Monday, 16 October 2017

Boring, Boring Reading

A first win in eight as Reading beat a surprisingly dull Leeds side. In many ways the story was not so different to matches within our winless run, but thankfully we came up against a far more profligate outfit.

Much like against Norwich the first half was excellent. There was much more cohesion going forward, although there weren't many chances. The best coming from Aluko, who forced a good save down low to the keeper's right. It must be said, at times Leeds made Beerens seem like Messi, but the final ball was often lacking. Perhaps surprisingly with only four at the back, Reading excelled defensively. The most complete performance at the back that I have seen in quite a while - Leeds basically didn't have a sniff. There were a couple of chances that they managed to get behind, but Ilori and Bacuna managed to get back and make the tackle.

Bacuna was particularly impressive all game, after half time there was a chance where three Leeds players were bearing down on Manone and he somehow managed to get a last ditch tackle to avert the danger. And, it must be said, Gunter down the left was incredibly solid. Personally I quite like Blackett, although his tendancy to switch off is a big issue, but Wales' player of the year brought much needed rigidity.

The second half saw the home side come into the game much more, and I think they'll be disappointed not to get something from the game - but in truth they rarely tested. Jansson smashed a good chance into the proverbial Row Z. Barrow's introduction helped - he really has been missed. At a not dissimilar angle to where he got his goal he stung Lonergan's hands, and a really well taken finish for the winner meant that we were bagged our first victory in 49 days. And on that note the pass, and celebration, from JVDB were incredible.

That said, I think that at the end if Hernandez had converted the penalty it would be a very similar story to the Norwich game. A very promising half in the end cancelled out by stupid defensive mistakes. There is no way that Sáiz should have been allowed to get the ball in the first place, let alone then attack further into the box and draw the foul. The only comfort was how atrocious the penalty was.

Stam did change the approach. Bodvarsson came back in, and linked up well with the midfield - which has been missing - although he didn't offer much in terms of goal threat. We also went, on the whole, more direct. We attempted almost 350 less passes than against Hull, which says a great deal. I think in part that's because we were playing more defensively. I think it's worth pointing out that we did, in fact, play very well in spurts against Norwich when trying a more possession based approach, although we had fewer key passes in the entire game.

I also think that Leeds probably have a point in regards to the referee not being at his best. There were a couple of instances where I thought Joey was on thin ice. As a caveat, his first was ridiculous, having been warned seconds earlier about booting the ball away before he did it again. There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistency around the fouls given. The situation that got their fans really riled though wasn't really the ref's fault; he blew for an offside and they thought he'd given a foul to them. So when Reading took the free kick they were outraged. Perhaps he could have more clearly signalled in Reading's favour.

In the end a good win. It was Leeds' first defeat at Elland Road of the season and, while they haven't played anybody of particular note there, it's always a difficult place to go. Bramall Lane next week will be no less tough, but fingers crossed.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

September

September was not a particularly good month for Reading Football Club. Two points from fifteen see us (quote, unquote) languishing toward the wrong end of the Championship. Poor football has exacerbated the fans' annoyance, but are things really as bad as they seem?

Played five, drawn two, lost three. It sounds bad, but when you consider the goal difference over those five matches is only -3 (or the same as our loss away to Brentford last year) it's clear that we're much closer than our points haul makes out. We're not shipping goals in blow out losses like last season.

Instead all our problems are at the other end. Four goals in the same period is a serious issue, and thus we come to the start of our bad run - game one, Bristol City at home. Now this, unequivocally, was a game that we should have won. Bodvarsson allowed the critics in with a fairly substandard performance that allowed ex-Swindon centre back Aden Flint to win it late on. Bristol went into the international break in fourth place, and we out matched them for the majority of the game.

I admit I wasn't there for Brentford away, and Bodvarsson continued his downward spiral by being brought off at half time. Stam, though, has to be given some credit. The home side, at least in terms of stats, were running away with the game in the first half, but by all accounts The Royals were much better in the second period after Stam changed the approach.

It was difficult to find positives in the Hull game, but the game was saved by Bodvarsson's heroics and he recouped some good will. The change to be more direct seemed to work, even if it was Hull allowed us back into the game.

