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Reading 1-0 Rotherham United: Match Report

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Here's what Bucks thought of Reading's 1-0 win over Rotherham United at the Mad Stad. Spoiler - not a lot.

Simeon Pickup

Simply put, this was one of the dullest games I've ever seen. Nothing looked like happening at either end of the pitch - or in the middle third either to be honest. That said, three points is three points. Brian McDermott will be happy to see Reading record both a win and a clean sheet, but I have no doubt he'll be disappointed with how unconvincingly those two things were achieved.

Brian McDermott made two changes to the side that knocked West Brom out of the cup at the weekend. Simon Cox was replaced as the lone striker by Yann Kermorgant, with Ola John taking Deniss Rakels' spot on the left wing. That meant the retention of Saturday's 4-3-3 formation, with the same midfield trio of Michael Hector, Oliver Norwood and Stephen Quinn.

The first half

I'd thought before the game that deploying three central midfielders - none of them attacking - would be useless in a match were we needed to break down the opposition. The opening 45 proved me to be right. At the back, Reading looked typically solid, with the back four well-protected by Hector, with Norwood and Quinn providing ample support. However, going forwards, Yann Kermorgant's isolation was on par with that of Matt Damon in The Martian.

We looked at our most dangerous when wingers Ola John and Hal Robson-Kanu actually, well, attacked. Both have pace and trickery aplenty, and each managed on several occasions to get at the Rotherham defence and whip in a few crosses. However, not only were those occasions not frequent enough, they also largely failed to find Yann Kermorgant in the middle, or any runners from central midfield (there weren't any).

The home side came closest to opening the scoring in the first half when Hal Robson-Kanu burst past his man on the right before whipping in a cross to Kermorgant, who should have hit the target with his volley from the penalty spot. At the other end, Ali Al-Habsi was rarely threatened, but the Omani did very well to claw away a Richard Wood header that seemed destined for the bottom corner. Besides that, Richard Smallwood went down under a Jake Cooper challenge that looked like a penalty, but wasn't given by the ref.

The Royals failed to build up any momentum or creativity going forwards, and had to make do for the rest of the half with a few tame efforts. Ola John and Hal Robson-Kanu saw distance shots go wide, whereas Stephen Quinn's header was comfortably dealt with by Lee Camp.

Unsurprisingly for a Neil Warnock team, the visitors weren't exactly the friendliest bunch, racking up five yellow cards before the break - including Smallwood's aforementioned incident with Cooper, which the man in the middle Kevin Johnson saw as simulation from the Millers man. It was hardly the 'kick Reading off the park and break their legs' approach of an infamous Good Friday meeting with Leeds United a few years ago, but it was pretty physical nonetheless. To their credit, the Millers did a decent enough job of harrying Reading when not in possession. That said, they provided very little in the final third.

Second half

To be honest, I was surprised to not see any changes after the break. Reading did look as comfortable as they'd ever be at the back, but were unable to create anything up front. However, the second period started brightly, with a header from Kermorgant going just wide - Robson-Kanu and Gunter combining well down the right in the build-up.

Brian McDermott sought to remedy Reading's attacking woes with a switch in formation. Oliver Norwood came off for Deniss Rakels, with the Royals going to a standard 4-4-2, and the reward was almost instant. In his first involvement, Rakels got in behind the Millers' defence - the first time a Reading player had managed that in the game. The ball eventually found its way to Hal Robson-Kanu on the edge of the area, who curled a shot into the bottom corner.

Unfortunately, Reading couldn't build on their opener, with the game limping on aimlessly. Besides the odd wild effort from Stephen Quinn and Michael Hector, Lee Camp's goal wasn't threatened that much. Elsewhere, Ola John came off for Garath McCleary, but the Jamaican didn't make an impact.

Closing thoughts

Essentially, Reading looked a lot like they were playing for a 0-0 draw, and accidentally managed to put the ball in the net. They can be proud of how solid they looked at the back, racking up a third consecutive clean sheet in the league, albeit against a very poor Rotherham. That said, they never looked like creating many chances. Why? Because the formation was completely inappropriate for the occasion.

I'm firmly pro-McDermott, but I'm very disappointed in how he set up Reading this evening. For facing a Premier League West Brom in the FA Cup, this team was perfect, but for breaking down a team like Rotherham it was completely wrong. Choosing three central midfielders is all well and good - providing that one of them is a creative player through the middle. And no, Oliver Norwood doesn't count - his long balls from deep are, to my mind, getting less effective by the game.

What the home team needed was someone providing a central threat off Yann Kermorgant. That could either be a strike partner (either Rakels or Cox would do), or a playmaker like Lucas Piazon to link midfield and attack. What we actually had was three hard-working players sitting far too deep, leaving both Kermorgant and the wingers far too isolated. Reading finally looked like creating chances when Deniss Rakels came on - the Latvian being the first player to regularly support the frustrated Frenchman up top.

Al Habsi; Gunter, McShane, Cooper, Obita; Norwood (Rakels), Hector, Quinn; Robson-Kanu, Kermorgant, John (McCleary).

We'll have plenty more reaction to this evening's result in the coming days on the Tilehurst End, so stay tuned.