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Tactics Review: Solid Rearguard Action Not Enough To Deny Leeds

Reading’s defence did a great job on Tuesday night, but were undone by a lack of creativity in the final third.

Reading v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images

Reading fell to a second defeat in two after promotion-chasing Leeds United ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a late Jack Harrison goal. Reading lined up in a 3-5-2: Rafael; Gunter, Moore, Miazga, Morrison, Richards; Rinomhota, Ejaria, Swift; Puscas, Meite.

Leeds’s main threats came from out wide and, interestingly, when pressing the forward line, George Puscas would take up a position on the left with Meite in the middle. This suggested that Reading were directing Leeds’s build up play to their left flank, with United unable to really trouble the returning Chris Gunter, opting to switch the play to the right hand side instead. Leeds move the ball far better than any other side in the Championship, but despite their probing Reading were organised and strong in defence. Michael Morrison had an especially impressive game, blocking numerous shots and almost scoring himself in the second half.

Most of the game involved Leeds being in possession with Reading ready to spring a break, and once again John Swift and Ovie Ejaria had impressive, if restricted, performances. Despite fantastic defensive displays from both, it could be argued that both did not need to be so deep as in the second half Reading rarely threatened the visitors’ goal. With Leeds’ half-time rollicking/change in intensity, Reading struggled to get up the field and could not hold onto the ball, Leeds’ midfield constantly picking up the second balls in the middle of the park.

However with Leeds looking to stretch the play and get crosses into the box (their goal coming from one such ball in), perhaps Reading needed all the bodies back they could muster as the game was heading for a goalless draw until Helder Costa’s deflected cross was met by the head of Jack Harrison. That said, Ejaria had many moments of magic on Tuesday night, constantly giving Kalvin Phillips the run around and once again looking like one of Reading’s main sources of chances.

Reading v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Omar Richards once again slightly struggled, sometimes being caught out in possession and maybe highlighting Jordan Obita’s defensive attributes as something to strive towards. On the other flank, Chris Gunter had a fantastic game having not been in the side since May. An assured performance was all the Royals needed against one of the best attacks in the league and is what they got, Gunter providing defensive solidity against Harrison while also offering support up the field, putting in a good first-half cross.

Reading’s approach of going long to Puscas and Meite didn’t quite work due to the front two not having much support and not being able to keep hold of the ball. Puscas was especially guilty of this but both players did well to take a number of tricky balls down first time when under pressure from the Leeds defence. Despite a chance from a quick break from a Leeds corner, they did not combine as well as Baldock and Puscas do. The substitutions to bring on Lucas Boye and Danny Loader showed slight promise but not a single loose ball quite fell their way with Leeds able to see the game out.

The manner of defeat in the last two games for Reading will not cause Bowen to be too downhearted, if not just disappointed at being edged out both times. Reading have shown a defensive resilience and will look to take that forwards into their upcoming games against Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, Barnsley and Stoke. Despite not creating many chances (albeit against two of the best defences in the league), the Royals were not expected to get much out of either game and certainly acquitted themselves well. If Reading can take points in their next few (very winnable) games, then they should be looking up the league rather than down it.