His best performance in a while. I’ve often had little to say about Rafa who, regardless of Reading’s performance and result, has usually had few difficult shots to deal with. That wasn’t the case today though: Rafa was tested in both halves but was equal to almost everything that came his way, making some eye-catching stops.
He had two saves in quick succession to make in the first half - the first more straightforward but still a bit tricky, while the second required a more acrobatic response to deny Kazim-Richards from pretty close range. For another in the second half, Rafa flung himself to his left to prevent a long-range strike from hitting the top corner.
Those saves could well have been the difference between Reading sealing the points and slipping up. I wouldn’t mark him down for Tom Lawrence’s rocket - smashed into the top corner from way out and leaving Rafa with little chance.
Andy Yiadom: 6
As was the case with Richards on the other flank, Yiadom had a relatively steady, quiet afternoon both defensively and offensively. Not troubled too much but dealt with the danger when needed: one moment in the second half stands out when Yiadom did well to put pressure on Lawrence who was through on goal, allowing Rafa to come in and snuff out the chance.
Tom Holmes: 7
Continued at centre half in Michael Morrison’s absence, and looked very much at home despite his relative lack of experience in that position this season. No worries defensively, played out confidently, and registered his second assist of the season with a deft flick-on header from the edge of the box into the danger zone that Lucas Joao raced onto to convert.
Liam Moore: 6
Pretty solid afternoon from Moore, who wasn’t troubled too much by Derby. He did however let Colin Kazim-Richards go a little easily at one point in the first half, with the Rams forward hitting the post with a header. Nonetheless, he helped marshal a good defensive showing that would have ended in a clean sheet, were it not for that Lawrence screamer.
Omar Richards: 6
Brought back into the side as a more attacking alternative to Gibson, but didn’t have much product in the final third. Like Yiadom he wasn’t stretched all that much, but challenged Kazim-Richards well at one point in the second half, denying the Derby man a clearer sight of goal, although the full back hurt himself in the process.
Had one hairy moment in the first half when he was robbed of possession, allowing Derby a run at goal. Danger dealt with though.
Andy Rinomhota: 7
A bright afternoon from Rino who, in typically energetic fashion, protected the defence pretty well for the most part alongside Laurent. He should however have pushed out more to Lawrence who was allowed an ocean of space before striking from distance; the goal wasn’t Rino’s fault, but he could have done more.
Offensively he pushed up into the final third well, although he was more impactful in the first half. Got in down the right a couple of times with some clever runs, although he couldn’t create a clear chance on either occasion.
Josh Laurent: 7
A really good all-round performance. Put himself about really well in the middle, giving Reading’s midfield muscle and composure, and he even finished the game with an assist (although it was a simple pass for Olise so I’m not marking him up for it).
I was impressed by his attacking product too. Laurent could have had a couple of assists in the first half with some well-picked through balls: one for Olise that was slightly overhit and another for Meite who was outmuscled before he could finish. It’s that kind of adventurous use of the ball that I’d like to see more of from Laurent, particularly with the joy that we know Reading can have in getting players in behind in such a fashion. See Rino’s assists against QPR and Barnsley as similar evidence.
Yakou Meite: 7
I was a little torn on Meite’s score (6/10 or 7/10) as I’ll outline just below, but I’ve gone for the higher of the two as he played a key role in Reading’s second goal.
Meite really should have scored when played clean through on goal by Olise in the second half, only for the goalie to make a good save. However, he did set up the crucial second goal with a strike from outside the area that was parried, allowing Puscas to convert from close range. He could have also had a penalty when taken down in the area just before Derby’s goal.
In general he looked bright on the right flank but a bit unrefined. Meite had no lack of energy and application, looking threatening on various occasions when running at Derby’s defence, but his end product and decision making let him down.
Michael Olise: 7
I miss him already. The way in which he nonchalantly leathered the ball into the top corner, making a great goal look as easy as a 10-yard pass, was sublime. I really hope we get to see him play for Reading in person again before he’s sold, because he’s a joy to watch when he unleashes a trick like that.
Otherwise he looked pretty bright on the ball without too many other major involvements in the final third. The best of them though (bar the goal) was a pass through for Meite in the second half that had the forward clean through, but wasn’t converted.
Ovie Ejaria: 7
Not his busiest afternoon on the basis of the full match, but he was involved in the build-up to Reading’s first and third goals. Caused havoc down Derby’s right, drawing defenders effectively before the ball was moved central via Laurent for Olise to score. For the third goal, he danced past three defenders as if they weren’t there, winning the free kick that Lewis Gibson put in. Could also have had a penalty just after half time.
George Puscas: 7
Pauno made a big call to start him up top on his own today instead of Joao, and Puscas did enough to demonstrate that the manager had made the right call. He showed great instinct for Reading’s second goal, forcing the ball home on the rebound after Meite’s hit was parried out. It wasn’t just a tap-in: Puscas had to read the drop of the ball and quickly stretch to his right to connect.
All round he looked enthused in his work rate off the ball, particularly after his goal (naturally). Although his hold-up play isn’t as obvious as Joao’s, given that he’s a much more obviously physical presence, Puscas did that in neat and tidy fashion. The improvement from last season in that department is subtle but important - and commendable.
Lewis Gibson: 6
Came on for the injured Richards and had a pretty quiet 23 minutes or so on the pitch. His biggest involvement was to put in the cross that Holmes headed on for Joao.
Lucas Joao: 7
I’m going to break the TTE player ratings rules a little bit here, although Joao deserves it. Usually we’ll automatically give a player N/A if they come on in the 80th minute or later on the basis that they’ve not had a fair chance to have an impact on the game, but in this case (Joao was subbed on in the 81st minute) I’ll let Joao have his 7/10. It was after all a really intelligent, well-taken striker’s finish from someone who’s been low on confidence recently.
Alfa Semedo, Tomas Esteves and Sone Aluko: N/A
Semedo also came on in the 81st minute too but he can have an N/A after not doing much in his time on the pitch. I know it’s inconsistent but hey, it’s Easter and Reading have won, so sod it. Esteves and Aluko were introduced in the 89th minute so certainly didn’t have a proper chance at impressing.
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