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Further Reading: Fulham

Swift’s struggles, Barrow’s impact & more come under the microscope after Fulham.

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

Modou Barrow Brings Something Different

Have we found the new Jimmy Kebe?

Barrow’s full debut was full of energy, direct running, a bit of tricky and the frustrating final product that held Mr Kebe back a few times during his Reading career. Yet we saw more than enough from Modou to suggest he’s going to be a very useful member of Jaap Stam’s squad.

It’s super early days, but his 3.7 dribbles per game over his brief two appearances rank favourably with Garath McCleary’s career mark of 3.3 and dwarf Roy Beerens’ mark of 1.7 in a Reading shirt.

His pace is something that’s going to frighten defences, something we saw just 30 seconds in when Barrow drew the foul from Kalas that led to Fulham being down to 10-men.

Yes he has his limitations, not least his shooting which seemed a little off, yet the panic he can cause across opposition backlines should help benefit the more clinical players in the side, especially if we can get a deadly finisher in before the window closes.

At the very least Barrow will get us up off our feet and that’s the type of player I’m more than happy to see at the club.

What’s Up With John Swift?

Saturday was the latest in a frustrating list of recent performances from the man who’s just penned a new five-year deal at Reading. John Swift has managed just one goal in his previous 17 appearances for Reading, while he’s contributed just four assists in his entire career at the Madejski Stadium.

As the team’s primary attacking midfielder, he’s not quite pulling his weight right now.

In fairness, there are some key mitigating factors for Swift. He suffered two frustrating injuries last season and his involvement for Reading in the play-offs and England’s under 21’s meant a painfully short break both mentally and physically. Our own injury crisis certainly hasn’t helped to provide a rest, but there seems something off with Swift and it’s starting to hurt the team.

Saturday’s game was littered with moments of indecision and over elaboration from the midfielder. He seemed to want to take that extra touch, or make the extra pass rather than go for goal. Again, there were flashes of quality and you can see glimpses of the Swift from 2016 but they were too infrequent in a game that seemed tailor made for him to really shine.

The signing of Leandro Bacuna and fitness of Stephen Quinn might be the best thing to happen to Swift. I think a week or two out of firing line and easing of the pressure might just help rejuvenate him. There’s a massively talented player within Swift but with those lacklustre goal/assist tallies from the past few months, he’s not helping the team succeed right now.

Time For Evans To Step Up

Just as with Swift, I feel slightly harsh picking out George Evans, whose role is quite clearly to be a defensive stopper and help break up the play. However, are times in games where you need to offer something more, even if your main job is a defensive one. Saturday’s game was a classic case of an occasion where you should be bold, to be decisive and take some calculated risks, something that to date, Evans seems unable to do.

In the past we’ve seen players like Mikele Leigertwood, James Harper, Mick Gooding and even Phil Parkinson marauding forward despite being in the side more for their ball winning skills.

In his Reading career, the midfielder has made just six ‘key’ passes, meaning those which directly lead to a chance, of which two have led to goals. That means that Evans is creating a chance once every seven games, suggesting he’s not exactly Mr Creative. However, in our scouting report when we signed him, the Walsall fan we spoke to gave this account on Evans...

George is your classic box-to-box attacking central midfielder. He's not afraid to shoot from distance but also loves to arrive late in the box to get on the end of a cross. Good in the air, good engine and strong in the tackle he's an excellent all round player.

He's very gifted technically - excellent first touch and good range of passing and, as mentioned, his long range shooting and his ability to support the attack are very useful.

Where has that Evans gone?

I think I could excuse his current lack of creativity a bit more if Evans was the anchorman in a 4-4-2 with far more need to defend, yet when he’s got three centre-backs behind him, plus two defensive full-backs in Gunter and Blackett, you have to ask why George can’t be a bit more bold at times.

Clearly Stam felt the same, hence the change that saw Evans replaced by Joey van den Berg. If we compare Evans to Joey, Mr Van den Berg has made 19 key passes in 31 Championship appearances. Even Mikele Leigertwood had 12 in 30 Premier League appearances for Reading in 2012/13.

It’s all very well being defensively solid, yet if Evans is unable to contribute to the forward phases of the game it’s only going to put more pressure on the four men in front of him. That in turn gives the opposition defence less to worry about and makes their job far easier. If you know Evans is only ever going to lay it off and is never going to run at you, why would you even bother closing him down?

At 22, Evans still has time to evolve and grow but right now he’s showing his limitations, either because Stam has told him to keep it simple, or his own skill level.

It’s Good To Be Off The Mark

While I’m not thrilled we threw away two points thanks to our own stupidity, in pure isolation this wasn’t a bad result. Fulham had by far a more settled side coming into this one and there was good reason the bookies had Reading nearly 3/1 to win on our own patch.

Yes, we SHOULD have won this game but we COULD have easily lost it had it not been for some slightly generous refereeing. If they can keep their key players fit and at the club, Fulham are going to be there or there abouts in May and we’ve now got a game against them out of the way without giving up all the points.

More importantly it’s hopefully given us some confidence and self belief during a tricky time. Yes we blew it, but for 80-odd minutes we were in control and looked to be close to doing what we’d done so many times during a successful season last time out. It shows that the Stam blueprint is still one that’s capable of getting results, even if on this occasion we didn’t quite close it out.

I like to think that this is about as weak as the squad is going to be all season. With Bacuna arriving, some positive injury news and newer players like Tiago Ilori, Adrian Popa, Vito Mannone, Pelle Clement, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Modou Barrow all bedding in, things should only be getting better from here on out. I’m as frustrated as Jaap is that we blew it at the weekend but let’s just take the point and try and move on.