After 2 away wins in a row its back to the DW Stadium this weekend for Latics as we welcome Reading to WN5. Latics will be hoping that their form on the road translates to their form at home and with an international break coming up its a great opportunity to end this first block of fixtures on a high.
Tuesday nights’ victory over Huddersfield Town showed a new side to Latics that was really encouraging to see. We showed more creative intent and attacking flair whilst maintaining our defensive steel and controlled aggression that allowed us to dominate large parts of the game, weather the Huddersfield storm and hit back after their goal to secure the 3 points late on yet again.
Reading have been the surprise of the season so far and currently sit in 4th place. They’re almost Latics like in their ability to grind out results when their back is against the ropes but are prone to the odd off day. The definitely had one of those in midweek, suffering a 3-0 loss to Sunderland, and have lost 3 of their 4 away games this season so we can definitely fancy our chances.
Latics Team News
After all the talk about our lack of squad depth during the transfer window we’re now at a point where Leam is having to leave genuine first teamers out of the 18 man squad! He’s always said you can’t win games with 11 men and these past few games have been proof if proof were needed that our gaffer knows exactly what he’s talking about!
Players like Joe Bennett, Tom Pearce and Rarmani Edmonds-Green were all absent from the squad at Huddersfield as Leam looked to bolster his attacking options on the bench. It worked as the introductions of Wyke and Broadhead helped Latics secure the win, whilst also having enough defensive options to help sure the game up late on.
Ben Amos was a shock absentee on Tuesday night with what seems to be a back injury. He seems to have struggled with a few different niggles this season and given Jamie Jones’ performances when called upon (Burnley aside I guess) I don’t think we have to worry about the keeper position for now, although I imagine we could see some movement in January…
I’ve said it from the start that we won’t see the best of Ryan Nyambe until he plays consistently in a back 4. Well, the return to a 4-2-3-1 on Tuesday allowed the Namibian to really flourish as it put less onus on his attacking play and more on his wonderful defensive attributes. He won 10/11 defensive duels and his inclusion in the side makes us so much more solid defensively.
Jason Kerr dropped to the bench as part of our switch to a back 4 which I felt was slightly harsh, but Tilt and Watmough also both deserve to play. Watmough was excellent as usual and Tilt looked sturdy although slightly shaky with the ball at his feet. I’d be happy with either Tilt or Kerr partnering Watmough to be honest and for now it looks like it’ll be Curtis Tilt.
James McClean was excellent in an unnatural LB spot and I hope he continues there. Huddersfield tried doubling and sometimes tripling up against him at times and the fact he defended as well as he did given the circumstances is testament to the player he is. He also got forward well and delivered the cross for Lang’s winner, he should be our LB for the foreseeable.
Shinnie and Power were the midfield pairing of choice and were industrious and intelligent. Shinnie has been the stand out performer for us this season whilst Power’s delivery and leadership qualities make him a key figure too. It did feel weird not seeing Tom Naylor in the starting 11 but he played an important role off the bench as expected from the reliable ball winner.
Latics fans were treated to the thing we’ve wanted for a long time now, Thelo Aasgaard from the start! He played well and probably should’ve scored in the second half, but just having a player capable of the extraordinary seems to lift the whole team. There was a moment in the first half were he turned away from 2 players on the left and sprayed the ball out wide to Nyambe, and wow, its exactly what we’ve missed. For me he has to play.
It felt good to see Keane and Lang on the scoresheet together again didn’t it! Keane didn’t impact the game as much as he might’ve liked but remained calm from the spot, but he really needs to get more involved in general play if he’s going to stay in the side. Hopefully the shackles are off Lang now he’s got his goal and we’ll see the very best of him again. with Broadhead and Scully waiting to take his place the pressure is on the 22 year old to perform.
Josh Magennis will probably start again and I think he’s been ace this season. However, as soon as Charlie Wyke is fit to start I’d bring him in as I think he’s the more complete forward and his role in the build up to Lang’s goal on Tuesday shows this. They’re two very solid options as is Ashley Fletcher and I’d be happy to see any of them get the nod, but I think it’ll be JM.
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into Saturday’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on Reading than myself! A big thanks to @JacobSouthKlein on twitter for his help, be sure to check him out!
1) Reading have exceeded all expectations so far this season and currently sit a remarkable 4th in the table! What’ve you made of your sides start, and has it come as a surprise?
“Yep, we’re in certified nosebleed territory…! Before the summer, even the most ardent and rosy-outlooked Reading fan couldn’t imagine that we would make such a fast start to life in the Championship this season. After losing half the squad on free transfers (including our entire midfield in Josh Laurent, Andy Rinomhota, and the talismanic John Swift), the somber expectation was that we were in for another relegation-threatened slog of a season.”
“Now though, with savvy business having been conducted on shoestring budget, coupled with a pragmatic, no-nonsense style implemented by manager Paul Ince, the forecast is sunnier… for now. Much of our early success has stemmed from our surprisingly resilient home form: prior to Wednesday, when we were haplessly tonked 3-0 by Sunderland, we had won four games out of four on our own turf (in stark contrast to our ongoing basket case of an away record!).”
“Ince Snr has instilled a backs-against-the-wall mentality which has made us harder to beat than last season, closing out games more effectively once we get our noses ahead with a goal. We won’t finish anywhere near the top six, but it’s been entertaining to not have to scroll down the league table for the time being, at least.”
