By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
Payne’s Player Ratings vs Reading (Away) – FA Cup Edition:
After just three games in the job, Mike Williamson and his team got a break from League Two and travelled to Reading for the first round of the FA Cup. With The Royals being troubled by poor form and huge financial problems off the pitch, there looked to be a real chance for The Dons to advance to round two. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and Williamson’s men fell to a 3-2 defeat against League One opposition. Here’s how I rated the players after the away defeat in the FA Cup:
Formation: 5-2-2-1/5-4-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Michael Kelly – 4.5: Looked confident on the ball but was awfully slow releasing it. His distribution was good to begin with but got a bit more wayward as the game went on as shown when he played a hospital pass to MJ Williams just a few yards away from goal for Reading’s third goal. Kelly claimed a number of crosses and just about did enough to put off Dom Ballard as he tried to score Reading’s fourth of the game from a one-on-one. The ball still made it past Kelly but it was moving slowly enough for Warren O’Hora to get back and clear it off the line. Perhaps Kelly’s positioning could’ve been better for a couple of the goals but it would’ve been somewhat surprising for a back-up goalkeeper to be saving those efforts.
RWB – Cameron Norman – 6.5: Had a lot of freedom to attack down the right and made it count when he played a low ball across the box for Alex Gilbey to finish. He tried a few other crosses as well but Dons weren’t able to convert any of them. However, Norman’s attacking output may have been higher if he played with more urgency as there were plenty more occasions where he could’ve made a run or moved the ball on quicker. Instead he seemed to prefer cutting back and playing the safe pass. Simply put he needed to take more risks to get more reward.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 6: Solid enough at the back and not specifically at fault for any of the goals. He looked comfortable on the ball but did play at a slow tempo too often, something that can be said about most of the team. His best moment of the game was when he made a goal-line clearance to prevent Reading from running away with the game entirely.
CB – Jack Tucker – 4: An unfortunate day for Tucker. He’s partially to blame for Reading’s opening goal where he was totally outplayed by Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan in a one-on-one scenario and the Reading man was able to have a clear shot at goal which made it 1-0 after just 3 minutes. Tucker wouldn’t get much of a chance to redeem himself as he picked up an injury shortly afterwards. He tried to play on but eventually had to come off with Jack Payne taking his place after 20 minutes. MJ Williams dropped into defence to accommodate this change.
LCB – Tommy Smith – 4: He’s not a natural ball-playing centre-back and it showed. Reading played with a high line and had an intent to press whenever they could. Smith struggled to deal with this as he wasn’t very comfortable on the ball and most of his passes were slow-paced just to make sure they hit their target. As a result it gave Reading a free opportunity to put The Dons under pressure. He is also partially at fault for Reading’s first goal as he stepped up needlessly which gave Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan plenty of space to make a run in behind Tucker. He eventually made way for Dean Lewington after 81 minutes.
LWB – Daniel Harvie – 7.5: Similarly to Norman, Harvie had a lot of space to work with on the left and he used it well, driving forwards wherever possible. He was restricted sometimes by slow passes out to him from Smith but he still retained possession most of the time. He did get caught too high up the pitch a few times towards the end of the game though it was clear he was determined to get back into the game.
CM – MJ Williams – 4.5: Started the game reasonably well in a holding midfield role but spent most of the game at centre-back after Tucker’s injury. He put some good tackles in to begin with but he couldn’t maintain this level and he struggled for consistency both in and out of possession. He lost the ball cheaply for Reading’s third goal where Kelly played the ball out to him and Williams failed to shield the ball properly, allowing Lewis Wing to pickpocket him and swiftly go on to score.
CM – Dawson Devoy – 5.5: Looked okay on the ball for the most part though he did make a few mistakes in the defensive third, notably on one occasion where he effectively played the ball directly into a Reading player’s path. He didn’t play out from the back with confidence but more often than not he made it work. He tried a couple of through balls but these were cut out without too much trouble. He came off for Callum Tripp after 81 minutes.
