By Richard Wakefield
Too Little Too Late
Jonathan Kodjia’s opener wasn’t enough last Saturday as Burton derailed Aston Villa’s late play-off charge with a 1-1 draw. Lloyd Dyer’s strike was too much for Villa to overturn and it all but exposed Villa’s toothless attack when top goal scorer Kodjia isn’t leading the line.
As disappointing as Villa’s result was, Reading will be by far the more wounded coming in to this fixture, coming off the back of an embarrassing 7-1 defeat against Norwich. Conceding six first half goals was more than what Reading had conceded in their previous six games.
Reading already have one foot over the finish line in their race for a play-off spot whilst Villa can only look on to preparing for next year. Steve Bruce will look to continue the form that he created before hitting a speed bump at the Pirelli Stadium and can capitalise on Reading atrocious away form, where they have lost four from the last five.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
The last few weeks Steve Bruce as insisted on leaving a combined 20 Championship goals on the bench. Conor Hourihane had a pretty impressive start to his Aston Villa career, whilst Scott Hogan has been hit with a couple of injuries which have stalled his progress.
Against Burton, both men were benched and failed to make an impact when they were substituted on later in the game. With nothing to play for now, there are no serious repercussions if experimenting with the line-up goes wrong. However, adding Scott Hogan and Conor Hourihane in to the team can only improve how effective Villa are in attack.
Whether Bruce chooses to field a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, both men can fit in to each system. Obviously, in a 4-4-2, Hogan would partner Kodjia up top and Hourihane could replace Henri Lansbury who was poor against Burton. Then in a 4-3-3, Hourihane could partner Jedinak and Lansbury/Bacuna in a midfield trio with Kodjia moving to the left flank to allow Hogan to play as the striker. Reading will be very vulnerable after the 7-1 defeat to Norwich and will know how poor their away form is; this needs to be exploited by Bruce and an attacking approach on the game will serve him well.
Another man-marking job may be on the cards for the Villa defence as Reading’s key man may become a serious thorn in their side. Yann Kermorgant has scored 14 goals for Reading and is the only player for the Royals who has reached double figures this season. Kermorgant has also scored five goals in the last four matches which even rivals Kodjia’s dangerous form in front of goal.
The Frenchman also holds the highest average rating for Reading and this successful season can be put down to not only his vast experience in this division, but the squads willingness to cross the ball in to him immediately. Gareth McCleary, John Swift and Roy Beerens all play in behind Kermorgant with the aim of whipping the ball on to his head.
A way of nullifying this danger can be as simple as attaching one of Chester, Baker or Jedinak to follow the striker’s movements. Kermorgant scores a lot of his goals in the air but would be at a height disadvantage against Baker and Jedinak. The Reading forward’s experience also comes with ageing legs, so surely making him easier to mark to secure yet another clean sheet at Villa Park.
Amazingly, Reading have actually concede the most goals of all the teams in the top ten. They actually possess the tenth leakiest defence in the Championship, yet they hold a comfortable position in the play-offs. This is because when Reading lose, they lose heavily.
In three of their last four away games, Reading have lost 3-0 twice which was then followed by the infamous 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Canaries. Clearly Reading don’t rely on their defensive strengths to get them the three points and will pinpoint Bruce’s tactic of ‘sit back and be hard to beat’ and try to exploit that by taking the game to Villa.
This should allow Villa to cut Reading open on the counter, especially if the claret and blue attack is focused on beating the Royals’ full-backs. Last match, Chris Gunter and Tyler Blackett were deployed at full-back and were torn to shreds by Norwich due to their unfamiliarity in the role and their lack of pace. Adomah, Kodjia, Amavi, Green and even Alan Hutton can potentially have a field day going forward on Saturday and this should propel Villa to another three points at Villa Park.
Follow Richard on Twitter at @_RichardAVFC
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