Less than four minutes into Reading’s clash with Derby County on Saturday afternoon, Scott Malone shoved Yakou Meite in the back, resulting in a (converted) penalty and the Rams being reduced to 10 men. Despite Derby having a strong spell after this, until Reading scored a second, the visitors going down to 10 men so early on and having to line up in a 4-2-3 meant that it was a quite simple afternoon for Reading in terms of their attacking play, and when the ball was in the midfield areas.
For the second game running, Chris Gunter put in a fantastic performance at right back, supporting attacks and continuously getting forwards to supply the forwards with crosses. Both he and Tyler Blackett managed to get high up the pitch in support of attacks, with Charlie Adam able to ping the ball around the pitch to switch the play.
With Yakou Meite having a superb game and doing his defensive duties as well as terrorising Derby’s left back, Gunter had the freedom to push forwards into the space created. When Reading were in control, they were patient but dominant in possession, with the likes of Adam, Ovie Ejaria and John Swift (off the bench) creating chances and controlling the tempo of the game.
Adam in particular had another very good game, dropping in between the two centre backs and playing diagonal crossfield balls over to Gunter/Meite on the right flank, or trying to push Blackett further forwards with positive passes down the left. When the Scotsman did drop in during the first half, there was a bit of unnecessary passing from the two centre backs - Reading sometimes a bit slow in getting the ball to the playmaker.
It has to be said that Reading looked weak at the back, with a moment of hesitation from Michael Morrison and Blackett letting in Tom Lawrence, who hit the post almost immediately after the home side’s first goal. Despite looking relatively comfortable at the back for most of the game, there were too many times where, when Derby had the ball in an attacking position, Reading were not able to get it clear or retain possession of it altogether. At points it seemed like however many bodies Reading had back, Derby could just cut through them as easily as Barnsley managed to ten days previously.
The Rams were ill-disciplined to say the least, and the game became simpler for Reading as the game wore on, winning fouls all over the pitch and exploiting the gaps in the defence left by the desperation of Derby getting back into the game. This meant that Reading probably should have scored far more than three goals, consistently finding themselves in promising attacking positions, but never quite managing to get many shots off.
In what was a pretty simple game, there were a few worrying signs for the Royals but Mark Bowen’s men managed to secure their third 3-0 win of the season in quite comfortable fashion. With the gaffer again opting for Ejaria as a left winger, he once again looked slightly ineffective when pushed out wide, performing at his best when drifting inside.
However, with Meite showing another great display on the right (added to his cameo vs Barnsley) and Lucas Joao scoring his third goal in four games, Bowen will most likely persist with this 4-4-2. However, he should be confident of a potential 4-2-3-1 system coming into play with Sam Baldock a slight doubt for the QPR fixture, and competition for places hotting up in the middle of the park thanks to a solid Pele performance and John Swift’s return from injury.