I don't think anybody who went to Millwall thought we should have lost. Again, not a good game of football but when you go in front with fifteen minutes left you should see it out. Two George Saville goals changed that, but Reading again had some nice periods of play. McCleary on the right seeming to work better than his central role the previous weekend. The dismissal from the referee of a late challenge on the goalscorer Edwards seemed laughable, and denied the chance to salvage a point.

Finally Norwich. A tremendous free kick, and a complete lapse in concentration from the defense overshadowed what was a much better opening forty-five minutes. The team looked lively, and up for it as they came back pretty much immediately from going a goal down.

Really, there were three games where we played poorly in the middle, three that we were unlucky not to take more from anyway, and still no extra points because of that.

Now, ifs and buts mean nothing. It is, famously, a 'results business'. That said I think we're not as far away as some suggest. If Stam over the international break - and this is admittedly a big if - has found a way to add goals to the team then we're in a very strong position.

Obviously, that is much easier said than done, but I think it's clear that in many ways it's not the striker where the problem lies per se, but the ability to get balls into dangerous areas. Something that we were much better at last season, and will be better at again this season. In fact, Bacuna in many ways was the shining light of the team against Norwich, and his drive set off many of the more dangerous attacks. I don't think it's any coincidence that in the second half he was less involved, and we went off the boil as a result.



So, with Bacuna returning, and other players poised to take their part after injury, hopefully now is the time to start our resurgence. It will be tough, and I don't think getting no points from Leeds or Sheffield would necessarily be the end of the world - and certainly not a situation to rebel further, but we starting to need a return in home games against Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest after that.

Look on the bright side, there's only forty days until our first fixture against Bolton.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Millwall 2-1 Reading. Stam.

29 May 2017, 17:49 - Liam Kelly hammers a penalty into the roof of the net in front of the Huddersfield end of Wembley to put Reading 3-1 up, and on the verge of the Premier League. Stam's side had been brushed off as promotion contenders for most of the year, but after a third place finish - made all the more remarkable by three successive managerial failures, and finishes of 17th and 19th in the two previous seasons - it seemed they would, like John Cena, overcome the odds once more to reach the promised land.

Of course, it wasn't to work out like that, but Stam instilled a new feeling of genuine hope that hadn't been at the Madejski since, arguably, McDermott guided the team to the Championship title half a decade prior. Just four months down the line and there are some calling for his head.
Of the team that started the final Williams and Al Habsi have left, Swift and Kermorgant injured, and Grabban's loan expired. Then Obita, an integral part of the squad last year, is set for another period on the sidelines.

I understand that, especially with Kermorgant and Mendes out - and even more so as Barrow's unavailable too, we should have brought in 'the' striker. Bodvarsson doesn't fit that for many people. Seen in many ways as another Mendes, who didn't show his ability until late on last year, he's not someone who scores goals. The Icelander's finish against Hull was certainly reminiscent of his team mate's strike away at Villa at the very least.

But this is a new look side, who aren't being given time to bed in. The same criticisms from last year - boring football, not getting the ball forward immediately - are combined with the frustration to not play a recognised central striker. Irrelevant of the fact that our best performance so far came against an, admittedly mediocre, Aston Villa team where Clement lead the line. Our main period of historical success came from getting the ball forward quickly down the wings, but this team aren't necessarily built for that. Beerens in particular isn't quick enough to break with pace but often finds himself furthest forward.

I dispute that the lack of a striker should even count against Stam. We know how this club works - Brian Tevreden controls the purse strings while Stam works along side him. And that system has worked well up to this point, with some gems brought in (Moore, Swift). Tevreden is saying that there was nobody available at a reasonable price, and knowing the current state of the transfer market, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There are reasons to be critical. Last night I thought the team selection was okay at the start of the game - JVDB brought impetus on Saturday and made sense to come in, and McCleary struggled up front but was moved out wider where he, hypothetically, should be more comfortable. It was obvious though that McCleary just isn't clicking at the moment, and we don't have that link between phases that Danny Williams so often brought last year. When the defence have the ball the midfield are too static, often hiding behind their men, and the same with the attack when we get the ball further forward. The notable exception was Clement when he came on. The decision to keep Popa on the bench also seems harsh, especially late on when Beerens so often seems like he needs a rest and Popa's game is almost perfectly built to harass tired defences. We could be slightly more direct, but being mindlessly direct is no more helpful.

