Rafael; Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Yiadom; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Semedo, Olise; Joao.
The game began in the same fashion as it spent most of its minutes in – both sides pressing high off the ball but showing a lot of quality on it.
Reading’s first-half performance was very impressive, putting together some slick passing moves and pressing intensely to win the ball back if they did not quite come off. As Tim Dellor said, they showed a hunger to win the ball high up the pitch and bring the game to the Bees.
Despite Brentford themselves pressing the Royals for 90% of the game, for a period in the second part of the first half they did not force Reading back enough. This led to a few attacks in which Reading almost added to their lead. It was clear that the Royals needed quick periods of play to create chances, as they did for the penalty, and a quick Andy Yiadom throw and cross led to another Lucas Joao chance, which was just about tipped over the bar by David Raya.
One weakness in the Royals’ side did lie with Alfa Semedo. Again not quite showing the attacking brain needed to play in the 10 role effectively, his passing and positioning let the his side down in a game where Reading needed to push forwards after winning second balls and put together slick moves to create chances.
Just as in the Stoke game, Reading’s full backs would follow the opposition wingers when they dropped in, the Royals’ wingers then tracking the attacking runs of Brentford’s full backs. This man-marking extended to the central midfielders, Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota facing up to Josh DaSilva and Matthias Jensen respectively. The Laurent-DaSilva battle in particular was fascinating to watch, the Reading man coming off better in Brentford’s half and the Brentford man coming off better in Reading’s half (best seen by the tussle leading up to the goal).
Both sides committed a lot of little fouls in the middle of the park in a tense game to prevent attacks from developing, an indicator of how much of a threat both teams can be.
As Brentford lined up in a 4-3-3, it’s relatively easy for these central midfielders to drift out wide, something DaSilva in particular did when Bryan Mbuemo would drag Omar Richards out of position on the right wing. Laurent would also occupy this left-back position when in possession, to allow Richards forwards – something we didn’t see at Stoke, which greatly hindered our attacking threat.
Mbuemo, in his contest with Richards, hardly got a kick of the ball – the highly coveted full back regaining possession and building attacks on the regular. This led to the Frenchman switching wings with Tariqe Fosu at times, but to no avail.
Due to a lot of Brentford’s threat coming from out wide, Ivan Toney was not too involved in the game at times, coming short and doing a fair amount of defensive work while also feeding off deep crosses into the box. Battling with Tom McIntyre and Michael Morrison all game, TMac again showed how much of a fantastic defender he is becoming with a near-perfect display against the division’s leading scorer. Only on a few occasions did Toney get the better of him in the air but, as good strikers do, he shifted away and (as he wasn’t picked up by Richards) managed to set up the winning goal with a touch of class off his chest.
On the whole, it was very comforting to see Reading push their full backs forwards and completely take the game to Brentford. Despite relying on set pieces at times in the second half, they more than matched the best side in the division, while missing two key players – as well as all the superlatives for their attacking play, this was epitomised by the fantastic work rates of Ovie Ejaria and, in particular, Michael Olise at both ends of the pitch.