There are few worlds where a week is longer than it is in football.

One week - seven days - ago, George Puscas’ Reading career seemed dead and buried. Replacing Andy Carroll in Veljko Paunovic’s team for the visit of Luton Town, Puscas was positively toothless as Reading were swept aside.

Four days down the line and Puscas’ Royals career has a pulse. Not only did the striker score Reading’s second with a well-taken strike across the goalkeeper, but he was a constant menace at the heart of the Terriers defence.

Puscas chased absolutely everything, forcing Huddersfield into a raft of mistakes while linking up superbly with his teammates - making life easier for each of them.

For Reading’s first goal, Puscas played a neat reverse ball into the path of the oncoming Baba Rahman who strode forward and fed Lucas Joao to give the Royals the lead.

A little over a quarter of an hour later, with Reading now trailing 2-1, Puscas’ big moment arrived. As John Swift found him streaking clear of the defence, Puscas had an unfamiliar air to him - confidence - taking a touch to get the ball out of his feet before arrowing it into the bottom corner with his second. 

Reading Chronicle: Puscas fires home his first Championship goal of the season. Image by: JasonPIXPuscas fires home his first Championship goal of the season. Image by: JasonPIX

293 days. That was the time between Puscas' last Championship goal - scored against Derby County in April - and the one to open his account this season.

Paunovic feels there’s a lot more to come from the 25-year old.

“Puscas is our player and I've said all this time that he will be important for us and he will score goals,” the Reading manager said after the 4-3 defeat to Huddersfield.

“I’m very happy for Puscas - he had his best performance today since I've been here. Scored the goal, fantastic mentality, fight, cohesion with Lucas (Joao) and (John) Swift. He worked very hard in defence and put a lot of pressure on their defence off the ball. I think that was a big win for us.

“I think the whole team in attack…we brought the ball (forward) much better and we played forward much better. But yes, for sure it helps to have Lucas Joao next to you because he can also intimidate and get respect from the opponent.”

As Paunovic rightly points out, there was at least one massive factor that differentiates this Puscas performance and the impotent display against Luton - the presence of Lucas Joao.

Reading lost once again on Saturday thanks to yet another shambolic defensive display - there’s no way to escape that. But going forward they looked a much-improved team, scoring three goals for just the second time since September and carrying a real threat for at least the opening hour.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Reading’s increased attacking potency came with Joao making his first start since August. But it wasn’t only Joao that reignited this stuttering attack - it was the partnership he created with the man next to him. As Paunovic said, it certainly helps any striker to have a Lucas Joao next to them. But it also helped Joao to have Puscas next to him. The duo could be a partnership made in heaven.

Below is George Puscas’ touch-map by area of the pitch in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Luton. As is evident, of his 13 touches in Reading’s attacking half, the vast majority came near the halfway line. 

Just two of his touches came in the box and none occurred in the central area just outside the box where so much typical striker hold-up and link-up play takes place.

Reading Chronicle: Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Luton.Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Luton.

It's no shock that Puscas was almost entirely ineffective against Luton. His whole team was dulled but Puscas played his part as the blunt tip, operating as the lone striker but failing to get into dangerous locations.

Now let’s compare his performance vs Luton to the distribution of his touches against Huddersfield.

Reading Chronicle: Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Huddersfield.Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Huddersfield.

The good of his play on Saturday was that he amassed 23 touches in Reading’s attacking half compared to just 13 vs Luton while he racked up seven touches in the box, a major improvement on the two in the midweek defeat. 

But in reality, the blueprints of the two performances are not that different. Puscas still only managed two touches in the central area just outside the box while 14 of 23 touches came near the halfway line or in wide areas.

But here is the big difference. Below is Lucas Joao’s touch map vs Huddersfield. 

Reading Chronicle: Distribution of Joao's touches vs Huddersfield.Distribution of Joao's touches vs Huddersfield.

The distribution of Joao’s touches is far more concentrated. Of the Portuguese forward’s 21 touches in Reading’s attacking half, a whopping 12 of them came in the area that Puscas was almost non-existent. In total, 95% of Joao’s touches came centrally compared to just 56.5% for Puscas.

Let’s take a look at this partnership in action - the 5th-minute opening goal. 

As seen in the images below, Puscas checks in towards the ball, coming deep inside his attacking half while bringing Huddersfield central defender Matty Pearson with him in the process.