Stam, to be fair, is trying to adapt to teams sitting deeper, you can see that by tactical tweaks during the games, but he just hasn't worked it out yet. I am confident he will. People need to be patient, both during matches - passing the ball around, looking for an opening shouldn't bring boos from the stands - and toward the manager himself.

I'd love to know who the Stam out brigade would like to replace him. I suppose 'Arry is available. And they are wilfully ignoring the fact that this is a side with Stam clearly at the heart of it. Normally tearing out the heart is not the best way to resuscitate a team.

When the team click I think they've shown potential to be even better than last year, I for one would really like to get to see that.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brentford 4-1 Reading

Back to Earth with a bit of a bump, a 4-1 loss to Brentford signalling the end of eight games unbeaten. Although disappointing, I'll definitely take more 4-1 losses if they sandwich runs of eight games without loss. To be honest, and this may sound ridiculous given the scoreline, I didn't think we played that much worse than against Huddersfield, but Brentford's parity in terms of numbers, combined with the ability to actually punish mistakes.

It didn't really start well when within thirty seconds Liam Moore had already punted the ball downfield, and Reading never really managed to get hold of it again in the first half, culminating in two late goals. The first was a fairly nice flowing Brentford move, where the home side's continual man over eventually paid dividends. However, Obita constantly let his man inside of him which gave the opportunity to begin with. He consistently tries to read the pass into the feet of the man on the outside, which allows the ball to be played inside. The second was dreadful, with two men around the man on the ball somehow allowing him to still slip it through to an unmarked Vibe to poke home.

All three goals in the second half I was somewhat unsighted for - terraces have their downsides. It seemed to me that people crept in behind the defence far too easily, far too often. I was totally unsighted for the penalty award, but Yann at least put it away well.

We did have more chances, hitting the woodwork a couple of times, but ultimately we seemed toothless. One of the main issues is that our centre backs trying to play long cross-field balls when they weren't working in the slightest. In fact, their pass map is fairly telling. Lots of green around the back, but the longer attempts all show red.


There's some cause for optimism that the two sitting in front of them, JVDB and Evans were both much better with finding their targets, and on occasion helped get in behind the Brentford backline. I'd rather see Moore and McShane almost solely distribute short - to the fullbacks or the two CMs. It just requires someone to take the initiative and drive us forward - we do still miss opportunities to put our foot on the pedal, but that should come with time.

Overall it was pretty dire, but Brentford are a strong side and a point against Derby this weekend builds on a decent start. The international break may have come a good point this time round, and trips to QPR and Rotherham sandwich a home tie with Aston Villa - at the moment we look capable of getting something from all those sides. Onwards!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Twenty-Sixteen - Seventeen

A somewhat interesting summer has seen a fair bit of change. McDermott replaced by Stam, the instrumental Norwood following the prodigal son in Tshibola out the door, and a not insignificant influx of talent under the guidance of the new boss and the sharply dressed Brian Tevreden.

And the new management structure is a good place to start. Reading Stam's and Tevreden's interviews there seems to be a fair bit of reason for optimism. By the sounds of it a great deal of the thinking behind Stam's appointment is his dedication to youth - and our transfer policy also reflects that. If we can take the DoF at his word then the reason to turn down signing Campi was because of our options within the academy. It's almost the actual dream. Not just that, we've been turning down signings based on the fact they don't fit the system. It's all very Barcelona.

With the departure of Norwood there's now a big chance for Liam Kelly in particular, who seems to be becoming a legitimate choice recently, to step up and make his mark. Equally there's not necessarily as much depth on the wings, with only McCleary and Beerens as our first choice options, so fingers crossed that there may also be chances for Fosu and Stacey.

Recruitment has been fairly solid. Beerens and Swift in particular are exciting signings that will hopefully be able to cut open defences - an area that we've often struggled in the past few seasons. We looked light up front last season, and although Méïte and Mendes may not be signings to set the world alight, they're more options. Rakels and Samuel also looked decent during pre-season, the former has really impressed me since he finally got his chance in the side.

I think there are still key weaknesses, Cooper still has a mistake in him and the full backs are not the best, and a 4-3-3 doesn't offer the same degree as cover as McDermott's preferred 4-2-3-1. And while the striking department may have had new faces brought in, its still not the most potent on paper.

My heart says on the fringes of the top 10, while my head is just hoping we avoid relegation. We shall see.

