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Tactics Review: Full Backs Key In FA Cup Loss At Luton

Jamie’s analysis of the Royals’ third-round FA Cup defeat at Kenilworth Road focuses on the roles played by Ethan Bristow and Tomas Esteves.

Luton Town v Reading - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - Kenilworth Road Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Southwood; Bristow, Dorsett, McIntyre, Esteves; Semedo, Pendlebury; Onen, Olise, Aluko; Baldock

Luton Town began the FA Cup tie all over the young Royals, using width to their advantage – especially the right flank. Although lining up in a 4-3-3, a lot of the Hatters’ average positions were surprisingly very central over the full match (mainly due to being under the cosh themselves in the second half). This was apart from right back James Bree and right midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe.

Bree in particular used wide areas to cross the ball and play in the strikers, looking to get the ball into the box to Town’s physical attackers. However, despite being out of position at times, Ethan Bristow impressed defensively, putting in a number of blocks to prevent these balls in.

The reason Bristow and Tomas Esteves were sometimes out of position was that the majority of Reading’s attacks came from their full backs. Usually, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent would move to the full-back positions to allow the left back and right back to push forwards while the spaces left were covered. Alfa Semedo and Oliver Pendlebury (who in particular impressed in the centre of Reading’s midfield) on the other hand were very much central (as was probably right with a weakened side).

Regardless, Bristow and Esteves did provide a threat in the first period through their low crosses (their aerial ones not quite as effective against Luton’s large backline). Esteves himself again moved centrally after releasing the ball and joined in with the attacks, showing a threat from both areas.

Reading were clearly not creating much from central areas for large parts of the first half though, partly remedied by Semedo pushing forwards and allowing Michael Olise the space to drop in deep and drift out wide in order to link up some Royals attacks. This gave Reading more of a foothold in the game approaching half time and, come the second period, they massively improved their performance.

The Royals continued to push their full backs forwards, albeit not as high, as they took charge of the central midfield areas. Many a shot was taken from outside the box and parried by Simon Sluga in the Hatters’ goal before each rebound was disappointingly not converted. A lot of these efforts came from the attacking players (plus Esteves) linking up and creating attacks through nifty footwork and intelligent passing.

Both wide men came infield throughout the game, not only allowing the full backs forwards but also helping with this intricacy – missed chances and one defensive lapse holding the Royals back from a place in the fourth round.

Despite this, it was a day to be proud of for the Royals - their young side deserving more from the game but also showcasing their talent and, hopefully, their readiness to slot into the first team if needed.