Paul Ince’s side will be travelling north to take on 20th-placed Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday and will be expecting to come away with a result from Alex Neil’s struggling squad.
Reading have already taken three points off the Potters at the start of September in a routine 2-1 victory with Lucas Joao hitting a double for the Royals. This time around however Reading should not expect such a dismal Stoke performance as they will be eager to climb out of the relegation battle as the table starts to take shape.
Play Nesta Guinness-Walker on the left
With Junior Hoilett tied down as the right-wing-back, the left-wing-back position is one open for grabs. Although Abdul Rahman Baba has played there in recent weeks and played the full 90 minutes in last week’s draw versus Queens Park Rangers, he simply does not offer enough going forward.
Guinness-Walker has looked comfortable every time he has put on a Royals shirt and his pace and trickery would give Reading a different outlet down the left-hand side. A forward-thinking full back, he will no doubt produce better on-the-ball ability and final-third quality into the box than Baba has produced over the last couple of games.
Give Lucas Joao some confidence
Arguably the best finisher in the Reading squad, it is disappointing to see he has only hit the net five times so far this season. Paul Ince clearly prefers the robust Andy Carroll to lead the line from the start but a priority of his should be to give Joao some confidence when coming off the bench.
In the latter stages of Championship games, Reading need players to come on and provide energy for the rest of the team, but Joao has simply not been offering this. From an onlooker’s point of view it looks like the striker is low on confidence and who can blame him when a 35-year-old Shane Long has been getting the nod over him for much of the season? With Joao hitting two of his league goals in the reverse fixture, Ince should consider playing Joao to down the Potters once again.
Improve the team in possession
Under Paul Ince it is clear that the team will always give their all and never back down, but in possession there is a clear lack of ideas. For example, in the second half vs QPR the players panicked on the ball and just tried hitting it long to Carroll who struggled to hold the ball up every time. With World Cup star Harry Souttar lining up in a back five for Stoke, Carroll’s job to hold the ball up will become a whole lot harder.
Therefore Ince should work on improving how his team keeps possession so they can mix up their playing style when coming up against Stoke. With technical players such as Andy Yiadom, Tom Mclntyre and Tom Ince in his squad, Reading no doubt have some of the tools to play a more possession-based style.
Press Lewis Baker
It was obvious in the reverse fixture that everything Stoke does goes through club captain Lewis Baker. The former Reading player plays in a deep midfield role for the Potters alongside another ex-Reading player in Josh Laurent. A metronome at keeping possession, it should be of top priority that Paul Ince gets someone tight on Baker at all times, otherwise he could cause havoc for the Reading backline with his incisive passing and through balls.
In September, although Stoke were bereft of ideas, Baker was the player they constantly sought out to make things happen. Mamadou Loum and Jeff Hendrick will have their work cut out in the middle of the park to stop Baker showcasing his ability.
Play a higher line
Although Paul Ince is clearly happy to soak up the pressure when Reading are under threat, recently this tactic has been the team’s downfall. In last week’s game versus QPR the first QPR goal was due to a simple ball over the top into the final third where the line was so deep Tyler Roberts was miles onside and didn’t have to break his stride.
With Scott Dann and his lack of pace this tactic may be a necessity, but with Tom Holmes in the sweeper role the team should play higher, which will in turn keep the opposition further away from our goal. Playing a higher line will also hopefully make it easier to bring Ince and Carroll into the game, as in past matches the attack has been so isolated due to such a deep defensive structure.
Paul Ince will be travelling to Stoke with three points in his mind but that will be no easy task due to Stoke’s need for points. Expect a low-scoring, cagey game where both teams simply don’t want to lose.