For the first time this season, Reading will play in front of opposition fans, so it’s only right we talked to one of them ahead of the game. Clive Whittingham from Loft For Words has plenty of positives to talk about for this Queen’s Park Rangers’ side, but also a fair share of negatives.
As he explains below, QPR still have attacking quality - even after the departure of Nakhi Wells, Jordan Hugill and Ebere Eze - but they’re not good enough at taking the chances they create. At the other end, although there have defensive improvements, they’re too leaky at the back.
How’s the season gone for you so far?
While recognising it’s a young team, relying on a number of ‘projects’ that we’re developing for the future, and shorn of a number of quality players who’ve left over the last two seasons, it has nevertheless become increasingly frustrating to watch Rangers this season.
We’ve only won four matches so far, and two of those against Cardiff City and Rotherham United were absolute ordeals where we came close to blowing two-goal leads. We’ve played well, even exceptionally well, in a number of other games without winning. We drew 0-0 with Bournemouth and 1-1 with Watford, obviously both recently in the Premier League, but outplayed both and missed a number of terrific chances.
We absolutely dominated the first halves against high-flying Bristol City and Brentford, and ended up losing both games 2-1 having, once again, failed to make the pressure, possession and performance tell in goals. We lost Ebere Eze, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill from last year’s team: 45 goals and many assists besides. They’re all very accomplished players, Eze now tearing the Premier League up at Palace, and they’ve been replaced with projects in Lyndon Dykes, Macauley Bonne and Chris Willock/Ilias Chair so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that while we’re still playing well, we’re no longer able to bury matches we’re on top in.
Meanwhile, last year’s horrendously leaky defence (76 conceded) has improved a bit for the addition of Rob Dickie, and we’ve already kept four clean sheets already when there were just six in the whole of last season, but we’re still way too porous at the back. Once again, as we did in 2019/20, we lead the league for conceding from crosses, headers, penalties and set pieces.
In summary we have to play seriously well, and create half a dozen chances or more, to score, whereas it doesn’t take very much at all to crack us at the other end. Not a great combination.
How does Mark Warburton set his side up tactically?
Almost always in a 4-2-3-1 with Lyndon Dykes as the lone striker. If we’re playing one of the so-called lesser lights in the division, or in a game we want to attack and win, we’ll play three attacking players behind Dykes with Willock, Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel all excellent on their day. Then we’ll go with Tom Carroll as a ball player in the two, with one of Dom Ball or Geoff Cameron as the defensive player.
If we’re in a more difficult game, we’ll often switch one of the attacking three out and play a presser at ten – Luke Amos prior to his injury, Carroll since. Ball and Cameron then play together as a really stodgy, attritional defensive two in front of the back four.
What are the main strengths of this team?
The three behind the lone striker are all potentially excellent players. There’s been some question marks raised over Bright Osayi-Samuel’s attitude and body language this year (he’s in the midst of a protracted contract dispute with the club) but on his day he’s still capable of torching full backs at this level – his destruction of Joe Mattock against Rotherham last week was total.
Ilias Chair has been groomed for sometime to step into Ebere Eze’s boots and he’s already scored five times without taking penalties so he’s on course for a good season. He’s only 5ft 2 but he’s strong, hard working, creative and dangerous. His corners aren’t up to much at the moment though. And we’ve liked what we’ve seen of Chris Willock who came in from Benfica over the summer and is still working his way up to fitness.
Finishing. We’re missing too many really good chances. And defending, particularly crosses from wide areas and set pieces. We’ve conceded 101 goals since the start of last season. We’ve conceded more headers, from more crosses, from more set pieces and from more penalties than any other team in the league over that period.
What have you made of Reading so far?
Very surprised. You’ve looked like a pretty haphazardly run club for some time, infamous wages-to-turnover ratio, steady rotation of managers and board members, and when you suddenly conducted a “strategic review” and replaced everybody again midway through an already truncated summer I thought ‘here they go again’ – particularly employing a relative unknown as manager.
But, clearly, a decent side. I love watching Ovie Ejaria and to see him now playing with Josh Laurent, who left our youth set-up out of frustration at a time when we never picked academy players, is quite galling. I feel like you’re gettable at the back, but through midfield and up front, with the ball, very good. Watched you at Bournemouth and against Forest and was impressed.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Looking at the way both teams set up, play, attack, and defend, I’m going for some sort of nonsense game with a lot of goals. Without fans I’d probably back us to lose 3-2 or something like that. I’m hoping this being our first game with people back in might tilt that scoreline in our favour.