Reading came into their clash with Huddersfield Town off the back of an emphatic 5-0 victory over Luton Town at the weekend. Unsurprisingly (and thankfully), Mark Bowen did not attempt to majorly change his winning side, the only alteration being Jordan Obita taking up the left wing position in place of the injured Ovie Ejaria.
Rafael; Osho, Morrison, McIntyre, Blackett; Pele, Rinomhota, Swift; Meite, Puscas, Obita.
For once, it’s only fair to start with the Royals’ defence. Partly due to the profligacy of Huddersfield’s attack, Reading earned a second consecutive clean sheet on Tuesday evening. An unchanged back four, with both Gabe Osho and Tom McIntyre once again impressing, is looking like it can create a foundation upon which to build both performances and results, this season and (potentially) next.
At right back, Osho showed another dose of attacking threat down the right-hand side, looking to take positive strides forwards down the wing, rather than make the easy decision of passing back to Michael Morrison. Both he and Meite on the right possess the energy and dynamism to form a potent attacking threat, something that will surely only improve over the coming weeks. Defensively, Osho cut out his slight knack of jumping into the opposition wingers a bit too early from the weekend and looked very solid all game.
Sitting next to Morrison in the centre of defence, McIntyre once again showed a dominance in the air mixed with his ability on the ball. Apart from the odd occasion where he attempted to clear with his stronger left foot where his right may have been more productive in his clearance, it was another hugely impressive, near-perfect game for the young man.
On the left wing, Obita’s delivery from crosses provided Reading with a fair amount of their overall threat in the game. However, at times he doesn’t quite link up with Tyler Blackett in the way that Ejaria does, sometimes being a bit one dimensional in continually performing a step-over, dropping a shoulder and delivering in a cross. With a fantastic whipped arc on the majority of his crosses, when they’re not completely coming off, Reading can lack considerable threat from that position and on Tuesday night there seemed to be a high number of turnovers in that area of the field against the Royals.
Despite Obita’s threat from crosses originating from the other wing (making clever runs into and across the box), Ovie’s ability to cut inside, afford Blackett space and give the opposition wide men a decision to make has been unparalleled this season (in both a back four and back five it should be said).
Just in front of the defence, Pele once again showed his astute reading of the game, dispossessing the visitors’ attackers on numerous occasions before creating attacks and pushing forwards himself. A fantastic ball over the top for Meite showcased his passing ability and almost led to the opening goal, the Ivorian not quite able to get on the end of it. With Rinomhota and Swift just ahead of Pele, again sometimes pushing as high as what would be considered left/right attacking midfield positions, Reading’s midfield continued to show a high-energy drive on the ball, Swift in particular always looking for a forward pass (playing in Puscas on one such first half occasion).
However, when out of possession, Reading seemed content to let Huddersfield keep the ball. With the Terriers not hugely threatening the home side’s goal, Reading adopted a sort of half press, which suggested they were not ‘sitting back’ but did also not believe their visitors could create the clear-cut chance needed to break the deadlock. With the game reaching the final five to ten minutes, it was here when Bowen decided to take the game to Town with a couple of attacking changes.
Despite Reading having the better of the final throes of the game, a lack of quality in attack from the front three meant it was not to be for Reading, yet another home win alluding them. If the gaffer had made those changes earlier, there may have been a slight added risk of a goal at both ends, a risk which would be favoured with nothing left to play for this season.
Despite this lack of threat for considerable amounts of the game, a second clean sheet in two, added to more impressive defensive displays, should be taken as big positives from an otherwise flat performance. With strugglers Charlton Athletic and Middlesbrough on the horizon, before two tougher tests to finish the delayed campaign, Reading will be hoping to continue this defensive resolve while making their chances count at the other end of the pitch.