1-1 against a mid-table QPR side, Reading in sixth position, three points ahead of Bournemouth who have one game in hand. Is the glass half full or half empty now?
The pressure was high before kick-off. With only one point from the last two matches against Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City and the international break ahead, the Royals needed to fight back and show a reaction. Besides, Veljko Paunovic’s injury worries grew again as Andy Yiadom and Tom McIntyre (two of the best performers in recent weeks) were out.
But there were also some positive aspects. Andy Rinomhota, Ovie Ejaria and Lewis Gibson were all match fit and found their way back into the starting line-up. Pauno chose to return to the 4-2-3-1-system. Tom Holmes moved back to the right-back position, with Moore and Gibson the pair at centre-back. In midfield, Rino and Laurent played behind Meite, Olise and Ejaria, while Joao was the lone striker up front.
Apart from the selection issues, all eyes were also on Lucas Joao whose recent performances were quite disappointing. It became clear once more how much our offensive play depends on the big Portuguese. No doubt about his qualities, but when things are not going his way his head drops too often and it felt like we were playing with 10 men.
Reading started the game on the front foot, directly in control, putting the visitors early under pressure. As a result, the first chance came already after two minutes. Richards’ delivery from the left was cleared by QPR defender and former Royal Rob Dickie only as far as Rinomhota whose right-footed shot went just over the bar. Minutes later Lucas Joao found space in the area with a good move, but his shot was blocked at the last moment by the visitors’ defence.
After a quarter of an hour the match was more equal. QPR managed to take over some of the possession. Their first attempt fell to Charlie Austin, another player with a Reading past, who fired the ball wide from inside the box. And it was again Austin who had the next opportunity. A cross from Chair was deflected to the number 45. His right-footed shot from short distance went narrowly wide. At this stage the Royals started to look a bit scrappy and nervous. Even though Pauno’s men were solid at the back they lacked to regain the early possession through too many mistimed passes.
But it was not for lack of effort. In the 38th minute the lively Ovie Ejaria dribbled his way to the byline and passed the ball back to Michael Olise. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old blasted it over. The best chance for the Royals so far. Two minutes later it was again Ejaria who burst into the box but couldn’t connect with Joao in the middle.
And when everyone was awaiting the half-time whistle it was suddenly 1-0 to the visitors. Chair played a good ball behind Tom Holmes into the box, and Wallace’s low cross found Dykes who made no mistake from short distance. The way QPR scored that goal was a copy of their attempts earlier. Before, Holmes was able to clear that ball behind on one occasion with a great tackle. In the 45th minute he didn’t as he was left also alone (like before) by his partner on the right Yakou Meite. Clearly an issue that needed to be solved during the break.
The Royals started the second half in the 4-4-2 diamond system with Meite playing alongside Joao up front, and Laurent the deepest in midfield with Rino moving to right midfield. After eight minutes Ejaria made another great run down the left. Meite’s effort was blocked by QPR keeper Dieng, only as far as Moore. But the skipper’s goal was ruled out for offside. A tight decision
There was no time to rest. The home side kept going and in the 57th minute it was finally 1-1! A brilliant goal by Yakou Meite. Rino won a 50-50-tackle back in Reading’s own half and sent a lovely long ball to Meite. The striker made a perfect first touch and battled his way into the box. With a bit of luck his left-foot shot went past keeper Dieng and into the net for the equaliser.
It was all Reading now. Right at the hour mark Ejaria played a great pass to send Joao alone on goal. But the Royals’ leading goal scorer was unable to get his foot around and fired the ball wide. A big opportunity he probably wouldn’t have missed some weeks ago. In the 71st minute again a chance for Pauno’s men. A loose ball fell to Holmes at the edge of the box, and his first time shot from the right angle just went wide. What no one could imagine at that point was that it was Reading’s last attempt of the game!
Veljko Paunovic brought on some fresh legs for the crucial last quarter of an hour. Puscas, Semedo and Esteves replaced Joao, Olise and Holmes. Like before in this season, the substitutions didn’t have any real impact. There was only one team that came close to scoring in the final minutes, and that was the visitors.
In the 78th minute Willock made a good run down the left and had his shot blocked by Moore. Three minutes later a great chance for QPR. Wallace overlapped (once more) on the left and found Johansen in the middle. Rafael and Moore in combination managed to block and clear the ball in the last second. The Royals looked nervous again as the West Londoners were in full control. First Dickie and then Wallace had both their headers parried away by Rafael. Moments later Ball’s finish from inside the area went close.
And that was it! After four minutes of added time referee Whitestone blew the final whistle. A disappointing result and definitely another missed chance. Even though the Royals were lucky to escape with a draw in the end, these were two points lost. Pauno’s men seemed to lack that extra energy right when they had the momentum on their side.
On the positives, Reading are still inside the play-offs, although the cushion is getting less. Many teams would love to be in our position. It’s now all about using the international break to be prepared best for the decisive ending of this season. Eight games to go. It’s still in our hands. Come on Urrrzzz!