It’s never wise to read too much into pre-season friendlies. At the best of times they’re played without the intensity and urgency that are crucial parts of the regular season, and this match was nowhere near even that level.
Reading’s second pre-season friendly, the first in an actual stadium, let alone with fans, was essentially a warm-up against Premier League opposition. We’ve also got a fair way to go in the transfer market and have numerous players either injured or self-isolating, so the squad can’t be judged all that fairly.
That all being said, this game did provide some interesting insight on a few topics. First up the team news. Pauno named a side that was largely recognisable from last season. Again Reading lined up in a 4-2-3-1, naming only four new(ish) players: trialists Achraf Lazaar (left back) and Kyle Edwards (right winger) joined under-23s men Jeriel Dorsett (centre bak) and Femi Azeez (centre forward). In full:
Rafael; Yiadom, Morrison, Dorsett, Lazaar; Rinomhota, Laurent; Edwards, Swift, Ejaria; Azeez
The Royals looked pretty comfortable and confident in the first half, albeit against a West Ham side that was far from at its best. The visitors looked sluggish, didn’t click and generally didn’t cause the Royals too many problems. They did however have some joy from crosses and managed to open the scoring from a corner, a header being deflected in off Jeriel Dorsett in rather unfortunate fashion.
Reading played positive, attractive football in spells, knocking the ball around pretty confidently. That particularly came from the impressive attacking trio of Swift, Ejaria and Azeez, all of whom looked sharp, albeit without cutting edge in the final third to create clear chances.
A look at Twitter shows Azeez has made a widespread positive impression, and I echo that sentiment. I’d been under the impression he was more of a wide player (that’s where he made his debut off the bench in the league last season), but he took to centre-forward duties well.
He’s not physically imposing like Lucas Joao for example, but still linked the play nicely with some clever deft touches and put himself about well. This is a guy with energy; he’ll look to get in behind and make a nuisance of himself when the opposition defence has the ball. That certainly gives Pauno food for thought when he wants a plan B up top.
As for the trialists though, there was limited promise but neither really stood out in a positive way.
First, Lazaar. Matthew Batten on Twitter used the word “lackadaisical” to describe him, and it’s an apt adjective. To my eye, the man auditioning to be the Royals’ left back seemed that bit slower to react to what was going on around him and was caught out a few times. Simply put, he seemed less fussed than you’d expect from a free agent trying to earn a deal.
This isn’t to say he’s a bad player full stop. Lazaar is clearly an accomplished player technically, showing some nice touches on both feet. The high point of his half was a sweetly struck right-foot pass out to the opposite flank that allowed Edwards a run forward. There aren’t too many full backs at this level who’d have tried that.
His crossing? Not abysmal, but he failed to cause any danger from the few deliveries he put in, and I noticed he opted not to cross when next given an opportunity, instead checking back in and playing back to a teammate.
Second, Edwards. My overriding impression of him is that he largely failed to get into the game. Reading’s attacking play largely went through the other three members of the front four, which didn’t help, but it was still on him to offer more. When he did get into the game, he looked enthusiastic but raw. His decision making wasn’t so great, and had little cutting edge.
There’s not too much to be said about the second half. West Ham upped their game after the break and were much better at managing the flow of the contest, meaning Reading couldn’t come up with much going forwards. Similarly, the inevitable decision to replace most - and later all - of the XI with under-23s from the bench further widened the gap. It was ultimately unsurprising that the Hammers went home 3-0 winners.
The second-half youngsters may have got a decent amount of time on the pitch, but the nature of the match (West Ham controlling it) means it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about any of them. Michael Stickland was probably the standout of that crop, looking confident at centre half.
The others however struggled to impose themselves on the game, underlining the fact that they’re probably not ready to be relied on just yet. Remember, these are young academy players who largely only have experience from youth football, not extensive game time in the lower leagues. They need patience and to be introduced gradually if they’re to succeed at first-team level.
My hope is that much of what we’ve learned tonight gets overwritten by more positive news in the coming weeks. Reading are of course without a number of useful players that would have featured had they been available: Tom Holmes, Tom McIntyre, George Puscas (all isolating), Lucas Joao, Yakou Meite, Felipe Araruna (all injured) and Liam Moore (on international duty). Even when almost all of them are back, Reading will hopefully add at least a few signings.
Add it all together, and the squad we saw in this match shouldn’t be anything close to the one we’re using for the regular season.
That squad could well include Lazaar and Edwards. Pauno said after the match that he’s happy with the contributions they’ve made during their time with Reading thus far. I wouldn’t be too unhappy with either signing (beggars can’t be choosers when those beggars are under a transfer embargo), but neither excited me. If they’re the best players we can bring in under these circumstances, so be it.
Each should get further opportunities to impress. First up is a behind-closed-doors friendly against Charlton Athletic on Saturday, before Crystal Palace come to town the following weekend.