Reading had arguably their best 45 minutes of the season in the first half against Luton Town on Saturday. An impressive display saw the Royals claim a third home win in a row and 10 points from a possible 12 under Mark Bowen.
Reading again looked to let Luton have possession and hit them on the counter, but due to an overall poor performance from the visitors, they were able to show how adept they were at both sides of the game. The Royals’ defence were able to get the ball forwards quickly to Puscas who would come short, or play through the midfield with Andy Rinomhota, John Swift and Ovie Ejaria once more showing their quality on the ball in one of Reading’s best midfields for years.
Luton lined up in a 4-2-1-2 with centre back Martin Cranie playing just in front of the defence and Callum McManaman partnering Harry Cornick up front, with James Collins playing just behind. This may have contributed to Luton’s lack of attacking threat - Collins repeatedly tracking back and committing fouls and not offering anything in attack. With McManaman a winger by trade and so drifting out wide, both of these factors gave Reading space to play out from the back and break through the lines, most attacks coming with Luton’s players have to race back towards goal.
After Luton brought on Alan Sheehan, who effectively played as a sweeper, they looked to get the ball forwards more directly, but did not create a single second-half chance. The ball spent most of its time in the middle of the park with most Reading chances being snuffed out or shots going off target, until Garath McCleary dispossessed Sheehan to make the scoreline reflect the Royals’ dominance.
However, the half-time change of Alan Sheehan for Luke Bolton denied Luton the little attacking threat they had in the first half, with Jacob Butterfield able to switch the play to the attacking full back who managed to give Omar Richards a tough battle in the first half. After this change, Cranie moved into the right back position and never really managed to get into the Royals’ half.
John Swift had yet again a fantastic game in Reading’s midfield. Able to switch the play to the advancing Richards/Yiadom and playing an unbelievable outside of the boot pass through to George Puscas in the first half, Swift showed yet again why he is Reading’s key man. As we all know, ‘if Swift plays well, Reading play well’. With two assists to his name - a corner kick right on the head of Michael Morrison and a pass to Ejaria for the second - he continues to stand head and shoulders above any other midfielder in the division.
What was most notable about the second goal was his movement once Ejaria had received the ball, making the run down the wing to enable Ovie space to cut in and bend a shot past James Shea, the keeper perhaps anticipating a reverse ball to the playmaker, or Ejaria to decide to jink his way through the Hatters defence.
Omar Richards had one of his best games in a Reading shirt, constantly bombing up and down the left wing. His sterling performance was typified by a fantastic recovery challenge on Luke Bolton which led to The Royals’ second goal. Despite a strong start to the campaign, one criticism levelled at the young full back was a defensive weakness compared to the returning Jordan Obita, but this was a game where he revelled at both ends of the pitch, with both him and Yiadom getting up and down the wings and consistently causing a threat. What was most impressive was the joining in with the press, looking to help out the forwards in closing Luton down.
Reading’s defence once again proved solid and, despite not having many attacks to defend, showed yet again how this side are improving under Bowen with Michael Morrison dominant in the air in scoring his second goal of the season, Liam Moore’s leadership and willingness to join in with attacks and Matt Miazga winning his battle with Collins. The trio of centre backs have shown numerous impressive displays in recent weeks and a lack of individual errors and the decision making and responsibility to know when to play and when to pick out a forward player have been a welcome sight, only conceding three goals under Mark Bowen.
Despite playing such poor opposition who concede goals for fun, another win has set Reading up nicely for the international break with tough games against Brentford and Leeds to come. It will be important for this side to take one game at a time, but limits should not be placed on a team who are 10 points off the play-off places with a game in hand, while also having not been outplayed by anyone for 90 minutes (bar Fulham) this season.