I’ve touched on this elsewhere - on Twitter here, and also in my Five Things from the Nottingham Forest game - but Michael Olise’s performance at Nottingham Forest deserves some proper appreciation. It may not have been an obviously glamorous display like George Puscas’ hat trick at Wigan Athletic or one of Ovie Ejaria’s numerous magic shows this season, but it felt like a significant step in Olise’s Reading career.
Before Wednesday night, it’s fair to say that Olise has been more of a talent for the future that will come good in the long term. Although that’s certainly true - he is still raw, and one very good game at the City Ground doesn’t change that - the all-round maturity of his performance was a sign that he can have a big impact now.
It wasn’t always like this though. In late December, Mark Bowen was asked why there hadn’t been more chances for Olise in the first team. He explained that decision by not-so-subtly suggesting that the youngster’s work rate out of possession wasn’t good enough, also emphasising the “trust” that he needs to have in outfield players so that he can consistently rely on them in the first team.
Sam Baldock echoed those thoughts after the Forest game, saying Olise would himself admit that he’s previously had a “tendency to sort of be lazy and switch off”. But Baldock also praised Olise’s development in the last few months, noting a “real change” in the academy graduate’s personality - particularly in his work rate.
Those improvements initially paid off in the FA Cup, where he was rewarded with getting the full 90 minutes on the pitch for the first times in his senior career. Olise impressed in both games against Blackpool and registered an assist in each match, playing a through ball for Baldock in the home tie and finding Jordan Obita with a deft chip in the replay.
Just as importantly, those games showed that he was mature and comfortable enough to make the step up.
The league is another matter. Olise had in fact only played six minutes in the Championship under Bowen - a slightly nervy cameo on Boxing Day against Queen’s Park Rangers, getting on the bench two other times.
So the fact that he managed to leapfrog both Garath McCleary and Lucas Boye to start against Forest in Yakou Meite’s absence says a lot about the faith his manager has in him. Bowen could quite easily have gone for the safer option in the experienced McCleary, but in the end the former Forest man wasn’t even in the matchday squad.
Olise repaid that with a confident display on the right of Reading’s 4-2-3-1. Due to both the Royals’ system and the difficult nature of the opposition, Olise’s role required him to be both hard-working off the ball and intelligent in possession, but as the stats show, he showed both sides of his game really well.
Olise made three ‘key passes’ (passes that lead directly to a chance) - that’s more than anyone else in either team, and made up a big chunk of Reading’s total of eight. A key point here though is that two of his three ‘key passes’ came just outside the box in a central area - the most dangerous zone on the pitch for creating chances. It shows that Olise had the positivity and instinct to push into an area where he could really hurt Forest.
He’s also got an eye for a Hollywood pass, which gives Reading’s attack a different dimension - especially when there’s a quick winger on the opposite flank to him.
On the defensive side, no other Reading player attempted more than the four tackles Olise put in against Forest, even if he only won two of those (while Chris Gunter won all of his four). Nonetheless, it’s certainly a sign of the work rate he put in at the City Ground to track back and protect the right side of Reading’s defence.
Quite fittingly, in his post-match interview on Wednesday night, Bowen came back to that same word he emphasised in December: trust.
“I said to him after the game that I’d probably done him a disservice by not using him more before now. With younger players, I use that word – ‘trust’. I have to trust them to put them in the work – not trust them with the ball, because Michael is a massively talented player – but trust him to do the job out of possession.
“I said to him at the final whistle: ‘I know I can trust you now’, because of the shift of work he put in. Defensively, he showed he was years ahead of his time.
Bowen was clearly delighted by the youngster’s all-round impact, but he didn’t just show that in his glowing praise to the media. He also did it directly to the travelling fans at full time, with one arm around Olise and pointing to the youngster with his other hand, making a big point of picking the academy graduate out in front of the supporters.
It was a lovely touch, and one that - hopefully - shows Olise has made a big step in his Reading career.