Reading FC Match Report: 2020/2021 Season - Championship
READING 1 NORWICH 2
Reading: M Olise (14)
Norwich: E Buendia (11), T Pukki (pen 55)
Norwich moved three points clear at the top of the Championship with this narrow victory over Reading at the Madejski Stadium this evening, but for Reading fans the performance of their team was of greater significance. Deprived of their leading strikers, Veljko Paunovic put together a team which provided stubborn opposition for a City team considered to be one of the leading contenders to win the title. Paunovic's tactics and selection almost paid off. An uncharacteristic error by Andy Rinomhota gifted City an early goal. Reading's response was swift, and with aid of a strike by Ejaria which deflected off Olise, the Royals were level three minutes later. Pukki scored the winner early in the second half from the penalty spot after Aarons was brought down by Moore. In a late flurry Reading forced three corners in stoppage time and it took a very good save from McGovern to prevent Olise's free kick from dipping under the bar. Had it gone in nobody could argue Reading did not deserve a point. Certainly not the Reading fans who applauded their team off the pitch at full time.
The omission of Baldock, the only available recognised striker, raised a few eyebrows but Paunovic played to his strengths and included a blend of attacking and defensive midfield players intended to stifle the City attack and pose a threat on the counter attack. Baldock would probably agree his strength is not winning long balls in the air against towering centre backs or using his strength to hold the ball up playing as a lone striker. Consequently City’s centre backs saw a lot of the ball but they spent most of the time passing the ball sideways. In spite of that City only enjoyed slightly more possession over the ninety minutes (54%) and it was only when Reading were chasing the game did they really look threatening going forward. The nearest they came to a third goal came when second half substitute Dowell hit the post.
The effort and commitment evident this evening has been missing at times this season, and it was encouraging for Reading fans see their team react so positively to falling behind to the league leaders with a line up significantly weakened by injuries to their two leading strikers. It was good team performance overall but it was frustrating to see possession squandered by some sloppy passing, and the concession of unnecessary free-kicks in situations which only served to relieve pressure on City’s defence. Ejaria had one of his frustrating games. Moments of outstanding skill but also hanging on to the ball too long and losing possession. Olise is undoubtedly a match winner but somehow feel he needs to be used more sparingly and, having not yet reached physical maturity, he struggles at times in the hustle and bustle of central midfield. Tactically the team lost it’s shape for spells with a lack of width (particularly on the left) making it hard to stretch the City defence and build pressure. When Baldock came on late in the game it might have been interesting to see what might have happened if someone had popped a ball in behind City’s somewhat sluggish centre backs. It almost came off but Baldock timed his run badly and was caught offside.
Before kick-off, given the current situation, I was hoping rather than expecting Reading might take a point from the game. By the end of the evening I felt it well within their capability. Under Paunivic there is always a clear game plan which the players are clearly committed to following. In spite of the defeat the atmosphere in the stadium this evening felt overwhelmingly positive. Reading are still in the top six and there was further evidence that we have a very shrewd manager capable of getting the best out of his squad. We are also beginning to see that all important rapport between players and fans return which is good news for everyone involved with the club. With almost half the season gone Reading are still very much in the running for a play-off place in every respect.
This Championship game took place 118 days ago in the 2020/2021 season.