For the first time this season, Paul Clement deployed a 3-5-2 formation against Watford, with John O’Shea coming into the side for a first Reading start alongside what seems will be the regular centre-back pairing of Liam Moore and Tiago Ilori. It allowed full-backs Chris Gunter and Omar Richards, the former making his return, from injury take on a higher role and support the team going forward. Leandro Bacuna, Liam Kelly and John Swift were the midfield three, with Yakou Meite and Marc McNulty forming a fairly promising looking strike partnership. As expected, Sam Walker replaced Vito Mannone in goal.
Reading started the game rather promisingly, looking comfortable against their Premier League opponents if not slightly conservative with plenty of backward passes. As we know only too well from the last two years, this is however when mistakes are most likely to happen, and Watford nearly took the lead when Moore’s underhit backpass saw Isaac Success’ effort ricochet off Walker towards goal. It was O’Shea, who all jokes aside was probably Reading’s best player in his hour long appearance, that came to the rescue and clear the danger.
Misplaced passes and poor first touches continued to be a theme for the Royals further up the pitch, as it seemed they just weren’t doing the simple things right. You could see what they were trying to do, and the players clearly had the vision too, just perhaps too much. They were getting ahead of themselves, anticipating the fourth pass before even looking to find the first one or ‘put a name on it’. When Chris Gunter did look up before crossing for once, Reading’s best chance of the half was created as the Welshman found McNulty in the box who snatched at his shot and blazed over.
The summer signing is still looking for his first goal in Reading colours, but at least he is not on the 22-month goal drought that Isaac Success sat going into tonight. With that statistic though, the Madejski Stadium was always going to be the place where he broke his duck, and the Nigerian did just that with eight minutes to go before half-time, receiving a cross from Adam Masina before coolly rounding Walker and side footing the ball into the back of the net.
I was confident that Reading had a goal in them after the break, especially as Josh Sims replaced John Swift and instantly added impetus to the Royals’ attack, but the problem was Watford looked as though they may have two or three in them. In the end the Hornets scored just once more, but my word was it worth two or three.
With Reading seemingly having averted the danger following a Watford corner, The ball arrived at the feet of 18-year-old Domingos Quina, tracked by Barcelona in the summer, who took a few touches to create room for himself before unleashing a swerving, dipping rocket into the top corner from some distance. It wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Nou Camp. It had been coming too, with Reading starting the second half on the back foot for 100th time under Paul Clement.
I think everyone around the ground knew that that was game over, and whilst it did indeed prove to be, Reading arguably could have arguably at least drawn level in the final half an hour had their finishing been better. I might even go as far to say we played our best football when two goals behind.
Liam Moore couldn’t keep his header down from a Leandro Bacuna corner just minutes after after the second goal, whilst Liam Kelly also saw an excellent opportunity sail over the bar as space opened up for him in the area. Perhaps the best chance for the hosts to get on the scoresheet came for Marc McNulty, the striker receiving the ball from Josh Sims and chipping it over Heurelho Gomes, only for former Royal Adrian Mariappa to clear it off the line.
“We could play all night and not score” muttered the bloke behind me, and in truth he was probably right. Fortunately we didn’t have to sit through another hour or two of painful finishing, but we might well have to sit through it again on Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday. And that’s a real issue.
In the grand scheme of things, tonight’s result really mattered very little. No one should have been expecting a dominant performance against a team with three wins from three games in the Premier League this season, whilst the Carabao Cup is hardly a competition we were going to get to the latter stages of (I’m still convinced we should get bye to the final for having Carabao as our sponsors). It shouldn’t really be taken into much consideration when discussing our current horrific run of form.
That being said, create opportunities like we did tonight and we’ll be well in the game against the Owls. Watford might not have been at full strength, but they had plenty of experienced internationals in the side and Reading were far from dominated by them. The Hornets certainly showed their class when it mattered, ex Royals loanee Nathaniel Chalobah especially, but we had more than enough chances to say that we were competitive.
The question mark appears, in bold size 80 font, over the finishing. Whether Paul Clement starts with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Sam Baldock, Yakou Meite or Marc McNulty upfront on Saturday, we cannot keep on wasting clear goalscoring opportunities. Sheffield Wednesday are yet to keep a clean sheet in the Championship this season so the opportunity is there. If it’s not taken, and the Royals head into the international break still winless and potentially bottom of the table, serious questions must be asked of the players and perhaps even the manager too. It’s not looking pretty.