Reading reverted back to a 3-5-2 for their trip to Cardiff City on Friday night: Rafael; Gunter, Morrison, Moore, McIntyre, Obita; Pele, Swift, Ejaria; Meite, Baldock.
With the majority of the game being dominated by long throw-ins and corners from Cardiff, Reading at times struggled to play their own game, Yakou Meite’s early header being one of only two shots on target the Royals managed throughout the fixture. In wet and windy conditions, the Royals’ centre backs stood up well to the aerial challenge posed by Cardiff. A fantastic display from Liam Moore in particular was the main positive taken out of the game, as well as young Tom McIntyre demonstrating his ability to cope with the Bluebirds’ threat once more.
The Royals’ skipper was not only competitive at the back, against the physical Callum Patterson, but also provided support in attack, hassling and harrying the Cardiff forwards to concede possession and build an attack for the visitors. There were even one or two occasions when Moore made an attacking run into the space left by Joe Bennett (in order to press Chris Gunter) to give an extra option for the Welshman and ensure the ball did not have to return back to the defence. The formation change to three at the back allowed Moore the freedom to make these moves, with a lot of Reading’s first half attacks coming from balls into the channels for the strikers to hold up or run on to.
The home side were clearly not prepared for the Royals’ formation change and found the visitors hard to break down, while also looking exposed on the counter attack with vast amounts of space left by the advances of Morrison and Nelson for corners/throw-ins. However, after a double substitution and tactical change from Neil Harris at the break, Cardiff proceeded to dominate the second period with continued balls into the box. Added to this, the home side were winning more battles all over the pitch and looked a lot more threatening, managing numerous opportunities on goal throughout the second period.
Despite a few mistakes at the back, Tom McIntyre once more showed his ability on the ball and in the air in order to deal with the challenges thrown at him. With Pele and Swift impressing in the middle, and Ejaria showing a much improved performance, despite the lack of attempts on goal, Reading looked more threatening than in previous weeks.
The change back to a 3-5-2 certainly seems like the right way to go in the absence of Lucas Joao, with Sam Baldock, Yakou Meite (and George Puscas off the bench) offering a lot more in attack than either would as a lone striker, not to mention the natural ability of this formation (wing backs and two up front) to allow Reading to press the opposition high up the field and force mistakes.