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Reading 3-2 Exeter City: Player Ratings

The Royals kick off 2024 with a decent performance, but one that was good enough to earn a big win over Exeter.

Reading v Stevenage - Sky Bet League One - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

David Button: 5

Didn’t have a whole lot to do but failed to make a save today, and was generally not quite as bright as he was against the Robins on Friday.

Regardless of how he plays as a shot-stopper, Button’s distribution is a problem in this team. Spells of opposition pressure are literally brought on by Button not being able to reliably find a man to pass to outside of the players right in front of him. Button failed to connect on a single long pass today, attempting eight.

Again: saves are the primary thing you need from your goalkeeper, but Button’s distribution causes issues for Reading that won’t be ones we can carry if we’re going to push on next season.

Clinton Mola: 7

Undoubtedly his best league performance so far and he absolutely shouldn’t move away from right-back again. Pushed very high up the field at points in the first half and found himself involved in the opening goal when he underlapped and beat a few.

Defensively he prevented an almost surefire goal when he managed to head backwards a cross beyond Button and absolutely owned his winger in aerial duels all day.

When he’s pressed with the ball defensively he absolutely has some issues with close control, and we’ll want to see those worked out because at some point they could cost the Royals. It has to be recognised when a previously struggling player puts in a good shift though.

Tyler Bindon: 6

Still a little suspect in the air, but better today. Does get himself involved in one rugby tackle per game with his opposite number, but didn’t get pulled up for it.

Put a few absolutely sumptuous balls through to Femi Azeez on the wing, and is far and away our best passing centre-back, long or short. You can tell Wing wanted him to have it when it went back to the defence.

Often asked to be the man who stepped out of defence today and generally did it pretty well, not taking himself too far away to not be able to get back, but stopping some attacks at source.

Nelson Abbey: 5

Holds the ball well but really needs to be braver with his distribution so that we can get our central midfielders more involved. Many times in the first half Abbey covered 30 yards, then had passing options, but turned them all down and went back towards his own net.

Defensively he was his usual self, making some key blocks and helping to marshal the defence in Holmes’ absence.

Jeriel Dorsett: 5

Like Abbey, he needed to be a bit braver today in his passing, but while holding the width in the formation it didn’t make as much of an impact.

Given a very tough assignment today up against Dion Rankine for much of it, who looked a speedy winger able to get on the wrong side of a defence.

Michael Craig: 5

A tricky one to mark, as Exeter’s best individual performance came from James Scott who was asked to mark Craig and take him out of the buildup. For large periods of the game, Scott did just that and Craig found himself frustrated with the lack of opportunities he got to progress the ball.

Once Scott came off, Craig was able to find some joy and play some lovely passes, with one particularly lovely one curling around his marker out to the full back. Booked for an aggressive entry into a tackle shortly before half-time and withdrawn for Savage.

Femi Azeez: 8

So calm and confident on the ball right now. Linked plays nicely to set his teammates free, pulled Exeter’s defence out of position with his running, put in some wonderful crosses.

On a very slick pitch that others were struggling to shoot on, Azeez was able to bury a curling shot into the bottom corner to win us the game today.

Went off late and geed up the fans as he did it, pumping his arms. Absolutely everything you want in a winger from an entertainment and sporting perspective right now.

Lewis Wing: 6

Ran his socks off today, chasing the ball down, and intercepted or won it back in some key locations to force Exeter to reset. Didn’t quite have as many moments to shine in terms of shooting or long passing as Exeter tried to limit the impact of our central midfielders, and hit a few shots high or wide.

Harvey Knibbs: 7

Scored a lovely goal early on, showing good anticipation to nip onto Smith’s ball and dink it over the ‘keeper, and then put the cross in for the own goal from Exeter.

Did well also to notice Vickers’ issues early on and coach him through a marked improvement. Continued running throughout and took a ball deep into Exeter’s box later in the second half before Azeez’s winner.

Knibbs supports his teammates well: they must love playing with such an intelligent and empathetic player.

Caylan Vickers: 6

It was good to see him back in the team and he provided a good case study in how just one extra touch can be too many in professional football. Struggled in the opening 10 minutes of the game and was dispossessed a few times as a result of holding onto the ball for too long and being swarmed. Took a lesson from Knibbs with good grace and improved vastly, helping to spread the field vertically with his running.

Pulled off a sumptuous Cryuff turn at one point and was eventually rewarded for his improved effort with a big hand in Exeter’s OG. Withdrawn for Paul Mukairu before the hour mark.

Sam Smith: 6

Gamely chased a lot of lost causes today but struggled with a large centre-back who had him pretty well marshalled for much of the game. Felt he should have got more from the referee in his duels today and let him know it.

Did provide a nice assist for Knibbs and occupied defenders when Reading were able to get the ball close to the box, and holds the ball well when he is able to get it under control.

Subs

Paul Mukairu: 6

A much-improved performance from Mukairu versus his start against Cheltenham, tracking back well and linking up nicely with Knibbs to move the ball forwards. Took part in the build-up for a few dangerous attacks and provided a good outlet.

Amadou Mbengue: 6

Provided some speed in the backline when Mola needed to be withdrawn with cramp later on. Certainly weaker in the air than Mola was, but managed to get higher up the field and provide some crosses.

Charlie Savage: 6

Brought Wing back a little deeper with him when he came on to form something on a double pivot, which was a great way to mask some of Savage’s weaker qualities while highlighting his stronger ones.

Made a fantastic pass out wide to Mukairu to get Reading out and earn them a chance.

Ben Elliott: N/A

Came on too late to earn a rating, but did notably win the ball and a throw in during the injury time “pressure” from Exeter.


Average: 6/10

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