Did Reading’s pre-season come back to haunt them?
Reading came into their season opening game against Derby off the back of a grand total of zero wins in their pre-season campaign. Their six-game pre-season consisted of three draws against Fulham, Besiktas and Rubin Kazan but also embarrassing losses to semi-professional side Eastleigh (who play their football three leagues below the Royals), League One’s Wimbledon and a comprehensive 4-0 destruction by Crystal Palace.
Reading also only scored five goals and after having such a terrible build-up to the start of the Championship season, their lack of confidence and cutting edge was evident as they failed to drive home their lead and allowed Derby to come back into the game and eventually nick the win 2-1 thanks to a late header from Tom Lawrence.
Gambian winger Mo Barrow was named the man of the match in the game despite ending up on the losing side. Barrow was joint top-scorer for Reading last season and, even though it was a disappointing season for the team, he had the most prolific one of his career as he converted his raw pace into goals and assists.
Against Derby, the former Swansea man put in an absolute peach of a cross to striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson for the goal and looked lively all night (unlike fellow winger Sone Aluko who continued last season’s trend of going missing) and it seems that other sides have started to take notice of the 25 year-old’s performances with Premier League side Leicester being linked with Barrow as a potential replacement for Riyad Mahrez.
It goes without saying that Barrow would obviously be a huge loss for Reading, especially if Liam Moore is to go as well following his transfer request.
Due to Iceland’s World Cup campaign, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson only made one substitute appearance in pre-season and, despite scoring Reading’s only goal of the game and the first goal in the entire EFL, his lack of match fitness was evident as the forward failed to see out the entire game.
Bodvarsson was Reading’s joint top-scorer last season along with Barrow but one thing the side was lacking in this time last year was other goalscoring options. Joseph Mendes and the heroic Yann Kermorgant of the 2016-17 season were hindered by fitness woes, Deniss Rakels was on loan and Sam Smith was in his debut senior season. Now the Royals have one of the top five highest-scoring strikers in English league football in 2018 in Marc McNulty and a proven Championship finisher in Sam Baldock.
However, the issue they had on Friday night was that both McNulty and Baldock were late signings and Clement clearly felt that they had not had enough time to embrace his style of football and so threw in Bodvarsson who, despite barely playing in pre-season, was at least familiar with how Clement wanted him to play. All in all, once the three forwards have settled into the season it seems as though Reading now actually have some depth and some different options in a position which was woefully understocked last year and so very nearly cost them their place in the league.
Reading couldn’t take their chances
Another issue that came to the fore for Reading was their inability to take their chances. Derby centre-half Richard Keogh handed them a golden opportunity for example only for Bodvarsson to overplay his pass (further showing his lack of match fitness) and, in fact, Reading had more shots on target than the Rams with five to their three.
Unfortunately for Paul Clement’s side, despite having more opportunities than Derby, his side were really lacking that cutting edge which could quite easily have handed them a comfortable opening day upset win rather than a last-minute disappointing loss.
The biggest mistake of the match however, came from Reading’s goalkeeper Vito Mannone. With Derby desperate to find some way back into the game, Chelsea loanee Mason Mount fired off a speculative effort from outside the box. Mannone dived across his goal, reached the shot, got two hands to it yet still could not keep it out of the goal as Derby found the elusive equaliser.
It was a terrible mistake to make and led to a real shift in momentum which changed the course of the game. To be fair to Mannone, he did make a spectacular reactionary save late on from close range but the timing of his earlier mistake can really be pinpointed as the moment when Derby began to grow in confidence and the Royals began to drop off.
Catch up with our full coverage of the Derby County loss below.