Reading FC Match Report: 2016/2017 Season - League Cup
READING 2 PLYMOUTH 0
Reading: J van den Berg (16), R Beerens (28)
Reading cruised into the next round of the EFL Cup with a 2-0 home win against League Two side Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday evening. Both goals came in the first-half with Joey van den Berg and Roy Beerens both scoring their first for the club.
The Royals took the lead when van den Berg headed in John Swift's free kick across goal and into the bottom corner. Beerens then made it two when he latched onto a rebound with a fierce left-footed drive.
Jaap Stam made five changes to the starting eleven following the win against Preston at the weekend. Ali Al-Habsi was replaced by Anssi Jaakkola in goal, with the latter making his Reading debut. Jake Cooper came in for Paul McShane at centre-back, with Chris Gunter subsequently taking the captain's armband. After being substituted in the last game, Jordan Obita was not risked and Tennai Watson started in his place. Yann Kermorgant was favoured up front instead of Deniss Rakels, while Callum Harriott made his full debut in place of Garath McCleary.
Reading began the game as they meant to continue, dominating possession throughout. After ten minutes, Swift had the first opportunity to have a shot after collecting the ball from a Watson throw. After turning and running towards the box, he was crowded out before he was able to take the shot.
On the sixteen minute mark, Reading were to take the lead. Harriott won the free kick on the left wing and left Swift to take it. The midfielder seems to be a great replacement for the recently departed Oliver Norwood, delivering an inch perfect cross into the box. Van den Berg was the player who rose highest to meet it and directed the ball past Vincent Dorel in the Plymouth goal with relative ease.
Despite playing with two compact lines of four, Reading continued to pass the ball around the Plymouth players with ease as they awaited the right opportunity to open up for them. Beerens picked out Harriott, but his drive was stopped by a diving Dorel. A second Reading goal was seemingly inevitable, it was just a matter of when.
Just before the half hour mark, the Royals got their second. Gunter broke down the left and cut inside before unleashing a rare right footed shot. Dorel made a nice save but was only able to push it as far as an awaiting Beerens, who fired it past a crowd of players and into the goal.
The chances kept coming for the home side, with Watson's cross being turned narrowly wide by Kermorgant and a Williams shot with the outside of the boot being blocked by Sonny Bradley.
Reading went in at half-time two goals to the good, and continued to look threatening as the second began. Possession was the name of the game once again for the Royals and they looked happy to pass the ball around the back five as often as they saw fit.
The first effort of the half fell again to Harriott, who cut in before firing at goal. Dorel, once again, did well to save to his left. Plymouth fans were soon happy to see their side have a shot, as Bradley blasted over from a corner. It was met with much sarcastic cheering from the Plymouth fans, who were clearly enjoying themselves despite the underwhelming performance from their side.
Clearly feeling confident about the Reading display, Stam chose to make a substitution just before the hour mark. An impressive Harriott was brought off and Yakou Meite was brought on in his place to make his debut. From what fans have seen of Harriott in his last two performances, he will certainly be giving McCleary a run for his money in the starting eleven.
Despite clearly being well off full fitness, Meite looked like another exciting player for the Royals. He looked pacey and was certainly not afraid to pull the trigger, forcing Dorel into another save. Other than a David Goodwillie shot being fired into the side netting, Reading looked largely untested as the second half went on.
While largely happy to pass the ball around, often at snail pace, Reading forged a few more opportunities as the game reached its close. Swift, once again proving his value early on in the season, had one effort blocked and another from distance flew over the bar. Kermorgant managed to get the ball into the net with a well taken chip, but referee Simon Hooper deemed it to be offside.
The best chance for Plymouth came in injury time, when Bradley's well hit effort ended up wide of the post. While Reading were unable to extend their lead further in the second half, it was an easy win for the home side.
Averaging at 71% possession, Stam's plan was once again used to good effect. While some may say that it was boring to watch, especially in the second half, it is clearly beneficial. While Reading will be facing much tougher opposition this season, it is nice to see the players committing to a system that is currently working for them. It will also be interesting to see how the system fares against stronger opposition who are willing to attack Reading, rather than sit back and defend for large periods of the game.
In a game against much weaker opposition, it is somewhat difficult to take much from the game. The team worked well as a unit and continued to create opportunities. I was somewhat surprised that so many first-team players all started and that Stam made only one substitution during the game. If Meite can get past the language barrier and work on his fitness over the next few weeks, then he could be a real asset for the Royals.
One player who is already proving his worth is Swift, who once again put in an impressive performance. The midfielder already seems to be running the show, along with Beerens, and they will be important players to keep fit for the duration of the season. Another player that looked at home in the first team was Watson. Despite only making a push for the starting eleven in recent games, the youngster already seems to be settling in nicely. With every game he seems to be getting more confident and playing both defensively and going forward in a very composed manner.
There have been rumours circulating recently regarding Cooper's future, with Stam opting with McShane and van den Berg at the back against Preston. If such rumours have any truth in them, then you would have to say his performance against Plymouth will not help matters. While his headed clearances are still good, his passes were well off the mark. Despite being gifted what felt like an age to pick out a pass, too often he misjudged them completely and gave away possession. In a strong Reading team, his performance was the main weak link on the night. That being said, if there was anyone who could help iron out the mistakes in his game it would be Stam.
The other, was once again the striker. This time Stam opted with Kermorgant up front but he achieved the same result. The strikers that Reading have in the system that they are employing, just do not seem to be working. Kermorgant saw as much of the ball as Rakels did at the weekend, and he increasingly dropped into midfield to try and pick up the ball. Again, they may be more effective against stronger opponents but while other members of the team are stepping up with the goals, the strikers are not impressing so far.
On Wednesday evening, Reading will find out their opponents for the next round of the competition. After Tuesday's performance, the team should be confident of progressing no matter the opposition.
This League Cup game took place 493 days ago in the 2016/2017 season.