This was a rather different experience to a standard iPro visit. A £5 West Stand seat right behind the Director’s Box (thanks, John Vicars) led to a few distractions. Is that Aidy Boothroyd? Is that Rod Stewart? Is that guy on the laptop next to McClaren playing solitaire? That’s Don Amott! King of Caravans!!!
It wasn’t only a different seat, it felt like a different game too. The usual pressure didn’t seem to be there. Reading played in a very open, neat style, no parking the bus for them. Consequently, we had a lot of possession & space. The team was significantly different too – Roos replaced Grant in goal, Shotton replaced Whitbread, Mascarell in for Eustace, Russell & Ibe (eBay?) in for Dancing Dawkins & Wardy. Best in for The Petulant One. I was very pleased with that team, still very strong & a fine example of how this Cup run can assist us in looking at other options for our league campaign.
We had a great first half, taking advantage of the space Reading gave us. Ibe was prominent again, very direct again & always willing to take on defenders in a way that none of our other wide forwards can. He pretty much terrified the Reading defence whenever he got ball & ran at them.
Hughes, Mascarell & Bryson were prominent too, everything was very neat & tidy. I just loved watching Mascarell on the ball & he was essential to the fluidity of the midfield trio. Assured, skilful & more composed than on the two previous substitute appearances I’ve seen (settled in quick then), he’s given McClaren a bit of a selection headache for Saturday I think. Perhaps he’ll prefer The Eust, as there were a few occasions where he could have been more robust in the tackle. Would definitely like to see him in home games, though. He was so mobile, popping up all over the shop.
Christie had a pretty decent game too, aside from a few poor crosses & a frankly dreadful back pass that nearly let Mackie in.
Shotton was solid & assured most of the time and I’ll stick my neck out & say he’s definitely a better option than Whitbread. Given Bucko will be out for a while with his flexible hips issue, Shotton really needs to demonstrate his worth, in what he says is his best position. He was a threat at set pieces, something that is clearly missing from our armoury.
Roos was calm in goal, made a couple of excellent saves & proved he’s capable of stepping up to the first team. Grant’s done pretty well so far but competition is never a bad thing.
The only change that didn’t really come off was Best coming in for Martin (something I had, rather naïvely it appears, been calling for). To be frank, he had a shocker. The ball just bounced off him & you could almost see that his teammates didn’t have the confidence to play into his feet. He lost possession so many times & even when the ball was played for him to run onto, he either fell over or lost control. On this showing, he’s not the alternative to Martin we thought he could be.
Talking about Martin.. Wow. You could see the difference when he came on, the quality he has with the ball at his feet. Brilliant. He created Russell’s goal (although Russell had a fair bit to do & finished well) & was responsible for “creating” the own goal too. Clearly, STILL crucial to the team & the way we play then. I’ll obviously have to put up with his moaning, sulky petulance for the rest of the season then.
There were so many positives from this game (not least the sighting of Don Amott..), & it clearly came at a perfect moment for us, as McClaren said in the programme. It was a good crowd too, 18,000+ is not bad for a midweek cup game. The 6 (more or less) successful changes & the very high standard of performance demonstrated how strong our squad is. This strength in depth has to compare well to our competitors & bodes well for the rest of the season.
One last thought on the players who stood out. Will Hughes. 100 games under his belt & still only 19. What a player. He demonstrated some incisive attacking play on the edge of the Reading box & looked heartbroken when he was subbed.
I don’t really want a big team (or Forest..) in the next round, plenty of opportunities for that if we keep on getting home matches against Championship opposition.
Come on you Rams!