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Tactics Review: Offensive Promise Not Enough At Ewood Park

Jamie explains the pros and cons of Reading’s 4-4-2 at the weekend, and the improvement that could be made.

Blackburn Rovers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Reading kicked off their game at Ewood Park on Saturday afternoon with a slight formation change following their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough in midweek. Lining up in a 4-4-2:

Rafael; Gunter, Morrison, McIntyre, Blackett; Olise, Swift, Rinomhota, Richards; Puscas, Meite.

Reading made the worst possible start by conceding two goals in the opening six minutes. The first stemmed from losing the ball in a dangerous area followed by Tom McIntyre opting to stand off his man (less than 10 yards from goal) rather than close him down. The second though, despite coming from a quick free kick with the midfield switched off and unable to make the interception, was a fantastic finish from Adam Armstrong, letting the ball run onto his left foot before drilling past Rafael.

By making the switch to a four in midfield, Reading became open to these Blackburn attacks. When Andy Rinomhota pushed forwards, with the visitors not pressing as a whole, the ball was easily played around him, leading to an outnumbering of John Swift in the middle. Chris Gunter moving centrally to try to even up the battle (when defending a Rovers attack) only led to space being created on Reading’s right flank, with the home side all over the Royals in the opening exchanges.

Even when Rinomhota and Swift were both level on the field, Reading still had issues dealing with Blackburn’s threat. This was another game in which not just the midfield but also most of the team were victims of poor passing, and Reading were not able to create much in attack. This led to Blackburn pretty easily dispossessing those Royals midfielders and forming counter attacks.

Blackburn Rovers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The positives to the change in style though were in the attacking third. Reading were actually poor going forwards in the first half, but this was mainly due to the service afforded to the front two being either defensive clearances or just non-existent. Come the second period, Reading began on the front foot and showed what quality they do have with a few neat passing moves, cutting open Blackburn and showing that their hosts were perhaps not quite the side that they’d been made out to be.

Reading went 3-1 down when yet more stand-offish defending allowed Blackburn another soft goal. However, the introductions of both Jordan Obita and Sam Baldock led to Reading getting back into the game. Baldock nodded home a fantastic delivery from Obita, and minutes later the forward’s tireless work rate helped his side to an equaliser.

It was perhaps surprising to see Omar Richards substituted off as Obita was brought on, based on how well the two men can link up on the left side of the pitch. The man replacing him, Garath McCleary, had a steady game however, creating opportunities but lacking that slight bit of end product that Reading needed when on top. This change enabled Michael Olise to move into Richards’ left wing position, but the young Frenchman (in both halves) enjoyed drifting into the middle of the pitch and almost even won the game for Reading with a chance from a more central position.

With both George Puscas and Yakou Meite being able to work the channels at times, Reading may well have benefitted from a player in the number 10 role, the other central midfielder then moving to sit in front of the defence, with the midfield in a diamond shape. However, it was positive to see Mark Bowen make an attacking change to the side (in terms of shape), looking to play a second man up top.

Where maybe a 3-5-2 would have suited this side better, what should be taken into consideration are the positives shown in terms of the attacking threat Reading finally managed to show. Perhaps Blackburn were just pretty open defensively, but when Reading do manage to string together some passes in the attacking third, they really can threaten.

The game as a whole did pretty much sum up Reading’s season. Defensive errors and a lack of quality in attack, mixed in with a short period of dominance, before finally falling short. However, it’s fair to say a lot more positives will be taken from this season as a whole than from this individual game.