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Luton Town 0-5 Reading: The Perfect Reaction

The Royals put in a vintage performance on the road as four-goal Yakou Meite shreds Luton Town.

Cardiff City v Reading - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Replay - Cardiff City Stadium Photo by Nick Potts/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Well that was marvellous, wasn’t it?

Can you get a much closer to a perfect away game than five goals scored, none conceded, looking comfortable throughout and one player scoring four goals? The shot count - 16 overall and 10 on target for Reading, 5 and 1 respectively for the home side - demonstrates our sheer superiority, while a first clean sheet in six games shouldn’t be overlooked either.

That this all came so soon after a very different match on Tuesday, which in all honesty was an embarrassment at the hands of Brentford, makes it all the more remarkable. The defining sour notes from midweek - particularly the lack of spirit, confidence and a coherent tactical approach - were flipped on their heads at Kenilworth Road.

Reading looked full of life and belief, and although they were going up against 24th-placed Luton, those qualities were the difference between a nervy 1-0 win and an overwhelming 5-0 rout. Such an imperious score line and positive performance decisively put Tuesday night behind us.

So what made the difference?

Certainly, team selection played a huge part. Mark Bowen run the changes after the Brentford loss, bringing Liam Moore, Chris Gunter, Jordan Obita, Michael Olise and Sam Baldock out for Tom McIntyre, Gabriel Osho, Tyler Blackett, Pele and George Puscas.

It meant that, although Reading were in a very familiar 4-1-4-1 shape, the team had a very different feel to it. The first four of those players were making their first appearances since lockdown, and it’s hugely to their credit that they so convincingly took the opportunity from being back in the starting XI.

Leeds United v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Elland Road Photo by Anthony Devlin/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

But the rest of the side looked energised too. That was seen mostly clearly from John Swift, who ran the show in the middle, and Ovie Ejaria who capped off a sharp performance with a beautiful assist for the third.

Which brings me to the man of the moment. I’d wondered after the team news came out why previously ineffective Yakou Meite had escaped the first-team cull, but he sure proved me wrong. Although the second was somewhat fortuitous, lashing the ball into the net after it had broken to him in space, the others were really well-taken finishes.

The third especially was the hallmark of a composed, top forward, not to mention of a team with the ability to break a side down in style when it wants to. Ejaria picked Meite’s back-post run out with a cute defence-splitting pass, before the Ivorian had the nous to control the ball, shift it onto his stronger left foot and fire home from a tight angle.

I’ve had my doubts about Meite, but the Luton game showed just what he’s capable of when he adds composure to his game - not to mention when he has the service. Going into Saturday, he’d only scored twice in the league this season with his feet from open play - showing how much he relies on headers and penalties. By 5pm, he’d tripled that tally.

It was a very good afternoon for Puscas too. He’s looked uncomfortable as a lone striker since the restart, despite growing into the role before lockdown, largely due to a lack of service and support. However, he had both against Luton - leading not only to a goal of his own in the second half, which will have done his confidence a lot of good, but also to three of Meite’s goals, whether directly or indirectly.

For the first, a pass from Swift (in a more advanced role against the Hatters) to Puscas in the right channel was flicked onto Meite. I’ve tried to work out whether or not he meant to do that. I’m inclined to think he did, and that he knew where Meite was, but it’s hard to tell conclusively.

The second was less direct. A cross came into Puscas at the near post, with him then harrying the Luton defence before the ball fell to Meite to slam home. Granted, that’s a bit of a stretch from me, but it still goes to show that you can and will score goals - even scrappy ones - if you get service into the striker. How many times has a goal like that been scored against us, and how many times have we drawn a blank because we’ve failed to provide that kind of basic service?

As for the third, it’s Puscas’ flick on that feeds Meite, after he dropped off to link the play as Meite drifts infield from the right. Again, not the most complicated goal, but it’s the kind of move that comes off because someone’s making that run off the centre forward. More of the same in the future please.

So where does this game leave Reading going forwards? It’s certainly solved an immediate problem, giving the Royals their first post-lockdown win and effectively erasing the embarrassment that came from Tuesday night. Winning 5-0 away from home is also, of course, one hell of a confidence boost going into the remainder of the season.

But then again, this game doesn’t mean so much if it's not followed up on Tuesday night at home to Huddersfield Town and then next Saturday at Charlton Athletic. We know this side is capable of very good performances, but consistency is another matter. Getting another six points against two more sides battling to avoid the drop will demonstrate this squad’s conviction and hopefully start a run that’ll continue into an imminent 2020/21 campaign.