David Button: 6
Really important for Reading early on when he made two crucial saves to keep the Royals in the game.
First, he rushed out of his goalmouth and spread his arms wide to make a great reaction save on a Cheltenham Town player who was through on goal (albeit wide). Second, he made a fantastic reaction save to get down low quickly and deny Cheltenham a third goal that surely would have ended the game.
Generally in defending his net, he was pretty reasonable then, but his poor distribution really causes Reading issues. Reading play best when they get the ball down and play football, but Button only seems capable of launching balls long, meaning it takes an extra few seconds to get the ball to Wing and Craig. Again: he was ok today in net, but needs to do more to help Reading in transition.
Amadou Mbengue: 3
Oh dear. An odd and incredibly erratic one from Mbengue today. While the left side was more of a problem for Reading early on, Mbengue also struggled to keep his winger quiet.
Put in a late effort for the Comedy Moment of 2023 award for Cheltenham’s second goal. With no composure at all, Mbengue smashed the ball into Button’s feet to see it ricochet into the goal and put Reading 2-0 down.
Looked like he picked up an injury in the first half that continued to nag him, and he was withdrawn for Bindon late on.
Tom Holmes: 7
Look, I’m surprised, you’re surprised, we’re all surprised here, but Tom Holmes really looks to have become the lynchpin in the improved Reading defence. Let me explain myself.
Cheltenham came into the game with a fantastic gameplan. They took a 2-0 lead by spreading the field wider than Reading were prepared to handle, and bypassed the centre to attack the weak flanks, especially on Mukairu’s side. If they had more quality, they would have been long gone by the time Wing struck.
Holmes organised the centre of his defence and made sure that the majority of the crosses from the air didn’t trouble Button’s goal despite how often the full backs were beaten. Continued to play well in the second as Reading stemmed the flow of the Robins’ attacks.
Also repeatedly tried to wind up Southwood when he came up for set pieces which was almost worth the price of admission. Almost.
Nelson Abbey: 6
Calmed down a lot in the first half, but found himself trying to help out Dorsett with the frequent overloads in the second half with mixed success. Was drawn out of the defence several times caused odd man rushes back towards his own net but looked better as the game went on.
Jeriel Dorsett: 5
Really tricky to rate today. Found himself targeted and exploited by Sean Long in the early stages, allowing several crosses into the box and shots on goal. That said, you wonder how much of that was caused by the flatline from Mukairu in front of him. Booked for a late challenge that allowed a set play to be delivered into the box but did get Elliot free in some decent spaces a few times in the second half.
Michael Craig: 6
Once Button stopped bypassing him by launching it over his head in the second half, Craig was able to get the ball down and often put Wing into space to allow him to be creative.
It’s often hard to notice exactly what Craig does in this team, but once he was removed for Savage late on, Reading lost much of the control they had over the game.
Unbeatable in the air today, winning countless duels.
Paul Mukairu: 4
Really poor. Not good enough defensively and in a world of his own when he did get the ball, dallying on the ball for no good reason. Only once did he play a good ball forwards for Knibbs and it was clearly the right move. Lord knows why he didn’t try that again.
Sitting with the Cheltenham fans, many around me were thrilled when he got the ball because it seemed as soon as he did, it would be coming back to the Robins within seconds.
It appears the second Reading goal has been given to Mukairu, but this is coming from the same league that thought we tied 3-1 with Peterborough the other day, so I’m not so sure I believe that. Poor.
Lewis Wing: 7
Really impressive and took the game by the scruff of its neck when Reading were struggling with Cheltenham’s game plan in the early stages.
Put in a few fantastic whipped cross/shot that beat Southwood at his far post to draw Reading level before halftime, maybe getting a touch from Mukairu. Once he was given more time on the ball by Craig, he really grew into the game and gave Reading a lot of control. Saw a powerful free kick palmed away by Southwood and was unlucky not to get a hat trick of assists tonight.
Wing found himself frustrated with some of his teammates at times either for playing fast enough or not keeping the ball on the ground. Really, if Lewis is telling you to play a certain way: just do it Royals players.
Harvey Knibbs: 5
Struggled to get into the game in the first half and wasn’t as effective in the press as he usually was, though the ball did often go wide and around him. Was able to make some nice flicks through to his teammates once the ball was on the ground near to him. Better in the second half and almost won the game late in the second when he swiveled in the area to make room for a shot. Unfortunately he shot at a nice height for the keeper though and couldn’t take the points.
Femi Azeez: 6
Caused his defender all kinds of problems in the second half and got two of them booked with his combination of speed and strength. Saw a powerful shot blocked that would’ve given Southwood a lot of trouble and generally still looks like he has a lot of confidence. Again though: wants the ball on the ground and he didn’t get it there enough.
Sam Smith: 5
Booked for standing too close to Southwood, who promptly kicked the ball off Smith’s back. That’s one bruise that won’t feel worth it in the morning.
Forced to chase aimless long balls from Button tonight and barely got a chance to shoot on net, but unable to contribute much to Reading’s attack other than drawing defenders out of the way.
Ben Elliott: 6
Much more cultured than Mukairu in his touches (though again let down by Button’s deliveries). Elliot managed to cut inside and find Wing with some good play a few times. Hopefully a spell in the Cameroon team at AFCON will give him such much-needed game time and confidence.
Tyler Bindon: 6
When he arrived for Mbengue, I was a little concerned given the speed of Cheltenham’s wingers, but Bindon held his won well enough to start off with. Struggled once the Robins introduced the pacey Butler Oyedeji and lucky not to be punished at the death. His passing was of course far superior to Bindon’s though
Charlie Savage: N/A
Not on the pitch long enough for a grade.
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