Reading travelled to the Liberty Stadium on a three-game losing run and came up against a Swansea City side sitting in third place in the table (due to Nottingham Forest’s Friday night win). The Royals lined up in a 3-5-2 formation with Tyler Blackett coming into central defence alongside Michael Morrison and Liam Moore, Jordan Obita retaining his place at left wing-back, Andy Rinomhota being recalled in place of Pele and sitting just in front of the defence, with Lucas Boye partnering George Puscas up front.
Reading got off to the worst possible start as a whipped-in Andre Ayew cross was headed in by Borja Baston inside three minutes. Swansea were having far too much freedom down Reading’s left as Connor Roberts and Andre Ayew were doubling up on Obita, causing Blackett to shift over out wide to face up Ayew when Obita came out to Roberts. Ayew had an impressive showing on the right in the first half, delivering in a few dangerous crosses, but Moore and Morrison really should’ve dealt with the cross that lead to the goal; Baston powering in a free header he simply couldn’t miss.
Swansea put much more pressure on the defence and Rafael in goal than Reading were at the other end of the pitch, with no one really showing for the ball in midfield. Rinomhota made a few good tackles but Swansea were far too dominant in the middle of the park. When the Royals did manage to attack, a lack of support scuppered some good moves down the right hand side - Boye particularly impressive at winning the ball back, linking up with Andy Yiadom, and putting some dangerous crosses in for Puscas.
While Boye was the best Royals player on the pitch in the first half, Puscas had a 90 minutes to forget. Not only did he break down a good move that Boye had started off with an over-hit lay-off to Swift, gifting the ball back to the home side, but he missed yet another sitter as he skied a shot from six yards out from a short corner move involving Swift and Obita. Reading managed to thread a few balls through Swansea’s defence to him and cause them problems from crosses but didn’t really have any meaningful attempts on goal - Puscas trying to overdo everything that came his way.
Reading looked far more effective attacking down the right hand side than left due to Boye being a natural winger, Obita not receiving enough support down the left, while, with Puscas central, Obita only had Ejaria for support and no one to overlap. When Swift came over to help out, it left the right side isolated, and Reading were caught with Swift and Ejaria on the same side of the pitch a few times when Swansea regained possession. When those two link up together Reading can be at their best, but if caught out on the same flank after a turnover, it can lead to an imbalanced midfield for the opposition to exploit.
Off the ball, some half-hearted pressing from the forward players meant Swansea were able to knock the ball around with ease, play through the Royals ranks and switch the play whenever they wanted to, leaving Boye and Puscas chasing shadows. Despite Boye’s impressive showing on Saturday afternoon, his tenacity to win the ball back resulted in him committing numerous cynical fouls, and he was lucky not to be sent off for a second yellow just before half time.
A forced tactical change from Gomes led to a more even end to the first half. Tyler Blackett eventually succumbed to injury with not Tom McIntyre, but Lucas Joao, replacing him and playing behind Puscas. With Boye on the right and Ejaria drifting between the centre of the pitch and the left, Reading made more use of their wide areas but still seemed to struggle on the left wing a bit, with Boye much more suited to drifting out wide and linking up with the full-back than Ejaria.
Reading came out for the second half a much-improved side. Gomes made his second change of the game as Josh Barrett replaced Boye. As well as this, Gomes had seemed to give his players a rollicking as the Royals came out pressing high, not giving Swansea any time on the ball. There was a slight tactical reshuffle which again worked out well for the away side - Gomes addressing the issue of width high up the pitch with Josh Barrett playing on the left hand side and Ejaria drifting between right central midfield and the right flank.
These two were key for Reading’s press as they got themselves high up the pitch and hassled and harried the defenders with Puscas and Joao both able to have central roles to put pressure on the centre backs and goalkeeper. Barrett was very impressive and will be pushing for a start as the busy schedule continues this week, cutting on to his right to either fire a few shots at goal or put in some dangerous crosses.
Ejaria on the other hand came out with far more energy and purpose after a disappointing and lethargic first half. Swift and Rinomhota played deeper and more centrally, dropping off to give the central defenders options when playing out from the back.
Swift in particular excelled as his tireless will to carry the ball forwards and find a man, or switch the play when needed with his inch-perfect crossfield balls, gave Reading a sense of authority on the ball. This 4-3-3 (4-2-2-2 when Joao pushed forwards) worked very well for Reading - and, coupled with renewed energy and fight, seemingly made the visitors more balanced at the top end of the pitch.
Reading had found a new sense of calmness and assurance in possession, able to knock the ball around nicely, and we became the team that would keep hold of the ball for long periods of time. As the game wore on this began to frustrate the away fans as, despite having more shots on goal, Reading were not able to break through Swansea’s defence as much as in the first half.
The only real chance of note for the Royals came from Ejaria weaving through the Swansea defence before having a shot pushed away at the near post by Freddie Woodman, while the home side did not threaten much. Their main chances came from cutbacks that were either blocked or fired well wide, with Rafael comfortably gathering everything else that came his way.
Into the last 10 minutes and Jose Gomes eventually substituted Obita for Omar Richards, the left back tiring as the half wore on. A fresh pair of legs helped Reading get forwards more often, with Richards, Barrett, Joao, Swift and Ejaria being involved in various attacks that fizzled out with patient passing across the pitch and backwards to the defenders, the Reading waves looking for a way through Swansea’s rearguard.
In the 89th minute of the game, Reading finally got the goal they were pushing for as a nice one-two involving Joao and Swift ended in a Yiadom bullet into the far corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance.
Both sides looked for the winner in the three minutes of stoppage time, but a tired Reading side mainly had to stand firm as the closest either side came to the three points was a tame header from a late Swansea free kick. The Royals managed to get the ball forwards on a few occasions but, with tiring bodies and little time remaining, couldn’t get the ball near the Swans’ box.
Still, Reading will be pleased after taking a hard earned point back to the Madejski Stadium to build on ahead of the visit of Fulham on Tuesday night, and will be looking to kick on after arresting their run of defeats. As the gaffer and the rest of the squad reiterated, if performances like this continue, the results will come.