David Button: 6
The earliest of Reading’s players to check in for his shift tonight, making a good save from a free header in the box within a minute of play. Looked alert early on as Cambridge United tried to put pressure on Reading.
Joined the build-up as well, splitting Abbey and Dean wide as he often put his studs on the ball and waited for the press outside of his box. Button occasionally got so far up the field he was outside of his own defensive half and looked pretty comfortable, perhaps giving us an idea as to why he was recruited despite raising some fans’ eyebrows.
Didn’t make any exceptional saves after the first minute tonight but did enough to keep Reading in it and wasn’t the principal culprit in Cambridge’s goal.
Amadou Mbengue: 6
Earned two free-kicks in the first half with his running down the right wing and, while actually a bit more muted in that department outside of that, he was reasonably reliable in defence.
Began to find space on the right side more often in the second half and got himself forward well, but was guilty of two glaring mistakes
First he was almost punished for a weak challenge on the ball in his own box in the 71st minute that saw a Cambridge shot go just wide. Shortly after his attempted back pass got nowhere near its intended target and he was lucky to see his mistake cleaned up by Abbey.
Harlee Dean: 6
Made his second start for the club and put Reading’s first shot on target tonight with a tame header from a free kick. Was the target for more than one set piece tonight, drilling a well delivered corner just over the bar in the second half.
Booked in the 27th minute for landing studs up on a Cambridge player’s ankle when following through on a pass following a loose touch.
Difficult to blame him or Abbey for the goal given that Mola lost his man egregiously in the build-up.
Nelson Abbey: 6
Given a different challenge tonight as Cambridge pressed in a mid block and allowed Reading to pass around their first line of defence without too much aggression. This meant Abbey was forced to make the progressive passes forward for a period in the first half, sitting wide of Button. He did reasonably well in that role, with close to 90% pass completion in the first hour.
Cleaned up well from Mbengue’s underhit backpass in the second half, using his pace to get back and contest the ball. Let down elsewhere in the defence for the Cambridge goal and was overall unlucky to be on the losing team on the night.
Matty Carson: 5
A mixed bag defensively and occasionally lacks concentration but can do great things with the ball. Played a lovely incisive pass down the left that allowed Azeez to square the ball into the box midway through the first half.
Withdrawn close to the hour mark as per usual for Andy Yiadom.
Sam Hutchinson: 6
Took a free-kick tonight, which seemed like a nice collector’s item. Operated as the pivot between Abbey and Dean when Reading were higher up the field (and thus couldn’t use Button in that role) and completed over 80% of his passes in the first half.
Has a habit of making at least one inadvisable sliding lunge per game, and was lucky to be given the time to clean up after one early in the second half today. Booked for a second lunge when he made a cynical challenge to end a Cambridge attack.
Charlie Savage: 7
Savage looks best when operating in smaller spaces and making first-time passes, which was where he often found himself tonight. On top of that, being energetic and reasonably fast, Savage is able to stop some counter attacks from developing further by catching up with the play.
The combination of the above made him a large part of the reason Reading were mostly able to control possession for large stretches of the game.
Understanding of his responsibility in the defensive area and clearly learning from his midfield partner for much of this year so far - Hutchinson - Savage got himself booked in the second half for a cynical challenge that slowed a Cambridge attack.
With his final contribution to the game, he dropped a cross onto Ehibhatiomhan’s head that almost saw Reading take the lead. All in all, a professional performance on the road from a kid born in 2003.
Ben Elliot: 6
Playing a little further up the field from Savage, he was involved both of Reading’s best moments in the first half. First he did well to shimmy in between Cambridge’s midfielders to create Reading’s first chance: a deflected shot from Caylan Vickers inside the box, and then he was the last person to get a chance on the Cambridge goal when Reading generated a goalmouth scramble midway through the first.
Looks exceptionally comfortable on the ball, sometimes a little too comfortable (and therefore ponderous). Withdrawn early in the first half but this was a reasonable first start in the league for Elliott.
Harvey Knibbs: 5
Returning to the club he started 37 games for last season, Knibbs was clearly up for the occasion, attempting several take-ons in the first half.
Made a great breakaway into the box on the end of Azeez’ ball around the half-hour mark, and almost wriggled free of two defenders before his loss of possession started a goalmouth scramble.
Went very quiet after that though and struggle to impact the game much at all in the second half. That was until he thought he had won it deep into stoppage time when his volley from point-blank range careened onto the crossbar and down onto the goalline. In truth though, he should have done better despite it being on him quickly. Not an awful evening but not the return Knibbs would have wanted.
Femi Azeez: 7
Preferred up top tonight to the in-form Ehibhatiomhan, Femi could really have done with a good game.
Made a fantastic run down the left shortly before the half-hour mark to find Carson’s ball down the wing and square it into the box, then did well to put Knibbs into the box on the run shortly after.
The better of Reading’s pair of forwards in the first half, Azeez ran well with the ball throughout, often progressing Reading up the field with his speed and strength as well as providing a target for defensive clearances.
Dropped further back into Elliot’s position once he was withdrawn but continued to get forward, and put a great shot in on the corner of the Cambridge net that United's 'keeper did well to save. Withdrawn for Tivonge Rushesha late on, but this was probably Azeez’ most solidly positive performance of the season so far.
Caylan Vickers: 5
The beneficiary of Reading’s first chance of the game, as he latched onto Elliot’s pass into the box and saw his effort deflected wide. Saw his effort from a goalmouth scramble charged down by the 'keeper when he couldn’t control a ricochet.
Vickers generally made decoy runs rather than the primary attacking run in much of the opening hour and struggled to get into the game as much as Azeez and Knibbs.
Created a good chance just after the hour mark, connecting with Azeez out wide before seeing his cutback cleared from inside the goalmouth. After a few performances and starts, he actually looks a little better when given chances to operate in the wide areas, but may benefit from a rest to refresh his energy.
Andy Yiadom: 5
Operated at left-back when he came on for Matty Carson then switched to right-back when Mola came on. Booked for a pretty wild scissor challenge just outside of Cambridge’s box that incensed some of the home players.
Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan: 6
Brought on just before the hour mark and curled his first chance just wide 10 minutes later. Helped increase the speed of Reading’s ball movement around the box late in the game and linked up well with Vickers.
Put a bouncing header inches wide of the post from Savage’s excellent cross to deep into the box. Part of the ricochet that Knibbs almost put into the net late on and was the most influential of any of Reading’s subs.
Clinton Mola: 4
A debut Mola will want to forget.
Came on for Charlie Savage with 10 minutes to go and became Reading’s third option at left-back for the night.
In the small amount of time he was on the field, he struggled with Cambridge’s wing play the most of the trio, and allowed his opposite number to square the ball into the box for Cambridge’s goal when beaten for pace late in the game.
Tivonge Rushesha: 5
Came on for Azeez late in the game and is yet to really nail down a permanent role in the team. Didn’t do a whole lot but did nothing super poor either.
Michael Craig: 5
Struggled to influence the game much in the late stages and ultimately didn’t help Reading hold the ball like Savage had been able to.
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