WE ARE STAYING UP!
The outpouring of relief around the stadium and chants of ‘WE ARE STAYING UP!’ put into context just how important this result was for the club as it all but secured Championship football for the 2019/20 season. So let’s take a look at how the 90 minutes panned out against a changed West Brom side that was secure of achieving a playoff spot.
If you asked Reading fans before the game how they envisaged the game going, I’d wager that no one would have said Nelson Oliveira and Yakou Meite would be withdrawn due to injury before the 20 minute mark. Oliveira was the first to go off after chasing a ball in behind the West Brom defence before pulling up and subsequently being substituted.
It appears that it was a recurrence of the hamstring injury that he picked up earlier in the season and would suggest he was prematurely rushed back following treatment in China by Eduardo Santos. This said, with him not being a Reading player and Oliveira willing to play, the long-term effects of the injury may not be felt at the Madejski Stadium.
On the other hand, one injury that will impact Reading going forwards is the one picked up by Yakou Meite as he pulled up after an innocuous incident on the touchline. Without knowing the extent of the injury to either player and no need to risk either player’s fitness, this could be the perfect opportunity for Jose Gomes to give Danny Loader an opportunity in the first team to break his duck.
Loader’s need for a goal
After coming on for Oliveira, this was a good opportunity for Loader to test himself against a playoff-chasing defence. Loader took up a number of good positions between the lines, as he rotated across the front three with McCleary and Barrow. However, fans will only be willing to give the youngster minutes for so long until they see some sort of goal return on the minutes played.
It was noticeable when he got his first opportunity that he lacked conviction in the strike. However, it was good to see a number of his teammates come up and offer him words of encouragement after he shot straight at the keeper. I am a fan of Loader and he looks to have quality on the ball and picks up intelligent positions between the lines. I just hope that he’s able to get off the mark as this could prove crucial to get his confidence up heading into next season.
A game of switches
This was not the most exciting affair from an objective point of view with the majority of chances throughout the game coming from distance. West Brom hit the woodwork from two long-range efforts during the second half and forced Emiliano Martinez into a couple of smart saves in the first half.
The main reason behind Reading’s lack of close-range chances was the five at the back shape in which James Shan deployed his West Brom team. The Baggies want to direct play via Craig Dawson in the centre of the back three, routinely looking to find the wing-backs. However, this often led to Holgate and Townsend being one on one with Reading’s full-backs and, due to a lack of willing / ability to beat their opponent (neither completed a dribble), the ball was typically directed inside and limited shooting opportunities to those from distance.
In the end, Reading finished the game with an ‘expected goals’ (xG) rate of just 1.1, while West Brom’s was slightly lower at 1.0.
Solid base in midfield
Between breakout star Andy Rinomhota and Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker, Reading appear to have fixed the soft underbelly that once existed within this side. For too long it has been all too easy to dominate the Reading midfield both physically and technically, but this no longer appears to be the case.
The pairing once again showed their quality with Baker dropping off to dictate play from deep when in possession and Rinomhota showing the drive that has been missing from this team for too long. He completed four dribbles, three of which were in the opposition half.
It was out of possession that I was most impressed with their performance though, as both pushed out and set the standard for the tempo when pressing West Brom. Credit should be given to Rinomhota for his ability to seemingly win every second ball, and it’s a trait that has been missing for far too long from the midfield make-up.
No need to cry over spilled milk, we got the result we needed. I’ll let you decide for yourselves....
The outpouring of emotion from the players when they realised safety was effectively assured was great to see from a fan’s perspective as you could see how much it meant to them. None more so than captain Liam Moore who, with his reaction at the final whistle and recent interview with podcast Elm Park Royals has further cemented himself as a fan favourite.
WE ARE STAYING UP!