Reading Chronicle: Puscas' run drags the defender out of position.Puscas' run drags the defender out of position.

Reading Chronicle: Puscas' movement opens up acres of space for Baba to run into.Puscas' movement opens up acres of space for Baba to run into.

Not only did his movement open up the huge area of space for Baba Rahman to run into - highlighted above - but it also stretched Huddersfield’s back three and helped create the space that Joao finds to receive the final ball and finish.

Reading Chronicle: Pearson tries to dart back but the space is there for Joao to attack.Pearson tries to dart back but the space is there for Joao to attack.

Saturday was a notable success for this Royals strike partnership but truthfully, we’re a bit in the dark when it comes to analysing the Joao-Puscas link-up. There just isn’t much of a sample size yet. Serious injuries to both strikers, a frequent reliance on one up front, and George Puscas falling out of favour means this weekend was only the fifth time since the start of last season that they’ve started together.

The first such occasion was last November when Reading were beaten 3-0 by Stoke. Puscas picked up a groin injury and the next time Paunovic tried them front together was in March against Blackburn. 

Reading won 1-0 with Puscas scoring from a Joao assist.

It was a major moment for the entire team as well as the two strikers and the outline of the duo’s performance was reminiscent of what we saw on Saturday. 

Looking at their touch-maps below, once again it’s clear that the majority of Joao’s touches were through the middle - seven of 17 coming in the central area just outside the box.

Reading Chronicle: Distribution of Joao's touches vs Blackburn.Distribution of Joao's touches vs Blackburn.

Puscas’ touches, for the 69 minutes that he was on the pitch with Joao, are yet again, far more scattered.

Reading Chronicle: Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Blackburn.Distribution of Puscas' touches vs Blackburn.

Joao and Puscas started alongside each other for each of the next two games, a 3-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday and a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest. In those three games - including the Blackburn victory - Joao notched one goal and one assist while Puscas had a goal and two assists.

Paunovic largely chose to opt for just one striker for the rest of the season and this year there hasn’t been an option to field both at the same time with Joao out of action since August. In his absence, Andy Carroll arrived and Puscas was once again relegated to expensive deputy. But with Carroll yet to sign a contract to extend his time at the SCL, Puscas was thrust back into the starting XI. 

Reading fans have come to expect the archetypal anonymous Puscas display seen against Luton but when Huddersfield arrived in Berkshire, there was a new version of the striker on show.

Romanian football fan Filip B. who runs the Twitter account @RoFtbl is not surprised to have finally seen this version of Puscas. Filip rather humbly refuses to describe himself as an ‘expert’ but when it comes to Puscas, the superfan, who first began watching the striker when he broke into the Romanian U21 side in 2014, is as close as it gets.

“As a lone striker, he tries to do too much on his own,” Filip says. “With some help he is usually more dynamic and unselfish. I would say to perform his best, he usually needs an explosive & quality player next to him.”

Reading Chronicle: Lucas Joao celebrates Puscas' goal with his fellow striker. Image by: JasonPIXLucas Joao celebrates Puscas' goal with his fellow striker. Image by: JasonPIX

Filip’s analysis of Puscas fits perfectly with what we’ve discussed today. On his own against Luton, Puscas tried to do too much, venturing all over the place and ultimately accomplishing nothing. 

Against Huddersfield, a similar type of performance was greatly elevated by the presence of another striker alongside him, particularly one as ‘explosive’ as Joao.

It’s a surprise to absolutely no one that Joao has seriously improved Reading’s entire attack - including Puscas. But this has the potential to be a partnership rather than a one-man team.

Joao may be able to help finally get the best out of Puscas, but the Romanian can play a central role in taking Joao to the next level, doing the dirty work and opening up space for his fellow forward.

Puscas has been strongly linked with a January exit from the SCL and while Paunovic refused to rule out his departure, the manager clearly wants to keep him.

“I’m happy that in this difficult month he’s contributed with two goals and today his first league goal,” Paunovic said following the Huddersfield game. “I think he just opened his scoresheet for this season and it’s only going to get better. But in football, anything can happen, especially in the transfer window. But nothing has changed.”

A few days ago, most Reading fans would have happily volunteered to give Puscas a ride out of town if a new club could be found. Now, it would look extremely foolish to let him go. What a difference a week makes.