Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Esteves; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Semedo, Olise; Joao.
Reading kicked off their Saturday lunchtime clash with Bournemouth rather positively. A weaving run from Alfa Semedo in the opening few minutes won a penalty for the Royals, converted by Lucas Joao, before a fantastic passing move involving every midfielder culminated in Sone Aluko finishing off Ovie Ejaria’s pass following a one-two with Alfa Semedo.
In general, Reading were pressing well and aiming to win back possession quickly – doing so straight after their second goal and going straight on the attack once more. The way Bournemouth play (coupled with the visitors’ early goal) suited Reading, who decided to sit back and soak up Bournemouth pressure before unleashing attacks themselves.
As Bournemouth attacked, their main threat was left winger Arnaut Danjuma, with Junior Stanislas moving across to double up on Tomas Esteves. The home side usually play three at the back, and so push their wing backs forwards, and as Sergio Rico and Jack Stacey pushed up in order to apply more pressure to the Reading full backs, space was left in behind the Bournemouth backline – in fact, at points in the first half the only attackers not pressing the home side were both Reading wingers, in order to track and cut off the wide options and give the full backs some much-needed support.
Coming under pressure in their own half, after turnovers, the Royals did very well in possession to put together slick moves that resulted in shifting the ball right down the pitch and outnumbering the Cherries’ backline – but they weren’t able to make use of these opportunities, despite multiple defensive mistakes.
Despite another great run from Semedo, ending in an off-target header, the converted attacking midfielder still struggled to keep up the flow of the attack and gave the ball away a few times too many when in dangerous positions. Of course, he won’t have a natural attacking brain instantly after years at defensive midfield, but after a while his excellent physicality and all-round threat may not be enough to keep him in the side over the likes of Michael Olise.
Tomas Esteves again showcased some attacking threat, if not pulling up trees defensively, on one occasion moving infield (as he’s done so on previous occasions) after releasing the ball and helping to drag Bournemouth’s defenders out before beating them with a few quick passes and creating a chance.
Come the second half, Bournemouth reshuffled defensively – Chris Mepham replacing Sergio Rico, with Lloyd Kelly moving to left back. Despite the change, and Kelly’s assist for the first Cherries goal (both of the home side’s first two strikes coming down the left), the main protagonists were Reading players.
Ball-watching (Aluko for Bournemouth’s first a notable instance) and poor positioning (from Richards/Moore for the first goal for allowing Solanke to get goal-side and into space in the area and then Esteves for the second goal for not tracking Danjuma’s run and facing away from the ball) was a sign of things to come. Limited pressure on Lewis Cook on the edge of the box allowed him the time and space to expertly fire in Bournemouth’s third, and the less said about their final goal the better.
However, one thing concerning Solanke’s second and Reading’s goalkeeping errors is the possible introduction of Luke Southwood and the physical challenges Millwall will pose on Wednesday night – a tough decision for Paunovic perhaps.
Reading shored up their right-hand side with the introduction of Tom Holmes on 64 minutes, but Bournemouth managed to find two extra goals to win the game from different sources, showing some individual brilliance and signs of the side that did so well in the Premier League for many years. The visitors though did come close to scoring twice in the second period, Asmir Begovic brilliantly thwarted both Lucas Joao a potential equaliser and Michael Olise a consolation.
In general, one thing that does frustrate from time to time is the tendency for Josh Laurent to dribble out of situations where unsuitable to do so. Although it does allow Reading to attack on the counter, at times it can be a slight sign of immaturity – in fairness, this is probably his only weakness after completing a move from League One Shrewsbury, which says a huge amount about how easily he has not only slotted into, but improved his new side.
Finally, a positive to end on actually stems from a Bournemouth corner. After it was cleared the whole Reading side pushed up and played a few opposition players offside - something quite pleasant to see, as it was how Reading conceded their second against Coventry – showing that perhaps Reading are indeed learning from their mistakes.
However, there is much more to do for the Royals (playing out from the back too often in dangerous areas and switching off defensively the main two issues) if they are to find some middle ground between the two sides that have been on show this season in blue and white hoops, both of which were on display on Saturday lunchtime.
Reading’s performances have actually been improving with more chances created and a more attacking right back in the side – however, due to fine margins, results have taken a turn. At the beginning of the season, their scorelines were a lot more positive but performances weren’t always great, Reading needing to be clinical at times in order to achieve their seven wins out of eight.
Added to injuries, small details really have scuppered the side in recent weeks (plus the big ones that come about as a results – either not scoring enough goals or, when they do, conceding far too many). Perhaps returning Holmes to right back and making the most of the players returning from injury, added to work on the defensive errors previously mentioned, can reignite Reading and maybe even go one step further from finding some ‘middle ground’ (Step 1) into becoming a complete promotion-chasing team (Step 2).