Reading are starting to make some slow, but steady progress. After a run of three defeats on the spin, the Royals are now unbeaten in their last two games in all competitions (in normal time), building on a 1-1 draw at Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers to get the same scoreline at Swansea City.
As with the League Cup match at Molineux, Reading required a late goal to spare the blushes of a first-half opener from the home side. Although they didn’t need a full nine minutes of injury time to get the goal this time, the Royals did still bide their time before Andy Yiadom lashed home in the 90th minute.
It was no more than we deserved, although suggesting we would have been good value for a win would have been more of a stretch. Then again, as is quickly becoming a theme this season, we had enough chances to go home with three points. Nonetheless, we’re still talking about a positive result away to a strong side. Swansea may not be in the Premier League like Wednesday’s opponents Wolves, but if they can keep up their strong start to the campaign it may be a case of when rather than if they get there.
They demonstrated their credentials by controlling possession for much of the first half, happy to keep the ball, move it around quickly and make Reading chase it. It was at the end of one such patient move in the third minute that Borja Baston headed home, finding far too much space between Reading centre halves Liam Moore and Michael Morrison before guiding the ball past Rafael.
Besides the frustration of conceding so early in the match, I’m left wondering what part the defensive reorganisation had to play in that goal. Jose Gomes again went for a back three, but made two changes to that unit from the team that faced Wolves: Liam Moore and Michael Morrison in for Tom McIntyre and Matt Miazga.
The third defender, Tyler Blackett, was making just his second start of the season after playing in midweek. To be fair, those weren’t poor changes. Moore was always going to return and bringing Morrison back after fine form earlier in the season made sense, while Miazga is presumably still recovering from injury himself and McIntyre - despite looking promising - hasn’t hit consistency just yet.
But regular alterations to the defence (however valid) will lead to lapses at the back similar to the one that gifted Swansea City an early lead - the kind of situation that Reading have previously struggled to recover from. Gomes needs to pick his best defence and stick with it.
Anyway, I digress. Swansea bossed much of the early stages, keeping the ball intelligently and patiently moving it around, often able to play through a Reading side that didn’t close down aggressively enough. But we had flashes of our own in the final third, and should have equalised through George Puscas after a corner, only for the Romanian to balloon his close-range shot over the bar.
It was yet another golden chance missed by Puscas, who seems to be in desperately short supply of composure in front of goal. As he would show throughout the game, he works hard enough and tries to cause problems with his movement, but his striker’s instinct is off. Similarly, he lacks sharpness in his hold-up play. For me it’s most likely that he isn’t fully settled yet, but whatever the reason he needs that next goal as soon as possible for the sake of his own confidence.
Somewhat ironically, given my earlier comments about our defensive changes, Reading were forced into one midway through the half. Tyler Blackett pulled up and, despite trying to play through the pain, eventually had to be withdrawn. Interestingly though, Gomes pre-empted his usual tactical switch of withdrawing a centre back for a forward - thereby going to a back four - by bringing on Lucas Joao.
I’m not entirely sure what formation we went for at that stage, but it seemed to most closely resemble a 4-1-4-1. Andy Rinomhota continued his holding role in front of the re-jigged defence, Ovie Ejaria went to the left, Lucas Boye to the right, while John Swift and Joao supported Puscas centrally. That gradually started to pay off, with Reading increasingly able to disrupt the home side and play much more of the game in Swansea’s third, even if the Royals lacked the quality to open up the Swans.
Perhaps because of that, Boye’s frustrations boiled over. Having already been booked for a rash challenge by the touchline - needlessly, and similar to how he was carded at Middlesbrough a few weeks ago - just before the break he pulled back a Swansea player to prevent a counter, and a less lenient referee could have sent him for an early shower. Very wisely, Gomes subbed the Argentinian at half-time.
In his place came Josh Barrett - belatedly though, as he didn’t emerge in time for the restart so Reading began the second half with ten men. When he did come on it was on the left wing, and he added much more direct, strong running on that flank, often linking up well with left-back Jordan Obita.
Reading had continued where they left off, pushing Swansea back well, but again we couldn’t quite open up the opposition well enough. However, Swift and Ejaria looked increasingly influential, Yiadom was getting forward well down the right, and substitute Joao was a handful centrally with strong drives forward - although he needs to improve his hold-up play and decision making.
Swansea City fan Declan Terry told us before the game in our Town End preview that a weakness of the Swans was their relative youth and naivety. Although they did still remain a threat for the rest of the game, that lack of experience seemed to make it harder for them to manage their lead, and - for me - played a part in helping us to secure a deserved point.
Having threatened down the right for much of the game, and certainly getting forward better than fellow fullback Obita - who was himself replaced by Omar Richards in the second half - Yiadom popped up in the 90th minute to lash home an equaliser from the right side of the box after clever link-up play from Joao on the edge of the box. Cue delirium in the away end. For the second time in a week, Reading had kept going until the very end and got their reward.
Not a great afternoon for Reading, but a good one even so. Had we shown the same lack of character at the Liberty Stadium as we did against Blackburn Rovers, we would likely have come away a fourth straight league defeat, but Reading had the spirit to stick in there, keep going and get the all-important goal, even if it was from a somewhat unlikely source.
That we managed our first point of the season when conceding the first goal against a high-flying Swansea City side shouldn’t be understated. Reading have now got that particularly annoying monkey off their shoulder and will be the stronger for it - but it’s now up to the players to make sure they can build on the psychological boost they’ve made for themselves.
Nonetheless, the game should give the manager a few things to ponder ahead of Fulham’s visit on Tuesday evening, particularly who he wants to play in defence and what formation that defence is a part of. For me, starting with a back four is the logical decision. As we showed against Swansea (and indeed on previous occasions this season) we’re more threatening with that extra man in the final third.
As for the defence, Moore, Morrison, Miazga and McIntyre will all be pushing to start (assuming all are fit) but starting with a back four means that two miss out, and I’m inclined to go with Moore and Miazga. Again though, if Gomes makes that call, he needs to stick with it and give the chosen combination time to get going.
On the whole though, a 1-1 draw at Swansea City is a good result to build on. With recently relegated Fulham another tough opponent in midweek, learning the lessons from the Liberty will be vital if we’re to get back to winning ways.
Reading: Rafael; Moore, Morrison, Blackett (Joao); Yiadom, Swift, Rinomhota, Ejaria, Obita (Richards); Boye (Barrett), Puscas