Reading kicked off their clash against top of the table West Brom in a 4-3-3: Rafael; Yiadom, Morrison, Moore, Obita; Pele, Araruna, Swift; Meite, Puscas, Ejaria.
Mark Bowen decided to switch to four at the back, thrusting the returning Andy Yiadom straight into the starting line up in the absence of the injured Chris Gunter and Felipe Araruna moving into the centre of the park.
In the first half it seemed as if Bowen’s tactical changes were working, with Ovie Ejaria and Jordan Obita able to double up on the inexperienced Dara O’Shea at right back. Obita caused panic in the WBA rearguard with some dangerous low crosses, resulting in corners where Reading’s main threat came from. After a few scrambles in the box, a deep ball in from John Swift was met by the hand of Kyle Bartley, resulting in a penalty which George Puscas slotted home 10 minutes in.
Following this, Reading began to sit back and a lack of pressure on the visitors meant that they had the freedom to play their intricate passing moves and equalise, thanks to Matheus Pereira. Despite the opposition looking susceptible on the counter, Reading did not take the game to them. WBA are a side who have plenty of firepower but a defence that flatter to deceive at times, so a more positive approach at times may have allowed Reading something from the game. This was especially clear with the visitors missing numerous opportunities and failing to kill the game off, instead hoping to see it out.
Once more, all three of Bowen’s substitutions made an impact but with Sam Baldock only being given 10 minutes, he did not manage to help Reading at the top of the pitch, something Andy Rinomhota did impressively at the other end. Late in the game a flurry of pressure (cut short by the referee) directed from the left foot of Charlie Adam, with dangerous balls forwards which the Baggies’ defence were clearly uncomfortable with, was not enough to snatch the Royals a point. The closest they came being a disallowed Yakou Meite goal.
With Meite and Ejaria ineffective on the wings and most of Reading’s threat needing to come from these positions in a 4-3-3, the Royals only managed one shot on target in the whole game. If Bowen is to persist with a 4-3-3, he will need out-and-out wingers rather than playing the in-form Meite in a position where he was hardly involved - yet still almost managed to find the scoresheet. Despite the reluctance of the midfielders to shoot and the few battles won in the middle of the pitch, this area seems to be the strongest part of the side, but still leaves a few conundrums for the coaching staff.
With options aplenty, Bowen must now decide which midfield trio to move forwards with, while maintaining a balance in making sure the forward(s) are not isolated and still making use of the wide areas and the crossing abilities of the full backs.
Perhaps a reversion to five at the back, Meite as a striker and a midfield of Pele, Rinomhota and Swift (similar to the side that ended the cup game at Cardiff) is the way forwards. But no matterwhat Bowen does, without Lucas Joao the whole system has had to be changed, and without a league win since, something has to be done.