2) Your away form hasn’t been great this season, why do you think this is? Many would presume your counter attacking style is perfect for games on the road but that doesn’t seem to be the case!
“Strangely enough, Reading’s performances and results away from home are microcosmic of what most fans thought our *entire* form would be like coming into this season. There’s no real identifiable theme across those defeats either, concerningly. Our 4-0 pasting at the hands/feet of Rotherham was principally the result of a Joe Lumley goalkeeping disasterclass, whereas the 4-0 walloping away at Sheffield United was very simply a case of them having so much more quality than us across the pitch (we haven’t done so hot on our travels up north, you can tell…). In five of Reading’s last six away games, they have suffered defeat without scoring, which is a Big Yikes. The Jekyll and Hyde home/away disparity has stymied the fans, and Paul Ince urgently needs to find a better way of setting the team up on their travels – although I wouldn’t fancy him to tactically outmanoeuvre his way out of a wet paper bag, honestly.”
3) Paul Ince has done a remarkable job so far but recently stated that your sole aim for the season is survival. Do you share that opinion or do you reckon the Royals can mount a shock play off push this season?
“Ince is nothing if not a straight-talker, and he’s not letting anyone (fans or players!) get carried away with our league position. The aim has still got to be staying above the dreaded dotted line, and our early points on the board will help no end with that. Concerns surrounding squad fitness remain. A double-digit injury list means our physio room resembles a scene from the local A&E ward more often than not, and we still have a crippling lack of depth in some key positions. Expect the compacted fixture schedule to bite us as the season drags on. Still though, it’s a funny old league, and Paul Ince masterminding an unlikely promotion push with a ragtag piecemeal Reading squad in 22/23 would be a tale to last the ages.”
4) Finally, can you give Latics fans an idea of who your star players are in the squad? Who should we be worried about come Saturday afternoon?
“For all the naysayers* (*I was one of them) crying foul at our eyebrow raising father-son double act, heralded by the arrival of Tom and Paul Ince less than a fortnight apart from each other, Ince Jr has been a revelation this season. Easy to say when your dad is the gaffer, but he is SUCH a hard worker – as Tom said in his Sky interview after we beat Stoke, “I do the running, Joao scores the goals”.”
“He’s like the Duracell bunny on crack, with an engine that never seems to run out, all whilst rallying other players around him and trying to maintain standards on the pitch. In short, Tom Ince is 100% our player of the season so far – and he deserves a winner on Saturday. The boy doesn’t score regular goals so here’s hoping he bags one of his customary pearlers against the Latics.”
If the Huddersfield game taught us anything its that we look so much better in a 4-2-3-1 than we do with a back 5. It makes our build up play far less predictable and allows us to mix between direct football and more patient build up through the thirds. It also suits specific players in our squad as I’ve already mentioned so it just makes sense to use it as our primary system.
I thought we pressed really well and won possession high up the pitch on several occasions. I’d actually say that Will Keane, who’s attacking play has left a lot to be desired, is far and away our most intelligent presser. His positioning and work rate got us that goal at Carrow Road earlier on in the season and he demonstrated similar intelligence on Tuesday night.
I think its enough for now to keep him in the side but we do need to see more of him on the ball. You could also argue that against a side such as Reading that don’t play out from the back or keep possession of the ball well is there much point in having him there as the press trigger. Having someone like Broadhead who will find space and link play slightly better might be a better option but I doubt its the kind of change Leam would make just yet.
Reading will come to the DW and more than likely set up in a defensive manner. Their success this season has come from taking the lead and sitting in, defending resolutely and grinding out results by offering their opponents few goal scoring chances. Therefore, its imperative that we start the game well and don’t allow them the chance to dig a trench and block us out to a 1-0 loss.
They defend in a low block with 5 defenders and 2 sitting midfielders, but interestingly they sometimes leave 2 or 3 attackers high up the pitch to spring counter attacks. This will cause problems for our back 4 at times, particularly on the left if James McClean is caught high up the pitch. That being said if we can limit the service into them we’ll be able to create sustained periods of pressure.
They’re a threat from set pieces too and dealing with them is imperative for Latics. Its actually another reason why I’d start Will Keane as his role zonally marking the near post could be vital as that’s an area they’ve scored a corner from already this season. Tom Ince and Junior Hoilett’s deliveries tend to be on the money so we need to do our best to limit them from getting cheap set pieces in dangerous areas.
I think we should go unchanged tomorrow for a couple of reasons. Firstly, tactical familiarity is important and if there isn’t a desperate need to change things I don’t think we should, and I think Leam is of the same opinion. Secondly and simply its our best team! We’ll probably have a lot of the ball so I want to see a team with a mix of technical talent and counter attack prevention. This team, I believe, has that!
When the fixtures were released I looked at this game and highlighted as a must win against a side you’d like to think we’d finish above this season. Now, 9 games into the season and with the Royals sitting pretty in 4th, it looks like a much more difficult game and one that we’ll have to be at our best at in order to come away with anything.
The hope is that we can replicate our away form at the DW and if we do we’re in for an enjoyable season. Reading will be thinking the opposite, their home form is wonderful but away from home they seem to struggle. Something’s got to give and fingers crossed its the 0 in our home wins column!
With the international break around the corner it would be lovely to go into the 2 week break on 16 points. If you asked me now I’d probably take a point but I really feel like its a game we can go out and dominate, especially if Reading have one of their horrific off days they seem to be prone to!