The Royals started pre-season with a positive manner beating Gillingham by two goals to one. The match itself, divided into three separate 30 minutes periods, showed also some flexibility within the tactics of manager Mark Bowen. The only constants during the full 90 minutes were a back three in defence and a single striker upfront.
Until the entrance of Sam Baldock, Reading’s system looked like a 3-6-1, Morrison playing in the heart of the defence with Moore on his right and McIntyre to his left. Both of them were pushing a lot forward on their sides, playing nearly in a right/left-back position whenever the Royals were in possession.
That lead also to a further offensive role for Yiadom and Richards playing more like wingers. In central midfield it seemed to me a diamond formation. Swift was mainly the deepest with Laurent to his right, Rinomhota to his left and Olise behind Joao.
From the beginning Reading looked very comfortable on the ball, trying to move it around with very few touches. After 21 minutes it was Joao who converted a Swift corner with a soft header (the Gills’ goalkeeper didn’t seem faultless) into the first goal of pre-season.
And less than 120 seconds later the Royals were again on the scoresheet. Rinomhota, probably the strongest of the four midfielders, received a good ball from Joao and won the 50-50 battle still close to the halfway line, which allowed him to break through on goal and convert it with his right foot into the net.
With that 2-0 lead we went into the first break. For the second 30 minutes, Mark Bowen brought on Felipe Araruna for Yiadom; Araruna had a good impact with an inspiring display on the right. The match went on more or less the same: Reading in control, having a lot of possession. The defence around captain Michael Morrison looked very solid.
Four minutes after Puscas replaced Joao, Bowen made another substitution, bringing on Baldock for Swift. Tactically it meant that both Laurent and Rinomhota took over Swift’s central midfield part. Olise (more on the right) and Baldock (more on the left) played behind single striker Puscas.
In the 50th minute the visitors got a bit unexpected one back thanks to Akinde’s converted penalty. New signing Josh Laurent had pushed the striker inside the area after miscontrolling a throw-in.
A little later it was time for the second break and more changes were to come: Southwood, Holmes and Holsgrove came on for Rafael, Moore and Laurent right at the start of the third 30-minute period. Only 10 minutes later, Bowen replaced Rinomhota, Olise and Richards with Meite, McNulty and young Imari Samuels.
Suddenly the Royals had four strikers on the pitch. The system changed to something like a 3-3-4 with Holsgrove the only central midfielder, Meite coming from the right, Baldock from the left and McNulty behind Puscas.
Although there was so much offensive power on the field, Reading couldn’t create any big chances in the last 20 minutes. Still, Meite had some good runs down the right, Jordan Holsgrove looked confident on the ball and Tom Holmes integrated really well into a very good performance at the back overall, with Michael Morrison the strong commanding leader.
A positive first test for Mark Bowen’s men.