Upon his unveiling as the Royals’ first transfer of the summer, former boss Mark Bowen described Josh Laurent as a player who “fits the mould as a hungry, vibrant, energetic young midfielder who I am sure will make an impact at Madejski Stadium”. Despite Bowen no longer being in the technical area, the Welshman’s comments have become something of a premonition after Laurent’s impactful start to his Reading career.
While the prolific goal-scoring exploits of Lucas João and Yakou Meïté have dominated the headlines at the start of Veljko Paunović’s reign in charge, it has been the Royals’ new and unsung addition in midfield that has perhaps impressed most.
Laurent’s display on Saturday in the 3-0 home win over Rotherham was arguably his most assured yet, completing four interceptions and dispossessing opponents twice in a game in which the Royals were largely on the back foot in the first half. With a tackle success rate of 75% and only committing four fouls in seven games, Laurent has been an effective physical presence alongside Andy Rinomhota at the base of Reading’s midfield unit.
Reading’s impenetrable defence has only conceded one goal in the opening seven league games of the season, and this has been partly down to the joint effort of Laurent and Rinomhota. Both of Reading’s ball-winning midfielders have shielded the back four diligently, occupying the gaps left behind by Reading’s advancing full-backs and disrupting the flow of the opposition. With this in mind, it is little wonder why Reading have only faced 15 shots on target at their own goal in over 10 1⁄2 hours of football.
So far, the 25 year-old has embodied everything that has made the Royals the early pacesetters in the Championship: organisation, commitment and desire. While much transfer fanfare has emanated from the arrival of prodigious Porto full back Tomás Esteves, it has been Laurent who has ingratiated himself with the Reading faithful after a string of solid performances since the outset of the season.
For someone who some Shrewsbury Town fans were unconvinced about before Reading snaffled him away from Shropshire, Laurent has since exceeded all expectations. His transition from the third to second tier of English football has been seamless, slotting in nicely alongside Rinomhota in the engine room of Reading’s tireless midfield.
Many onlookers - myself included - were initially sceptical of his Championship pedigree after failing to make his second-tier breakthrough at QPR, Brentford and Wigan in the liminal stages of his career, but a couple of stellar seasons with the Shrews - highlighted with his winner against Stoke City in the FA Cup in January and an equally eye-catching performance at home to Liverpool in the next round of that competition - has paved the way for his move to Berkshire.
Despite the emergence of Rinomhota in recent seasons, the Royals have never really retained control in the middle of the pitch since the departure of Danny Williams after the 2017 play-off final defeat at Wembley. However, with both Rinomhota and Laurent in tandem, Reading now have an indefatigable partnership that can outrun and outmuscle most Championship counterparts.
It’s not just Laurent’s on-field contribution that has been warmly felt. It appears he is an uplifting presence in the changing room, already forging bromances with both Rinomhota and Lucas João, as countless social media posts have revealed. This love affair with Laurent has underpinned Reading’s near-faultless start to the 2020/21 season, and he will only enamour himself more with the Reading faithful if his consistent run of form continues.