Reading faced their first home test of the 2017/18 season on Saturday as they took on Fulham. The Royals were subjected to an away defeat against QPR last weekend and would have wanted to come away from their opening home league fixture with all three points.
Only 39 seconds into the game, Tomas Kalas saw red for Fulham for a tackle on Modou Barrow. It took Reading over an hour to make the breakthrough, with Liam Kelly scoring his third goal in two games. An error from Joey van den Berg was all that was required for Fulham to get back into the game, with Lucas Piazon slotting the ball past Vito Mannone.
Here are some of the things to come out of the game.
Scared To Shoot?
The seemingly never-ending striker discussion reared its ugly head once more as Reading dominated the game and failed to make a breakthrough on more than one occasion. Sound familiar?
The Royals, in general, are pretty good at maintaining possession. Unfortunately, they are still struggling in the final third. Despite having several members of the squad who are capable of running at defences, Reading often insisted upon passing it amongst themselves until a gap opened up in the Fulham ranks. The only issue was that the gaps were almost non-existent.
Injuries to Yann Kermorgant, Jón Daði Böðvarsson, Garath McCleary and co were already concerns and subsequently it was left to Joseph Mendes to lead the line. The Frenchman was pretty good when it came to holding the ball up but when it came to his end product, let’s just say his acrobatic finishing leaves much to be desired.
Liam Kelly’s goal demonstrated what he is capable of, but many of his teammates often seemed scared in front of goal – in particular John Swift. When the opportunity to shoot presented itself, many preferred to pass on the baton rather than go for glory.
While a striker continues to be the required addition, it is time for the midfielders to also start shouldering the blame when it comes to a lack of action in front of goal.
Barrow – One To Watch
One of the players that particularly stood out was Modou Barrow. The new signing brought in from Swansea looked pacey, threatening going forwards and a hard worker without the ball. When Fulham countered, it was often Barrow sprinting back to help out in defence. His final delivery was at times lacking but the early signs were definitely promising.
It will be interesting to see what system Jaap Stam will play once the likes of Garath McCleary and Roy Beerens are fit again. The good thing is that when they are, Reading will have options. If Barrow’s performance on Saturday is anything to go on, there may also be competition in the ranks. Competition is good.
Another that impressed me was Vito Mannone.
Despite having little to do for the majority of the game, his decisive catches, confidence with the ball at his feet and fingertip save from an Oliver Norwood strike were standout moments. Unfortunately the back pass from Joey van den Berg and the last ditch tackle from Chris Gunter left him in a tough one-on-one with Piazon for the goal.
While the departure of Ali Al-Habsi was not ideal, his replacement already seems have the potential to be as good if not better for the Royals. His moment of miscommunication with Paul McShane shows, however, that there is still plenty of things for him to work on.
With Leandro Bacuna set to join sooner rather than later and Jaap Stam’s comments about their search for a striker, it is clear Reading are still very much active in the transfer market.
When your main goalscorer from last season is injured, as is your new striker, the fans are inevitably going to continue piling on the pressure when it comes to transfers. Joseph Mendes did a pretty good job against Fulham considering how deep they set themselves up, but the number of crosses that were headed out by the Fulham defence showed what Reading seem to be missing at the moment.
Saturday’s game also showed that Reading also seem to still have a Danny Williams shaped hole in midfield. At times the American lost his head but he was a box-to-box midfielder that was not afraid to pressure opponents and run at defences (albeit with his head down too many times). The signing of Pelle Clement and the return of Stephen Quinn means that Reading have more options in midfield, but I hope that Stam is looking for more than just a striker in the current window.
Last season it was Reading’s home form that aided their push for promotion. Despite dropping two points against Fulham, the Royals went thirteen games unbeaten at the Madejski on Saturday. That is their longest unbeaten home run in over eleven years.
If Reading are to push for promotion once more, maintaining their home form will be an important aim for the season.
Aston Villa Up Next
After picking up just one point from six, Reading’s attention now turns to Aston Villa on Tuesday. Villa have also only earned one point so far, having lost to Cardiff City at the weekend.
It will be another tough test for the Royals, but one that they are capable of winning. Reading will have to be more positive going forwards, however, and use the pace that the likes of Modou Barrow and Adrian Popa possess in order to make the breakthrough.
Going three games without a win, especially when two of them are at home, will not be the ideal way to start a season many will hope ends in promotion.