It’s been a little while since Reading last had a league game, but the Royals are back in Championship action on Tuesday night. Veljko Paunovic’s side will be keen to get some payback on the opposition, 17th-placed Coventry City, who inflicted the first league defeat on Reading this season.
How’s the season gone for you so far?
To be 17th and seven points clear from the drop at the half-way stage is in line with expectations this season. However, it hasn’t been quite as comfortable as it looks.
After 10 games, there were concerns that this team lacked the quality to stay in this division. We were a bad combination of powderpuff in attack and naïve in defence. Aided by a friendlier run of fixtures recently, this team looks to have developed the ability to pick up points at this level over the past couple of months and has moved away from danger.
How do Coventry set up tactically?
Having been so leaky at the back at the start of the season, there has been a clear move recently towards a more solid defensive structure. This has come at the cost of committing bodies forward, which was a key reason why the team recently went on a four-game run without scoring a goal.
That run was ended last time out, against Millwall, where it felt as if Mark Robins had unshackled the players and asked them to take more risks. With there currently being a buffer between ourselves and the bottom three, Mark Robins may well stick with a more positive mindset to see what this team is capable of.
With a more attack-minded mentality, the team’s style of play is based around retaining the ball in defence and midfield in order to get the wing-backs in the 3-4-2-1 system into advanced positions and allow a narrow front three to overload the penalty area.
However, if the manager opts for a more defensive mindset, the system may change to a 3-4-1-2 so that the defence can play longer balls into a target-man striker as a means to prevent opponents pinning us into our own half.
What are the main strengths of this team?
When this team is playing with self-belief, they can play some very slick, attractive football. Central midfield dynamo Gustavo Hamer is at the heart of everything we do, energising the team in the middle of the pitch with his energy and forcefulness in the challenge, opening up the pitch with his passing, getting forward and threatening the opposition goal – he is, by far, the best player in this Coventry City side.
The energy and skill of the wing-backs is another key area of our attacking threat, with Fankaty Dabo on the right starting to come into form after a slow start to the season.
Attacking set-pieces are the other main strength of this side. Gustavo Hamer’s delivery is so reliably threatening that we look threatening from almost every dead-ball opportunity. In addition, centre-back Leo Ostigard’s ability to attack the ball at the back post can be almost undefendable at times. For a team that can lack a threat in open play, that set-piece threat can be a godsend.
The two big issues for this team this season have been our struggles against teams that commit to pressing us high up the pitch and a lack of decisiveness in the final third.
The system that we play requires the defence and midfield to be able to receive the ball under pressure. When it goes wrong, it can lead to some huge chances for the opposition. In addition, the narrowness of our attacking formation can leave the forwards isolated if the team gets penned back into its own half and is forced to resort to longer passes to relive pressure.
When we have had spells on top of games this season, we have been undermined by an inability to pick a final pass. The lack of a truly decisive attacking midfield player – or a great amount of pace in the final third – has made it difficult for the team to play through opponents.
What did you make of Reading in the reverse fixture and across the season in general?
For all the talk heading into the game of Reading being a defensive side that had been on a hot streak in front of goal, I was impressed with how slick the Royals looked back in October. Lucas Joao was clearly an absolute menace that our defence struggled to deal with, while I thought he was supported ably by Michael Olise and Sone Aluko.
That said, Reading’s relative lack of intensity in the press helped the Sky Blues settle into the game and build towards scoring an opening goal which felt decisive – despite there being an equaliser later on in the game.
I have been impressed with how Reading have rallied from what was then their first league defeat of the season. Having perhaps been a touch fortunate to be at the top of the table, Reading look a side in the top six on merit and who have the ability to stay there.
How will the game go, and what will the score be?
Given Reading’s league position and home advantage, they have to be considered fairly strong favourites for this game.
The Sky Blues have tended to struggle against the better teams in this division – with Reading the only current top-half side that we have beaten – and have just two away wins this season.
I’m hoping that the result and performance against Millwall last time out will give the team confidence that they can be more proactive in games at this level but this is going to be a much tougher test than that game.
Reading to win 2-1.