Also, I would implore anyone that hasn't to read Brian Tevreden's interview with Charles Watts.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The NEW Improved* EFL Trophy

Today, as well as the launch of the new kits, Reading's academy were drawn into EFL Trophy Southern Group A alongside Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth, and Yeovil. With away trips to Fratton Park and the Memorial Ground there's certainly incentive for our fans, but I'm still against academy sides entering the competition.

For one, part of this seems to have been set up for the Premier League sides but the likes of Arsenal, the Manchester clubs, and Liverpool are conspicuous in their absence; the addition of Championship clubs seems to be in response to this snub. The emphasis on academies playing one team at the club's 'actual' stadium was surely so some sides get the chance to play at Old Trafford, Anfield, and The Emirates. So while Oxford get the chance to play at Stamford Bridge and Northampton will visit the Olympic Stadium others will end up with a trip to The Hawthorns, The AMEX, and Carrow Road which is less glamorous.

I'm not entirely sure what side teams will end up fielding. From our perspective I would much rather our top talents go out on loan to get experience throughout the season - rather than in three glorified friendly games. So we'll likely end up with those that can't make the first team squad plus a few second string youngsters. Bearing in mind Aston Villa's U21s lost to Biggleswade and ours could not overcome Basingstoke it's going to be interesting. Heaven forbid anyone gets injured.

Presumably to incorporate the changes, there's now a group stage. In a climate where the Premier League are continually complaining about the amount of games they have to play, those in the Trophy now have, potentially, two more than they would have had to begin with. Alongside the league, the League Cup - that starts in the first week of the season, and the FA Cup - whose first round is the same week as the last group games of the Trophy, teams will be playing at least fifty-one games.

Frankly the lower leagues are not there for the sake of teams in the Premier League (and Championship). I was lucky enough to go to the final in 2009 and it was one of the greatest matches I've witnessed - Luton eventually winning in extra time after Claude Gnakpa came off the bench to nick it 3-2. I hope this is an abject failure. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Exit Through the Gift Shop

There's been upheaval at Reading in recent years, and this summer is no different, with even the Bosnian Messi leaving the club. However, more seriously, there's a few first teamers that won't be here come August as well.

Hal Robson-Kanu is having an absolute whale of a time on international duty with his country. The fella now has - allegedly - multiple offers from the Premier League. However at the club the guy has been phoning it in since our relegation, after arguably being our best player in the top division. I decided to check out his stats, and wasn't surprised at what I found. "Player has no significant strengths" really does sum it up. He does, however, show up in the big games, so it's possible that a step up would actually get the best out of him. I was sad about losing him until he said running down his contract was the best decision of his life - at which point it's time to say goodbye and hope he fails at his next club.




Then there's HRK's teammate - Chris Gunter. Another who, despite his club form, deserves all the plaudits his gaining with his country. But again, his form away on international duty isn't translated to the Championship. His assist for one of the most famous goals in Wales' history - Vokes' header against Belgium - doesn't hide the fact that his crossing in a Reading shirt has been woeful. Two assists in forty-four matches isn't great for a full back who seems to have a license to get forward. Especially when playing with your supposed best friend, who you had a telepathic connection with at one point, but totally lost at some point. Then there's the fact he has a £1m release clause, and the only reason I can think of to have such a price is that he wouldn't sign a contract without it. In which case I guess it's good to get some sort of fee for him. Maybe.




I'm on record as saying that selling Aaron Tshibola will be the single worst decision we make this transfer window and I absolutely stick by that. Last season we looked absolutely lost without someone playing in the anchorman role. Norwood tried, and it totally crippled his offensive capability - and considering he was our only ray of hope going forward at times last year, that's not good. Williams also doesn't fit the role. However Hector and Tshibola absolutely dominated there. Their breaking up of play made the back four look far more solid, while simultaneously starting more attacks than the rest of the team combined. Perhaps it's Clarke's pull which , but Tish's comments that he wants to leave - coming within a day of HRK's knife in the back - stings. I can't help but think that older regimes may have got more than £5m for one of our most talented prospects.

It's possible that Gravenberch and van den Berg will somewhat replace Tshibola (and other centre backs we've lost) but they're not academy graduates, they haven't been instilled with 'the Reading wayTM'. They're very much part of the new way. They, and that way, are totally untested. I'm slightly worried.