Depth and Premier League quality told as the Royals played out an entertaining affair with Bournemouth on Saturday evening. Bournemouth were always going to be a tough task, unbeaten so far this season as they are. Meanwhile Reading’s midfield had looked tired and a step behind in the middle of the park recently, and creativity has been found a little lacking.
Reading went with a familiar line-up, with just George Puscas returning due to Femi Azeez' injury. The game started at a furious pace. Reading had much of the ball and showed intent, looking to attack.
The first good chance of the game fell to Reading after a lovely ball from Laurent found Puscas, who had made a good run. Puscas headed the ball for Swift whose cutback bobbled before it returned to Puscas: the Romanian only able to stab it wide.
Laurent picked up a yellow card early with a late lunge. Shortly after, perhaps looking to make up for his mistake, Laurent made a good tackle in midfield, but shot from distance rather than putting Puscas through, and missed high and wide.
Reading’s best chance of the game came right after, with Swift demonstrating his sublime skill. Swift got to a ball going out for a goal kick just in time, coolly kept it in, and then delivered an absolutely gorgeous rabona cross that Puscas put millimeters wide.
After those spurned chances for Reading, Bournemouth began to exert some pressure, slowing the tempo and enjoying a spell of possession. For all the bluster of the early stage though, neither team had actually managed a shot on target by the half hour mark. When the first one came though, it would lead to a goal.
While there was a sense of injustice around the awarding of the corner that gave Bournemouth their first goal (with Drinkwater seemingly keeping the ball in bounds), Reading had only themselves to blame for their marking from the resulting set play. Solanke rose above Josh Laurent to meet a Gary Cahill cutback across the net and gave Bournemouth a slender half-time lead.
Reading went in behind, but looked capable of scoring. They would need to show a far more ruthless touch in front of goal though to take anything from the game.
The second half started with urgency. Both teams had chances in the opening 10 minutes. First, Bournemouth fizzed a few inviting crosses across the area, one of which Southwood felt compelled to lunge out at and miss, leaving hearts in mouths around the SCL stadium.
Shortly after, Reading would have their own chance. Drinkwater did well to step away from the press and spring Swift on the wing. Swift’s cross found Puscas who couldn’t get the ball down, and failed to convert again albeit in a difficult situation.
Chances missed were soon rued though, with Reading giving up a second they was all too easy. Reading gave the ball away cheaply in midfield, a recurrent problem in recent weeks, and the defence didn’t get close enough to Jamal Lowe as he slid a confident but not ferocious shot into the bottom corner. Suddenly, Reading had a mountain to climb.
Bournemouth took the sting out of the game after Lowe’s goal. Reading held firm enough but the Cherries had certainly taken the foot off the gas. The tempo slowed, and Reading’s fatigue once again began to show, as their pressing became limited at best and the play looked static.
Reading didn’t give up though, and enjoyed a spell of possession towards the end. A bit too much passing around the box meant Bournemouth could keep up with the play though, and Reading couldn’t find a way through.
As often seems customary under Pauno, the Royals didn’t make their first substitution until the 85th minute, with Puscas being replaced by Jahmari Clarke. Puscas made some good runs today, but again was found wanting when he had chances. Service was better today, and he missed an opportunity to rise to the occasion.
Reading kept their heads up, and Scott Dann’s header drew a good save out of Travers in stoppage time, but the task of finding a goal against the league’s strongest away defence proved too much for the Royals. Reading were unlucky not to score, but the win probably reflected the true quality of the sides tonight.
Reading need to hope some of their starters can return soon. Reading’s bench featured Tom Holmes as the most seasoned player available. Holmes is a good defender, but not a man to help you chase a lead.
The performance itself shouldn’t get us down too much though. Reading showed heart and created some convertible chances. On a different day, an early chance sneaks in and makes this a different encounter. Sloppy mistakes cost us on both goals though, and players need to ensure that the emotion of the game doesn’t affect their concentration.
Reading now face a big week ahead of the international break. Two further losses could lead to Reading’s point deduction taking them perilously close to, or even into the relegation zone going into the break. While the injury crisis has certainly hurt Reading’s performances, that wouldn’t be a fair reflection on the side we’ve seen so far.
As for tonight though, Reading put in a tough performance, but ultimately couldn’t seize control of the game before Bournemouth’s league-topping quality made the difference.