Tuesday night’s defeat away at Leeds is the most positive defeat of the season so far, so everyone at the club should take plenty of courage from it. It was a performance that I think will have surprised a lot of us fans, definitely showing that we can compete in big games, against big teams away from home.
In midfield, Leandro Bacuna, and especially Andy Rinomhota, were superb throughout the game, with Rinomhota proving he is more than capable of playing at this level. He was, for me, the best player on either side, and I expect him to remain in the side for a substantial period. The key reason for his success and value to the team comes down to the fact that he has added much more balance. I keep banging this drum, but Kelly and Swift cannot play together in a midfield three. Clement tried Swift on the left last night, showing glimpses, but was found wanting defensively and just didn’t create enough. He was taken off in the hope of Garath McCleary providing some more natural width, but proved largely ineffective.
Josh Sims made a positive impact off the bench, eventually winning the penalty late on. Unfortunately, Marc McNulty’s penalty was brilliantly save by Leeds’ keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. I noticed on Twitter a few people aiming harsh criticism, including a relatively well-known local journalist, which I think was uncalled for and unfair. The penalty was low, and hard, and whilst not right in the corner, still takes some saving. And that’s precisely what happened. It was by no means perfect, but credit must go to the goalkeeper first. Credit should also go to McNulty for having the character to step-up.
Chris Gunter’s inclusion from the start left a lot to be desired, Tiago Ilori proved he is an improved player this season. Having missed the last four games, it was a tough ask to come in against a strong Leeds side, but he was superb throughout. John O’Shea hasn’t done too much wrong whilst in the side, but Ilori must stay in the side in my opinion.
Looking ahead to Saturday, a big concern will be the fitness of Yakou Meite. He showed that he wasn’t fully fit against Leeds, and is still struggling with his ankle injury. I expect that if Baldock or Bodvarsson were fit, he would be recovering fully, and not playing through the injury. He deserves praise for playing through it,but that all becomes irrelevant if he worsens the injury, so there’s a tough call to make all round.
Danny Loader made his first Championship start on Tuesday night, and showed glimpses of his talent, but was restricted to only half-chances either side of half time. Whether more chances had he played through the middle, but chances were limited overall. He certainly merits another start on Saturday against Stoke.
I hope that there aren’t many changes for Saturday’s game. Tyler Blackett hasn’t made many mistakes, and should come back in. John Swift will also be very lucky to start on Saturday; so I would like to see Sims or McCleary come in for him. Sadly I can see Danny Loader giving way for a wide player, and Mo Barrow is probably the first choice wide player.
With this in mind, below is my predicted team for Saturday, in which I’m predicting a 2-1 win for the Royals.
GK: Anssi Jaakkola
RB: Andy Yiadom
CB: Liam Moore (C)
CB: Tiago Ilori
LB: Tyler Blackett
CM: Liam Kelly
CM: Andy Rinomhota
CM: Leandro Bacuna
RM: Garath McCleary
ST: Yakou Meite
LM: Mo Barrow
Picture Credit: Reading FC