4-1-4-1 with possession deep, and we saw the differences between Swift, Laurent, and Rinomhota when trying to progress the ball. None were as effective as usual, with Stoke's compact shape making it hard to pick passes. Swift turned down easy balls to try to find something to open the field up, usually ending up going wide to Holmes. Laurent and Rinomhota didn't try to be as expansive. The former dropped between the CBs again but often ended up going sideways, while Rinomhota did his normal nurdling around the back four facing his own goal.

The reason only one player sat in the 'pivot' was likely due to the way that McClean stepped forward to press the Reading defence. His task was disrupting Morrison while Fletcher did the same for McIntyre. Having two in the pivot would have naturally hidden them behind this 'front two', hence the need for one of them to vacate the space.

'Vacating the space' also meant running into and beyond midfield, something I completely missed on first viewing because nobody passed to them. There were some semi-hopeful long balls, but given Stoke's deep defensive line and aerial ability they barely troubled. There does seem to be a pattern that when either of the right-sided defenders gets the ball facing forward, that's the cue for someone to make a run into the right channel, or they look to go into Joao if that's not an option. To elevate the chances of the ball into the striker being successful he effectively becomes the attacking midfielder with Swift running past him in case of a flick on - but it was a ball that the team never really got right.

When the ball goes wide Olise (or Ovie on the other side) pressured the full-back, with Joao then the opposite winger pressing the centre-backs.

Reading attempted to force mistakes from Stoke's backline. When the ball went wide the winger pressured the full-back, looking to force the pass back inside. Joao attacked the near side centre back, and the winger on the opposite side went for the other CB. Similarly Swift cut off the option to Obi Mikel at CDM. That opened up space wide for Stoke's free full-back on the far side, or the crossfield switch. The long ball was negated somewhat by Reading's fullback covering it off, as Stoke's front three were narrow enough that one side pushing out didn't leave men unmarked.

Unfortunately Stoke were actually quite adept at playing out. Souttar, in particular, seemed to barely notice the presence of a Reading shirt. Stepping around them or playing first time to whichever unmarked player he could find. And Reading's attacking unit stepping up the pitch, while never fatal, did leave large amounts of space that Stoke could try to exploit.

Ovie stayed wider in the second half

Ejaria had a largely disappointing game. Too often he was dispossessed trying to turn into traffic. Toward the end, he picked up the ball in more dangerous positions but never fully capitalised. Again, it was a case of him having the ball - often in that half-space area of the field either inside or just outside the box - without being able to find a way to unlock the opposition. Tired legs on both sides helped him find those pockets of space in the final thirty minutes, but so did staying noticeably wider when Reading were in possession of the ball. Another game where Paunovic may have rued not having a more direct option on that side of the pitch.

A point extends Reading's unbeaten run in the league, since the last time we played one 'Brentford FC'. It's hard to be too happy with a point given how poorly we played, but every point is valuable - particularly when others around you are throwing them away. Whether we'll stay lossless in 2021 after Wednesday night is another question entirely.


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