CAM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 6.5: A typically gritty performance from the midfielder. He battled well throughout and was constantly popping up at both ends of the pitch. He was rewarded for his hard work when Norman played a low ball into the box for Gilbey to poke into the goal, making it 1-1 after 39 minutes. Gilbey was also involved in The Dons’ second goal, firing a volley towards the bottom corner. Joel Castro Pereira was on hand to save it but he was unable to stop the follow-up effort from Max Dean.
CAM – Jonathan Leko – 6: It was refreshing to see Leko putting some effort in but sadly he struggled with his end product. He had one notable chance to shoot from outside the box but his effort went flying off target. Leko did grow into the game and was involved in some decent passing moves but whenever he tried to dribble past his man, he got stuck and lost possession. His impact was limited and he came off after 66 minutes for Conor Grant.
ST – Mo Eisa – 4: Wasn’t at the races as perfectly demonstrated by his lack of commitment to pressing the Reading defence. He was barely involved in the first half but did start to make himself more of an option in the second half. On the few occasions he did press properly he forced mistakes and rushed clearances out of the Reading players but it wasn’t enough to stop him from coming off after 66 minutes for Max Dean.
SUB (CM) – Jack Payne – 7.5 (TOP DON): Gave Dons a foothold in the game when he came on, spraying passes out to both wings from the middle of the pitch. He would often come short and play first time passes out to his teammates, increasing the tempo of play. Payne was also the architect of Dons’ equalising goal, playing a fantastic long ball along the ground to pick out Norman who went on to set up Gilbey. He did play into traps a couple of times but his impact on the game was extremely positive overall.
SUB (CAM) – Conor Grant – 6.5: Got involved in a lot of The Dons’ attacking play and did drive forwards down the left a couple of times. He played the ball about well and tried to set up his teammates wherever possible, though a number of his attempts at key passes were blocked.
SUB (ST) – Max Dean – 6.5: Actually had a quiet game by his standards but he did only get limited service. He pressed quicker than Eisa did previously but most importantly, he took his chance when it came, getting on the end of a rebounded Gilbey shot to give Dons a small chance of making a comeback. His goal made it 3-2 after 93 minutes. He was then clumsily brought down in the box in the final seconds of the game but the ref decided not to give a penalty.
SUB (LCB) – Dean Lewington – 6: A welcome return to the side for the skipper who was promptly given the captain’s armband by Gilbey as he entered the field of play. His passing was much smoother than Smith’s before him which made it easier for Harvie to move up the pitch quickly. He looked comfortable on the ball but did look quite slow with his movement and Reading did try to break down his side a couple of times, especially with Harvie playing higher up than before.
SUB (CM) – Callum Tripp – 5: Played the ball about nicely though he did misplace a couple of passes. He looked composed on the ball and did reasonably well considering it’s his FA Cup debut against probably the strongest opposition he’s faced to date.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6: It was an intriguing game as Reading played a very high line and pressed regularly. There are very few teams in League Two that could play that way and make it work effectively so it was a good test for The Dons to try and play out from the back under pressure. It gave a more apparent view of who in the squad is capable of playing the way Williamson wants to.
The biggest concern was Jack Tucker’s injury as there isn’t a single player in the squad that can cover that role naturally. MJ Williams is the best fit but he didn’t seem comfortable there against an organised Reading side. If Dons are going to insist on playing this way then another ball-playing centre-back will be required in January as this style of play doesn’t suit Tommy Smith and it won’t suit Anthony Stewart either. However, there were certainly some positive signs in terms of developing the style of play and adding the detail as Williamson would say. It’s not going to be an easy transition but already we’re starting to see improvement from players like Conor Grant and Warren O’Hora which can only be a good thing.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of The Dons’ attacking play was carried by Jack Payne and the wingbacks but the likes of Mo Eisa and Jonathan Leko struggled to make an impact from higher up the pitch. Neither of them have done enough to justify starting in the league and it can’t be long until they both run out of chances. Players like Matt Dennis, Ellis Harrison and Ash Hunter are yet to get their chance to impress Mike Williamson largely due to injuries, but if Eisa and Leko don’t start making an impact soon then they could find themselves out of the match-day squad entirely by the time these players are fit again.
If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the read!