Written by kirsikka
Four or five at the back was the question most in need of an answer and JT had obviously seen enough in our last match to stick with the four in a 4-2-3-1 formation that allows us to field a number of our attacking options.
A quiet start was pushed aside when Semedo went on a dribble near the AFCB byline. It was bizarre in that he didn’t really use any tricks, both Cook’s in turn seemingly terrified to make a challenge in case they gave away a penalty. He still overhit the ball towards Begovic who waited gratefully for it to roll into his hands only for the Reading player to steam on through and nick it away, winning a penalty when Asmir then brought him down. No chance from the penalty and 1-0 down through a lack of assertiveness from three players in quick succession.
It many ways, this was the nightmare scenario. In their blistering start to the season Reading kept six clean sheets so could now happily sit back and wait for us to create something whilst they try to hit us on the break.
A note for Cherries players in case they ever happen to read this. If the ref gives an early penalty that’s absolutely stonewall that doesn’t mean he’s going to start giving out stupid ones at the other end. Lerma was guilty of a horrible dive in trying to get one and Solanke, when well placed to create a chance, opted instead to collapse in a heap when a Reading defender breathed near him. What a waste.
The first half then formed into the predictable pattern with us dominating the ball but not doing much with it whilst Reading had acres of space to work with if they did manage to get forward.
The attacking triumvirate behind Solanke played across the line a lot and all looked neat and tidy on the ball but the problem was it was plenty horizontal and very little vertical. With the lone striker, every move needs at least one of them breaking the lines and supporting him but we didn’t see too much of that.
When the fast passing worked it was slick and beautiful to watch but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. Too many times players dithered on the ball to try and take on their man allowing Reading to regroup fill all the space. Danjuma was particularly guilty here.
The 17th minute did see one brilliant sweeping move which ended with Brooks breaking into the box but unfortunately, his shot was well saved by the keeper. It was exactly this type of move that the formation encourages so it was a shame this seemed like the sole instance in the first 45 as we must have trained for it. The running off the ball was good, players always available for the pass, there was simply not enough penetration to it.
At the back Kelly and Rico were having a contest to see who could be sloppiest, either in not staying with their man, loosely giving the ball away or hoofing way beyond the reach of our attackers even if they’d been on motorbikes.
Then on 42 minutes the seemingly inevitable happened. A weak challenge from Lewis Cook allowed his man to get away with the ball in a central position and Rico, with a perfect view to see and track Aluko, watched him make a run without reacting. By the time he realised the ball was coming that way, he had no chance to catch him as Aluko fired Reading’s second into the net.
Two shots on target, two goals. It seemed the early season Reading were back.
There was still time in the last moment of the first half for Stanislas to fire in a good free-kick which the keeper saved well. We’ve seen some poor set-pieces this season but Junior has been the pick and is a little unlucky not to have scored one.
Half time and something needed to change so JT went with hauling off Rico, moving Kelly to left-back and bringing Mepham on into the centre of the defence. However, despite the change, the second half picked up where the first left off. Lots of possession but not a lot doing.
Finally, in the 55th minute, Lewis Cook carried the ball forward and played it out left, a glorious dummy (from Danjuma?) left it to run to Kelly who whipped in a brilliant cross which Solanke slotted into the net. Incisive and skilful movement and play, exactly what we’d been desperate for all match.
With Reading reeling, the Cherries bashed them to the turf with another fantastic move three minutes later. Some joyous one-touch play ended with a Brooks dribble across the line not far outside their area and, as he looked up for a pass, Danjuma made the perfect run inside his full-back. Brooks’ eyes lit up like headlights and he slid the ball through whilst Arnaut chose this time to fire into the goal by the near post leaving the keeper with no chance.
Three minutes that changed the world. Well, the game anyway. And my weekend.
Reading responded with a double substitution on their right-hand side to try and nullify our threat down there and it seemed to have an impact as they came more into the game, although that could equally be a decision to step forward more now they weren’t winning.
In this spell Kelly was lucky to escape with two more sloppy moments, the former with the attacker overrunning the ball when clean through and the latter with a shot straight at Begovic.
With neither team particularly on top, the 76th minute saw a moment of pure quality from Lewis Cook. An overhit Danjuma cross was rescued from going out for a throw by Stacey. A couple of quick passes found Brooks heading towards the centre outside the area. He laid it off for L Cook who took a touch and pinged the sweetest of strikes over the keeper’s head only to dip down and in off the underside of the bar.
Incredible technique and, despite this being his first goal in Cherries colours, he stood there almost Cantona-esque as if to say ‘of course, what else would you expect from me’ although the mobbing he got from his teammates told a different story.
The boot was now on the other foot as Simpson came on for Brooks with the Cherries looking to shore up the defence and Reading pushing forward to try and get an equaliser, although now they were the ones leaving lots of space at the back.
If anything in the game matched the Lewis Cook goal for the quality it came in the 83rd minute when Reading swung in a corner and a header was barrelling towards the bottom corner only for Begovic to fling himself at it and somehow keep it out. I’ll need to see it again in slow motion but it’s almost like it came off his hand into his face then off his body before he swung a boot to kick it out. Incredible.
The Biscuitmen finally crumbled for good in the 88th minute when a long ball from Kelly was sent over the top for Solanke to chase. With not much hope of getting there, he still gave it everything only for the Reading keeper to go (ginger) nuts just outside his area. In an almost reverse of the situation that ended with a penalty for them, their keeper assumed it was safe but Solanke’s determination and battling quality won him the ball. An apparently open goal can still be missed when there are two covering defenders but he smashed it home. A goal won, made and scored all by himself.
There was still time for a 94th defensive error from the Cherries, possibly from Kelly again, to give Reading another shot which Asmir was equal to once again.
Man of the match against Reading
London Cherry wrote…
Thank you for your report Kirsikka! Definitely, a tale of two halves although I felt we kept the ball relatively well first half without having a cutting edge which Reading had. Second half was a different story! If we play like we did the second half on a more consistent basis I can’t see many Championship teams staying with us! – Join the conversation, click here.