In the past two games, we have seen a very different George Puscas.
Although his 14-goal return last season was quite impressive in his first season in English football and decent for a side which finished in 14th, there is something about him that’s just changed. We saw a glimpse of it against Watford earlier on in the campaign when he scored the only goal of the game to secure all three points for the Royals. In that match, he played up front on his own and put in a very decent shift in the absence of talisman Lucas Joao.
Recently, he has played with the Portuguese forward up top as Veljko Paunovic opted for a change of formation – and has given the gaffer no reason to change back to the original system. That’s testament to Puscas’ performances and he gives us that much-needed plan B we have been crying out for.
With a very busy fixture list, a recently revitalised Puscas can also give us the option to rest Joao at some point if needed. Perhaps that’s a premature comment because we have only seen the Romanian striker play twice on his own so far this season (the other occasion at home to Rotherham United), but how can we find out whether he’s got what it takes as a lone forward in the long term if we don’t give him that chance? He did look isolated up front at times in 2019/20 – that cannot really be disputed.
However, this campaign has given a new lease of life to so many players. Tom Holmes has firmly cemented his place in the first-team squad, Michael Olise has taken his game to another level, Liam Moore has stepped up and Tom McIntyre has shown an immense amount of versatility. I can’t help but feel Puscas has also improved massively despite his injury woes during this campaign.
If he can continue to impress, he really will be that plan B and/or replacement for Joao. This isn’t even mentioning his goal-scoring capabilities. All these factors combined could make the 24-year-old an unlikely hero of this season as the Championship season enters its final couple of months.
In the last few seasons our campaign had been over by Christmas – but 2020/21 is different. Forget the rise of Cardiff City and Barnsley, our destiny is in our own hands.
Ovie Ejaria, Andy Rinomhota and Yakou Meite could all return in time for Saturday afternoon’s game against Nottingham Forest – a massive boost for the Royals. Rinomhota is Mr Consistent in the middle of the park and I believe Meite could make a real difference as another reliable goalscoring alternative to Joao and Puscas, as well as his threat from out wide.
The thing is, Meite has already won over the fans and has been a regular goalscorer over the past few seasons. With Puscas, some people thought he had a poor first season in England. I can see where they are coming from but I disagree.
The man probably has a case of Sone Aluko syndrome.
When the club spends £8m on a player, fans are expecting that player to hit the ground running straight away. But how could we realistically expect that from the Romanian? This was his first season in England, in a league like no other – and was 23 when he joined. Considering the fact Tennai Watson is now 24, you could definitely make the case that Puscas was just a young chap then.
Combine that with the weight of expectation from his sparkling performances for the Romania under-21 team in the same summer he joined the Royals and his reported price tag, it was never going to be easy for him to settle in straight away.
But after securing a spot in the starting lineup recently, now is his chance to prove any remaining doubters wrong and fire Reading to the playoffs.