Ørjan Nyland: 5
The more Nyland plays, the more you see what our box has been missing all season: a goalkeeper willing and able to claim his space. His significant frame may be doing most of that work for him, but his positioning is also excellent, allowing him to make saves without moving too far.
The more Nyland plays though, the more you wonder about his shot-stopping ability. Sawyers’ shot for today’s goal moved wickedly in the air, yes. But you’d think that a man as large as Nyland could do a better job of getting his body in the way. He wasn’t challenged much aside from that.
Must do more to protect the team mentality at crucial stages though. A save is as good as a goal in the right circumstances.
Andy Yiadom: 8
His usual reliable self in the first half but absolutely brilliant when it mattered in the second. Potentially another player pumped up by a positive international break, Yiadom had a fantastic game. He burst forward when needed, stayed put when needed and did brilliantly to win free kicks whenever he couldn’t get out.
His trademark - receive ball in corner > turn back to “onrushing” attacker > fall over and receive foul move - gets more amusing every time you see a referee fall for it, but it is undeniably invaluable to a team looking to relieve pressure on their net. His calmness to pull it off repeatedly in tense situations is remarkable.
Yiadom never looked flustered on the ball all night
Tom Holmes: 6
Fairly quiet through most of the game. That’s a good thing for a CB. Ince’s arrival and the adjustments to the team have led to Holmes being more protected during matches which suits his current level well. It will be interesting to see if offers continue to arrive for him in the summer.
Michael Morrison: 7
Slowly but surely, the defence has become a lot calmer in recent weeks. That will be partly down to Ince and Nyland’s respective arrivals, but don’t overlook what Morrison has done since returning to the XI as captain.
Morrison has risen back to his former role as you’d expect he might. Everyone looks better when they play in his back four. Where Liam Moore was erratic, Morrison is calm. Where Dann was occasionally caught out, Morrison is canny, willing to tussle with the biggest striker, then take a soft foul minutes later to slow the play.
His bundled goal capped off Reading’s best start to a game in months and his transfer, a free from Birmingham, really is the best bit of business Reading have done in recent years.
Tom McIntyre: 6
Headed over the bar early. Always looks up for it but is limited in his current role in the team. Did brilliantly to take the ball to the corner in the dying stages though and stayed calm in a solid performance as a collective defence.
Josh Laurent: 5
Looks better when he’s allowed to be more aggressive. The less he’s allowed to maraud forward, the less effective he seems in midfield. Laurent can play further back; he can do nearly anything it seems.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not better when he’s allowed to carry the ball forward. With Rinomhota he could do that. With Drinkwater… naturally there’s more defensive ground to cover. Tonight was Drinkwater’s game to shine in midfield, and Laurent was quieter by comparison
Danny Drinkwater: 7
Whether down to something Ince has said to him, or the sudden realisation that his Chelsea contract is up in mere months, it’s hard to deny Drinkwater is in a good run of form. He’s (fairly and unfairly) come in for criticism this year, but if he had played like this all year, we simply wouldn’t be in this much trouble. Began the match brightly, looking to put the ball forward through the lines.
Did brilliantly to chase a Stoke player all the way back up the pitch after a corner routine went awry. That run was generally reflective of the performance he gave in the second half: dogged and committed. Looks fitter and happier than he has all season.
Ovie Ejaria: 5
Ejaria was responsible for the first major chance of the day, spinning and twisting deep in the box and winning a corner. Looked better opposite Hoillett than Ince. That combination almost had a goal early with Ejaria running across and anticipating Hoillett’s cross
Made a fantastic sliding tackle from the side in the 20th minute but downed defensive tools a little too early and probably can’t be too upset to be substituted after TDB offered more in his place.
John Swift: 6
While he’s certainly our best option at 10, Swift needs to do more to effectively support Joao. He has a tendency to drift backwards rather than forward, which causes issues when it often looks like a player is “missing” in the buildup. Often, he wouldn’t be far forward enough to receive Joao’s knockdown, and Reading would consequently struggle to relieve pressure.
When running with the ball though, Swift was still able to be his dangerous self, and his corner for Joao’s goal was a lovely example of his top-quality dead-ball placement.
Junior Hoilett: 7
Great to see Hoilett back in the team after his successful international break. The Canadian looked excited to be back playing, and exciting in general. That excitement drove the whole team on to a fantastic opening 15 minutes, which he capped off with a superb cross for Morrison’s opener.
Combined well with most of the forwards through an energetic first quarter, but faded once Stoke gained more possession toward the end of the half. A substitution was probably the right call given his recent load of games, but there would be no complaints at all if he keeps his starting place on Saturday.
Lucas Joao: 5
A mixed bag but it’s difficult to mark him down considering his contribution to the second goal. If Ince is going to insist that Joao play up front by himself each week, he needs to put more focus on getting players around him because Joao struggles to press effectively by himself (most would).
Did well to meet Swift’s cross for his deflected goal, and as per usual, ran further and generally played better after he scored, but you can’t shake the feeling that the system could be getting more out of a player of Lucas Joao’s calibre.
Femi Azeez: 5
Good to see the academy product back after another injury spell. Limited in a game that was mostly being played in his own half after he came on though. Should have done far better with a chance to pass to Joao for a tap in 10 minutes after he came on, but it’s early days and hopefully he can see out the season fit and available.
Tom Dele-Bashiru: 7
Dropped into the middle of a midfield three as the formation shifted to a 4-3-3 with his and Azeez’s arrival. Instantly provided spark and energy there, harrying Stoke whenever they tried to come through the middle of the park.
Had a huge impact as Reading saw the game out, bursting halfway up the pitch and getting his chaser booked when he had to be taken down.
Scott Dann: N/A
Played sparingly little but calm when called into action in the dying stages.
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