Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Esteves; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Semedo, Meite; Puscas.
Reading began the game in the same manner as the Wycombe Wanderers clash in midweek. With Rotherham United pressing them, they were mainly weathering the opposition storm, while trying to string together enough passes to create an attack – Puscas not being as effective an out ball as Joao – during a spell of possession or on the counter.
When the ball was on Reading’s right flank on the counter, Ovie Ejaria would move more centrally and Omar Richards would push forwards out wide, in an attempt to exploit the spaces left open there. However, during general attacks, Reading again did not tend to commit their full backs forwards too much – not a criticism at all thanks to the defensive solidity and insusceptibility to the counter it offers, but it did result in Reading slightly lacking width on this flank.
In the first half, Richards was caught out pressing high, where a one-two resulted in a through ball and cross that Rafael punched into the onrushing attacker, the ball fortunately bobbling wide of the mark. This instance occurred when Rotherham had the ball in the Royals’ half. However, when they were in possession in defence, Reading’s press was more effective. Although it was not as vicious as in their opening game, it was more energetic than in the last couple of matches.
When Rotherham’s right-sided centre back (Michael Ihiekwe) was in possession, George Puscas would apply the press from the central attacking area, cutting off a ball across to his defensive partner Richard Wood. Simultaneously, Josh Laurent would push forwards onto the right central midfielder (Liam Lindsay), meaning any pass to him would be a very risky one, with Alfa Semedo also guarding the holding midfieler Shaun McDonald. Thanks to Ejaria on the left wing cutting off passing lanes out wide, Reading could box their opposition in - in certain situations.
The same also occurred on the other flank in the first period, with Rinomhota and Meite involved. However, the visitors weren’t shy of a long ball forwards or putting the ball in touch, meaning a scrappy game ensued – Reading unfortunately struggling in possession against the Millers’ solid press, the Millers looking to put more pressure on the balls from Moore/Morrison to Laurent/Rinomhota and stop the Royals from playing.
Thankfully, the Royals don’t mind being slightly, but relatively comfortably, under the cosh and tiring their opponents out – while also being clinical at the other end. This was on show once more as, for a second game running, they took the lead with their first shot on target.
One of Reading’s star men at the moment is unarguably Ejaria, with his ball-winning abilities becoming just as important as what comes after. As Reading were counter-attacking, a poor pass from Semedo (who struggled slightly throughout the game) was easily cut out by a Rotherham man. Despite this, Ovie made a fantastic tackle to regain possession, received the ball back from Semedo and shifted away from a few opponents with his fancy footwork before clipping it over to Yakou Meite at the far post. The Ivorian was composed as he took the ball down, readied himself and finished underneath the keeper.
This goal gently sparked Reading into a bit more energy, trying to push forwards a tad more, while also keeping Rotherham under constant pressure for the remaining minutes of the half – not allowing a delivery from the left to come in at one point through fantastic desire from Esteves, Rinomhota and Meite to safeguard the 1-0 lead.
In the second period, the introduction of George Hirst changed the game, in terms of upgrading Rotherham from a side barely troubling Rafael to one that started to look like it could get themselves an equaliser (mainly thanks to the on-loan Leicester man, as well as fellow substitute Freddie Ladapo). Both men came close to scoring, and Rotherham looked in control of the game with the Royals barely getting a kick, before a fantastic strike from Tomas Esteves struck the bar, closely followed by another from Yakou Meite – this time finding the net from an acrobatic volley, showing he can score more instinctive goals as well as those where he has more time.
This two-goal lead was partly down to the substitutes of Lucas Joao and Michael Olise. Yes, Olise did deliver in both corners in the lead up to the goal, but both players gave Reading an attacking threat that was next to non-existent beforehand. Their presence on the pitch allowed Reading the two corners that ultimately led to the game being safe.
It’s important to note that, in terms of performances, Reading haven’t hit a run of form. So hopefully we’ll start to see periods of possession to control games when needed/to take the sting out of any potential opposition momentum, or at least some more effectiveness/fluidity in the build-up to attacks/in possession, throughout the whole game and not just in bursts – as we saw in the Derby game on the opening day.
To round off the scoring, another long ball from Rafael (see also the Derby game and Moore vs Wycombe) showed how Reading can also break the lines with both targetmen Joao and Meite able to take the ball down (Joao vs Wycombe, Meite all game vs Watford) or flick it on to the other – something that occurred late on and exposed the gaps Rotherham were leaving in desperate search of a goal back. Rafael’s punt saw Joao through on goal, it taking two men to wrestle him to the ground before picking himself up and dispatching the third from the penalty spot.
To round off, it was another solid display from the two centre backs, Liam Moore cutting out crosses and making vital interceptions and Michael Morrison again showing his petrological qualities as a rock in defence; in midfield again Laurent and Rinomhota were everywhere, showing great energy levels and Laurent in particular impressing with his tackles.
At right back Tomas Esteves showing his attacking quality by drawing men in and then hitting a one-two or shifting his bodyweight to take it around the left sided opposition players, while also attempting through balls and never really looking to pass backwards. Esteves of course though is not as adept at the defensive duties Tom Holmes does so well, competing but not quite winning as much in the air.
This may be a selection dilemma come Tuesday night, but a positive one in which both men do certain things very well, whilst also still improving at the other aspect of their game.