Championship side Reading’s four-match unbeaten run came to an end last night, as they suffered a narrow 1-0 loss against Wayne Rooney’s Derby County.
In a game of few clear-cut chances for the Royals, they were left to rue the concession of Craig Forsyth’s looping header in the 33rd minute as the Rams managed to claim a precious three points amid their fight for second-tier survival.
Whilst Derby remain at the bottom of the table, the Berkshire side drop down to 11th place and will be desperate to respond at the weekend against a Cardiff City side who are currently out of sorts under Mick McCarthy.
This will be the last match in what has been a reasonably successful set of games overall for the Royals going into the next international break, though last night’s narrow defeat has taken the gloss off their recent success and it will be interesting to see how the Berkshire outfit react to this latest setback.
They could face an uphill battle against the Bluebirds who will be desperate to get out of their mini rut after losing four consecutive league games – but tomorrow will probably be used by manager Veljko Paunovic to review what was a disappointing defeat at Pride Park.
With this, we have selected three things we learnt about the Royals last night.
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Scott Dann is a much-needed option at the back
This is probably quite harsh on Josh Laurent and Andy Yiadom considering they did a great job against Middlesbrough at the weekend and didn’t do too badly yesterday evening against Derby’s threat – especially the former who was excellent at times – but the Royals did look shaky at the back at times and could probably use someone like Dann who will be a commanding figure at the back.
Not only will he be a sizeable presence in their backline, but the 34-year-old will also be an organiser and will allow Yiadom to return to his position on the right-hand side.
Understandably, Dejan Tetek looked a little nervous at Pride Park last night and despite doing well in a makeshift position against Middlesbrough and not disgracing himself last night, he would probably prefer to be back in a central midfield role.
Yiadom’s presence on the right will also help to restore balance to the second-tier side’s defence and give them a wide threat going forward, which can only be a good thing for a side that failed to get on the scoresheet yesterday and didn’t offer much going forward.
Their defensive absentees has had an effect on attacking set-pieces
John Swift can convert free-kicks like no one’s business and he’s already shown that in a Reading shirt multiple times.
However, the Royals have struggled without the likes of Michael Morrison, Liam Moore, Tom McIntyre and Tom Holmes as attacking threats and it never looked as though they would score from set-piece deliveries last night.
After failing to create too much in open play, especially in the second half, it felt as though they needed to make corners and free-kicks count in their quest to get back into the game.
Perhaps that threat could suddenly increase with Scott Dann coming off the bench to make his debut in the East Midlands, but he looks to be the only real target in there with Liam Moore and Michael Morrison set to be out for the foreseeable future.
Moore has already scored twice for the Berkshire outfit this term, with Morrison scoring six times for former club Birmingham City during the 2018/19 campaign and bagging four last term for his current side.
Both of their absences have removed this goalscoring weapon from their armoury, but Reading fans will be hoping Dann can restore that to some extent.
Danny Drinkwater will be an integral part of Paunovic’s first-team plans
He may have misplaced a few passes last night, but Danny Drinkwater was one of the standout performers again with his calmness and composure on the ball.
For a side like Reading that often opts to play out from the back, this composure, good decision-making and his range of passing will be crucial in building attacks for the remainder of the campaign and the second-tier side are lucky to have him at their disposal.
He’s undroppable at the moment and you have to wonder who will be dropped when one of Morrison, Moore or Holmes returns to partner Scott Dann at the heart of defence, with Josh Laurent likely to return to his more natural position despite doing reasonably well at the back.
Laurent doesn’t deserve to come out of the side at the moment, Andy Rinomhota also looks set to be kept out of the starting lineup on his return from injury and many people would argue that Tom Dele-Bashiru should also be a regular starter at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
It’s certainly a nice problem for Paunovic to have if/when all four are match fit, a nice dilemma they don’t have in many other positions. Drinkwater should keep his place as things stand though, barring an injury, suspension or loss in form.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Laurent and the Chelsea loanee at the heart of midfield, Dele-Bashiru back out on the right and rotated with Halilovic and Rinomhota left frustrated amongst the substitutes.